The point about fear

I was saddened and angered by Martin Smith’s
article ("Embrace the fear", 18 April). He appears to have missed the
message of Community Care’s No Fear campaign and has chosen an unfortunate way
to provoke a debate on the "impact of fear". Lest we forget, the
campaign resulted from the death of Jenny Morrison.

I was closely involved with the No Fear
campaign and was a workshop leader at the national training events. I have also
worked as a consultant with social workers on child protection assessments,
where fear of perpetrators has affected workers’ ability to confront issues of

Social workers are only too aware of the
issues caused by fear in their relationships with users and how this impacts on
their ability to do their job well. They also describe daily abuse and threats
where their basic health and safety rights are either ignored or seen as
unrealistic in the face of budgetary constraints.

Lone shifts, lone visits and a lack of
back-up from managers who have forgotten what the front line is like now they
are not on it often make people fear for their safety. I am appalled at how
they are allowed and often encouraged to accept this as part of their working

Responses such as "the client was
vulnerable and didn’t mean it" and "it’s part of the work" are
often used by managers to abdicate their responsibilities.

It is true that fear is just another emotion
and that there is no such thing as a "bad emotion". Surely the
context in which emotions occur is the issue. Being constantly conscious of
your physical vulnerability and fearful of attack is unacceptable, which is
presumably why it is also illegal under health and safety law.

Debbie Donovan

No designer baby

While superficially the US case of the couple
who chose to have a deaf baby could be seen as a variation on the
"designer baby" controversy, nothing could be further from the truth
(News, page 6, 11 April).

The National Deaf Children’s Society is
wholly committed to enabling parents of deaf children in the UK to make
informed choices by providing advice and information on all aspects of
childhood deafness.

But we do not condone any child being born
because it either has or doesn’t have a certain characteristic.

The background of the couple involved makes
this a particularly unusual instance. Not only are they deaf, but they are also
professional deaf therapists and already have another deaf child. So, from the
outset, they have a higher degree of knowledge than most parents when it comes
to the communication and educational options open to their children. It is
likely that the baby will have the best support available.

But these circumstances only apply to this
particular baby. Ninety per cent of deaf babies in the UK are born to hearing
parents with little or no experience of deafness. The impact can be traumatic
for hearing parents. And while the decision to have a child is, in itself, a
major one, it is no guarantee of the quality of parenting the child will

Deafness is a challenge – a challenge that can
be rewarding for deaf children and their families. But it is crucial that the
deaf child’s education and social needs are met and that positive attitudes are
fostered from the very outset.

Susan Daniels
Chief executive
National Deaf Children’s Society

Laming inquiry is elitist

Instead of getting to grips with the serious
workforce crisis in child protection social work, Lord Laming’s inner circle
seems to be pursuing its own elitist, ivory-tower agenda.

My own submission to the inquiry was rejected
by the legal team. I pointed out that the refocusing of services from child
protection to family support and the attempt to develop a needs-led approach,
though good in principle, have been associated with a loss of clarity and focus
in child protection matters.

I can only assume that the views of the
ordinary, experienced, child protection social worker are not required by this
inquiry, which is essentially an extravagant stage show for the "great and
good" to impress each other with their wisdom. It seems increasingly
unlikely that anything useful will come out of it.

The lawyers who control proceedings seem to
think that child protection is simply a matter of interpretation of the law.
The social work skills of understanding human behaviour and using intuitive
reasoning are being devalued.

Most authorities are now quite good at child
abuse investigation, especially if they have a centralised team, and it is
therefore difficult for those of us outside London to understand why the
investigation failed so disastrously in Haringey.

The only way to prevent child deaths is for
social workers to get through the front door, ask probing questions, use all
their skills to get at the truth, make sure managers listen and keep on working
away until the child is protected. In the end it really depends on the
commitment and tenacity of the social worker.

Radical change will not come from Laming’s
cosy consensus of self-proclaimed experts who have already decided the future
direction of child protection social work.

Hilary Searing

Qualified nonsense

The item about social work students’ poor
qualifications intrigued me (News, page 13, 25 April).

Firstly, A level grades are a poor indicator
of subsequent degree classifications. Secondly, social work students are mainly
"mature" students who can be expected to have
"non-standard" entry qualifications. Thirdly, lower qualifications do
not mean that the "quality of the person is lower" as social work
courses offer places on a number of criteria, not only academic qualifications.

Martin J Leveridge
Lecturer in social work,
University of Teesside

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