Child Protection: Making Children Safe

Oct 4, 2013 by

Children and social workers

I have done many radio interviews and some television over the last few days about the terrible tragedies of children who have died at the hands of their parents and nothing takes away the question ‘could any more have been done?’.

Every child that’s hurt is an individual tragedy and anyone who had an opportunity to prevent it must search their own conscience.

However, we have to look at these situations as a whole. Over the last 5 years in England and Wales there has been a 40% increase year on year in child protection referrals to agencies. In the same amount of years the number of children on child protection plans have increased from 27,000 to 44,000. As a backdrop to this social service departments up and down the country have been suffering significant cuts to their funding and have increasingly found it difficult to recruit experienced staff. Subsequently there are some authorities where the vacancy rate is very significant. If they are lucky they have it partially filled by agency staff. If not the existing staff are even more overloaded.

Like the circus trick of spinning plates on the end of sticks some children’s services departments are just running round barely keeping people safe. Inevitably mistakes will happen or dangers will get missed.

Yesterday David Cameron praised social workers and the work they do by calling it a noble profession and a valuable part of society. Fine. We must not be cynical about praise. I use the analogy that if current childcare social work is akin to being adrift on a raft after a shipwreck and the boat comes over the horizon and stops beside you, offers you a drink but then just pushes you off again out to sea, David Cameron’s comments felt a bit like that.

We need a major overhaul, including fundamental extra resourcing. I know that there are training initiatives being discussed and some being implemented. However, the national image portrayed in the media of childcare social workers is not conducive to good recruitment. We must never forget that, in comparison to most other European and most English speaking industrialised countries, our record of between 50 and 70 child deaths per annum makes us better – proportionate to our population – than most. Of course one death is one death too many but we have to acknowledge the hard work that is done every day by social workers and others in preventing more parents killing their children.

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