I was part of a child protection panel today on an online forum organised by The Guardian.

I shouldn’t have been surprised but once again the numbers of people contributing who had grievances about the child protection system were considerable. It’s often very difficult to make any kind of a judgement of what anybody is saying about conspiracies, miscarriages of justice or just plain mistakes made in assessing the risks to children.

In responding to some of the comments it struck me that some people are just so fixed in their own perspective of events that there can be no rational argument that could change their mind. It’s that rationality that convinces me that there probably are a few genuine cases where justice has not been done. However, the generalising of comments about social work are, in my mind, most unhelpful to those who are trying their very best to find the best outcome for children.

In all my time in frontline work I’ve never heard of social workers who wanted to remove children when there was any possible alternative – and the fact that they don’t make decisions alone, all the other agencies have a say as well as the courts. As I said before, there are some people in all jobs who are not up to the task, but the great majority do their very best to find the best solution with the limited resources available.

It’s not in any social workers interest to attempt the removal of a child if the family situation is not destructive or dangerous. One of the main tasks of social work is to try and reunite families if there had to be a separation – child looked after etc – so working to sort whatever the problems were, if at all possible. With many vacancies and high caseloads I wonder if there is not enough time available to get to know families. Social workers would agree that if families are safe and can be helped to care properly for the child then that is the best place for the child.

The image of social work in the media is directly effected by negativity of comment – especially if persistent, even though it is generally undeserved. It just makes it so difficult to engage the next family who see all these unsupported comments. I’ve now been offering media training to social work staff and feel that, as the media provides information, opinion and debate for 99% of the population – whether broadcast, written or social – it will be the landscape of the future. Perhaps communication with service users, inter-agency colleagues as well as information about social work to the general public. So, unless we create a strong presence and authorities stop confusing confidentiality with secrecy I believe there’s hope in balancing the image of social work.

It’s all down to communication and there were comments too about the proper communication in the agencies charged with working together in child protection. All serious case reviews talk about failures in communication between agencies – this is true but I believe it’s compounded by massive restructuring in most organisations, partly due to the austerity measures, and so the people in different agencies that are meant to liaise with each other now frequently have never met so there is no relationship to have built on. This is a direct result of the cuts and so it makes it more difficult to build proper professional communication.

So there are difficulties. There always have been. Today’s seemed particularly acute in terms of image and therefore recruitment and the possibility of a continuing downward spiral in the time allowed for each case by workers who have the appropriate time and resources to deliver their best professional effort.


If you would like to read the full Guardian article and discussion please read further

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