Monthly Archives: January, 2014
Working in a busy and demanding frontline Child Protection team it has become clear that there is a haze around what Child Protection is; what is the responsibility around safeguarding and what is the Family Courts’ System role. It is not hard to understand how this has happened, when programmes like Panorama ‘I want my child back’ blur the complex and interesting debates together, making social work look like the evil big brother in a far bigger debate needed about safeguarding children.
Social Work is not the one single agency that has exclusivity in safeguarding children; “Safeguarding children-the action we take to promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm – is everyone’s responsibility. Everyone who comes into contact with children and families has a role to play.” (Working Together, 2013) and it is important to remember that ‘No single professional can have a full picture of a child’s needs and circumstances and, if children and families are to receive the right help at the right time, everyone who comes into contact with them has a role to play in identifying concerns, sharing information and taking prompt action’. (Working Together, 2013)
I have, however, seen a rise in the number of referrals I have to deal with on a daily basis since Serious Case Reviews about high-profile cases have become available for everyone to view. That the other key agencies’ involved with working with children, have become more cautious about the support they offer and how. Preferring instead to refer to children’s social care for early intervention, it is this intervention that creates tensions in the relationships between families and social services. Shaking off the image that the only role social work has ‘is to remove children’ is not an easy one, especially when it is so badly misunderstood,
Like many people in society – until I studied in social work and worked in a variety of settings with children – I did not fully understand, appreciate or want to believe that children could be harmed. However, as a Child Protection social worker, understanding what is ‘actual’ harm or the ‘likelihood’ of harm is extremely important in what is Child Protection; when the referral is received deciding whether there is an immediate need to protect and act, to investigate whether there is a Child Protection concern or whether the child is “in need.” As defined by the Children Act 1989.
I have found that it is becoming increasingly common that this social work task is becoming harder and harder. Professional anxiety around ‘what if’ and ‘this reminds me of X case!’ leaves the complex task of gathering the information and analysis even more difficult.
As a social worker being presented with a picture of events, it is important to be able to see the entire picture to understand the situation. For example, a four-year old girl at nursery with a bruise on her arm and a statement of ‘Daddy did it’ raises anxieties. However, there are many dimensions that could make this statement either far more serious or far less sinister. It is very easy to be criticised for being overly cautious or overly zealous in an approach taken when you do not have the entire facts to help make this decision.
It is for this reason ‘safeguarding’ is so important for all those involved in a child’s life. It is also for this reason that sometimes an answer cannot be gained to explain and identify harm and why, sometimes, decisions have to be made based on risk and probability. It is these decisions that often do not have an immediate positive outcome other than preventing possible serious harm to children – Where social workers are ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t’. But even then social work is not about removing children; in the most, social work is about engaging families and making positive changes and is successful in doing this.
It seems that nearly every day the storm that is front line child protection rages harder and harder. There appears to be no shelter from the relentless barrage of telephone calls, referrals, crisis and twists within family life. Everyday adult decisions impacting upon the most innocent and unprotected in our society, a comment that most may question, a point that makes me the most frustrated in my role as a social worker. Yes, Children’s legislation is well recorded and there is a lot, especially around child protection and children who are looked after. Yet, sometimes I have been left wondering whether in all of the storm to safeguard children do we really still see the child? In a world where everyone wants whats best, but what does this mean? is it what is best for them or for the child?
There are some people who would like us to believe that the child protection system is broken, that children are not being safeguarded instead they are wrongfully removed to be forced into adoption. However, as much as the child protection system is blamed for its failings there continues to be a very real need for a system to be in place. In a society where adult needs continue to be placed in front of vulnerable children’s; child deaths will continue and continue and continue. Each time the system is blamed, failing are examined giving further fuel to both sides of the argument. But what worries me more is the attitude in scapegoating parents from blame that instead it is not their fault or societies. Instead attempts are made to accuse social workers of colluding with solicitors to remove innocent children from their parents. Stories fuelled by high profile MP’s and articles published in The Daily Telegraph, which lead to confusion and mistrust within society; creating tension and situations that may result in social care intervention where it might not have been needed.
It is clear that the government has no intention of changing its views on spending cuts, it is also clear that its hard-line policies on benefits will also not change. I am sure that this storm will continue being fuelled in every direction by adult fears about their own feelings around children. And like others working within the eye of the storm the daily interventions become harder and harder. Battered and wind-swept once children are safeguarded the storm continues with no chance to finish the paper work, no chance to return the phone call before the next big wave comes in. This is where the system is broken leaving many social workers leaving, buckling under the weight of the storm and not being sheltered by the Local Authority that they work for or by the government that creates the legislation in which they work to.
It is easy to be mislead into thinking that the aim of social work is simply to remove children, that this automatically solves all of the problems in the world. However, wouldn’t it be great if it did! but it does not solve the problems and is not the aim of social workers. So for those that campaign against social work please understand that social work and child protection is not this easy. That the threshold for removal is far higher than you think and as a social worker there have been far more positive interventions than there has been removals. That the numbers of cases that are being dealt with on a daily basis are being managed and managed well.
‘This time next year we will be Millionaires Rodney’ (Only Fools and Horses). It’s a nice thought and one I often dreamt about. The joy of never having to worry about ‘How are we going to pay the bills?’ Or ‘Can I afford that top?’ Is one that brings joy to me. If only! However, increasingly there is growing concern that private companies are starting to increase in their profit from the care of vulnerable children. A big business where children with complex needs are being placed into ‘safe’ accommodation, which is not being run by the Local Authority. More concerning is that some of this provision when inspected by Ofsted is not achieving the inspection outcome of Excellent that should be required in order to provide this care.
The question that has been asked is ‘Is it right to profit from the care of vulnerable children?’. The sensible answer is that we know that if a business is to be successful, it has to be profitable. But is this a sensible answer to care? I am sure David Cameron and his Tory colleagues would love to break down the perceived damaged and broken care system in order to profit from their private interests in private Health and Social Care issues. So I am glad that this is now being challenged.
It is important that when children have been found a place to live that they are invested in, achieve the permanence that we all enjoy. That at the first fall, they are not rejected because the behaviour will cost too much money. That time, boundaries and care is going to be provided to break down the perceived image that children in care are worthless and all criminals. Or that deep down breaking the image that they are bad and naughty and that’s why they are in care.
However, I have been able to visit a variety of residential homes that have been developed out of ‘City funding’ and the care and detail to the care that is provided has been outstanding. Starting with the ethos of the home and its workers to the commitment going above and beyond what is expected. On the down side I have also seen homes where proft has come at the expense of the young person and one I could not leave any child in. The difference is massive, as is the impact upon the young person and their outcomes in life and why this question is so important.
It is not just Residential homes of course that make money from caring for children – Fostering agencies also profit as exposed by Children as Core Assetts. Although Children as Core Assetts goes further implying that Children are stolen in order to help certain individuals profit. I am sure a story that the Daily Telegraph and Christopher Booker would love to write!
The real argument though should be the investment in an experienced workforce. Where workers leave consistently and frequently adding further pressure on caseloads and on the assessment process. Meaning support needed for families can not always be provided by and managed in the most appropriate way. The aim of ensuring children can remain within their family setting should be the main goal, reducing the need for external placements that drain the resources of local authorities further.
Business, profit and social work are terms that do not sit comfortably together more so when it comes to the care of the most vulnerable people in our society. However, where individaul effort and thought can use the resources available to make a much needed difference in a young persons life, I can not argue with this concept. However, I can and will when it has the reverse impact on such vulnerable lives. Profit should not come before safegurding and profit should not come before a safe and warm living environment where the physical and emotional needs of a child can be met.
I guess that means this time next year I wont be a millionaire then!
It sounds like a film title but sadly it is not. Instead it describes the constant questioning many social workers ask themselves over and over. Working in front line child protection will always raise tensions and frustrations, within ourselves and the social workers we work with inevitably leading to clashes of thought, personalities and outcomes. This is not social work as we might want it to be, although many people may recognise the tensions and dilemmas that are experienced in front line practise. As social work practise and theory changes the aim is to become more logical and systemic in the analysis, removing the clashes and tensions for a more logical thought process. Gathering data and information with the aim to process this more efficiently in order to understand what the concerns are.
But have the changes in social work improved the working conditions for social workers? sadly not. The competing challenges of meeting targets mixed in with overcoming societies social and economic difficulties matched with a combined reduction in services and not forgetting the aim of trying to do some direct work we all trained for. However, the strain of the changes is showing in many way different ways and worryingly it is the capacity to manage the amount of work that is being referred to Social Care for assessment. Strain and pressure on a fragile service that remains high risk for the vulnerable children that need safeguarding and also a service vulnerable to a Government that would be happy to shut it down.
For me and social work this year, I have had to learn and develop a resilience to these pressures. Rebuild my strength and resolve to focus on what I believe is good social work practise and promote positive social work intervention. Often meaning even when I have felt like walking away, I have had to pick myself up and up the social workers I work with. In order to give them the focus and reflection they need to remain focused on effecting positive change. Whilst watching others argue and buckle under the same pressures and for some this has been too much and they have felt the need to move on to different pastures.
Social work practise may have changed and for the better, but its time to be honest and admit that the pressure has not. The expectation that no mistakes will be made with high case loads, lack of resources remain. Furthermore the expectation that as a social worker you will work long hours often unpaid and unrewarded will be a standard expectation and if you don’t do this you will be challenged and criticised for not meeting the expectations put on you. So how can you enjoy positive work with families and children when the one thing you need is time is not available. When even if you find the time and space you need, the ability to reflect and research the information you are given is not there because the pressure the service is under means you have no manager, no supervision, no colleagues to explore ideas with.
This might be what the Government wants, waiting for another major failure to attack and destroy social work. But for you, me and social work we all need to continue to fight and improve the service we provide through better communication and learning from each other.