As a social worker in local authority children’s services, the latest announcements regarding children’s social care have made me very angry. Once again it appears the government is working hard to demonize social workers and undermine children’s services to the point of failure.
The rise in numbers of care proceedings for newborn children is reported as a cause for alarm. This just serves to feed the narrative of “child snatching” social workers. Given everything we have learned about the serious harm and developmental delay caused to children left in abusive and neglectful situations, it is far better to act decisively, after careful assessment, to ensure early and sound decisions are made. This gives children the best chance of achieving their potential.
We know creative work can be done with mothers but so often the capacity for change is uncertain and the timescales are not compatible with their children’s best interests. We know of the difficulties adopted children can experience in their teenage years when they been subjected to repeated and failed rehabilitation attempts with birth parents. Research shows some have suffered further abuse as a result of social workers not taking action early enough.
The financial situation of local authorities is becoming critical and if ever there was a risk factor to children, it is the chronic under funding of their services and the threat of further savage cuts. This means social workers are having to work reactively in crisis situations rather than undertaking the planned work they know is needed. It is not only the parents who lose out. Social workers will say they don’t have time to do what they are employed to do, which is work directly with children. This is crazy.
Budget cuts are destabilizing the children’s workforce in local authorities such as my own and several front line teams are now staffed with practitioners in their first year post qualification. That is no criticism of them, but a sound child protection and Looked After Children (LAC) service surely needs a stable workforce that brings together newly qualified and experienced staff; how else can practitioners learn the job in safety?
The budget situation has made it pretty difficult for local authority social workers to do a good job and practice safely. I know people who are leaving their posts because of this dilemma. Stress levels are very high with excessive workloads and diminishing resources, turnover is increasing and we have a far greater number of temporary agency staff. This is OK for them but absolutely not OK for children in care, nor is it any good for developing consistency and a culture of good social work practice. Unsurprisingly, morale is low.
The government announcement of recruiting top-quality graduates to social work sounds good, although it carries an inference that social workers currently in post are not up to the job. We may recruit talented graduates but are they really going to hang around in the very posts where their skills are needed if they are working in hellish conditions?
The messages from the government are about failure — “we are failing children”. Who, social workers? It is this government that is failing social workers, yet it continues to lay the blame at our door. We are given the threat of “failing authorities” being taken over, when the main reason for failure in many cases is the massive reduction in funding. It’s a desperate situation and we social workers keep being set up to fail and then vilified when things do go wrong.
This totally ignores some of the highly skilled, sensitive and essential work that goes on and never gets the media spotlight. We never see a headline about the thousands of children who are saved by social workers from serious harm every day. I, for one, am sick and tired of being treated in this way; I believe our profession and our most vulnerable children deserve better.
Susie O’Donnell is a pseudonym. The writer is a local authority social worker and member of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).
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