The news is full of the tragic story of Baby P who was killed after sustained abuse. Once again Haringay Council is under investigation after the child was seen over 60 times by social workers, health visitors and a paediatrician who failed to diagnose a broken back and ribs just two days before he died.
The story is absolutely tragic, but sadly not unique. In fact one of the most significant child deaths, that of Victoria Climbie, was also in Haringay. The investigation into the death and Lord Laming’s recommendations led to the Every Child Matters report which has been one of the most significant initiatives around child protection and child welfare.
I have listened to a few different radio shows today, and one earlier in the day was asking the question “What is it like to be a child protection social worker?” The discussion was interesting with many people providing horror stories of massive caseloads, lack of resources, support etc. It was a well balanced discussion. However, this afternoon on the same radio station I have just listened to the presenter slating social workers and holding them fully responsible for the death of this child. Not mention of the vile people who actually battered this small child… oh no! It is the social workers’ fault that they did not prevent it.
I have no doubts that there were massive failings, both on the part of the local authority, but also on the part of all other professionals involved. What some of these people don’t seem to realise though is that being a child protection social worker is a scary profession. In fact, being a social worker in general is a scary job, but CP social workers have it especially bad in my opinion.
CP social workers have to death with aggressive people who don’t want social services input into their lives. They have to deal with traumatised, neglected children who have poor attachments and are needy and difficult. They have to deal with vast quantities of paperwork and bureaucracy. Even when they identify risks to children the process of being able to remove them is complicated and contentious and very often they do not have the resources to do it. Money is a big issue and it seems to me that most departments are more concerned about saving cash than saving lives.
Social workers have to cope with a severe lack of staff, and those who are recruited are often newly qualified and inexperienced in dealing with front-line CP work. Stress-levels are high and people are regularly off sick. On top of all this they have to live with the knowledge that a failure or bad decision on their part could mean that a child could die. And the icing on the cake is the possibility that that information could end up in the public domain and their name could be spread across the paper, along with questions asked about their competency to do their job.
Don’t’ get me wrong. I am not justifying what happened. I am just saying that being a social worker is a difficult job at the best of times. Being vilified in the press does not help and it certainly doesn’t promote social work as a positive profession. Child protection social workers deserve better.