It’s Friday, so there must be a leaving do. In London, at least,
everyone’s leaving child protection. Sometimes an invite arrives
for someone’s leaving do and I realise I don’t even know who they
are. With so many changes, I have found myself less committed to
getting to know new people; I’ll see if they stay first.
Other times it’s a trusted colleague or close friend leaving and
I know I’ll miss them. In this job I often need people who can give
me a laugh, a hug or some good advice. When an experienced worker
leaves, it affects the atmosphere and the workload. When several
people leave in the same month, you feel a mug for staying.
It is worse for the clients who often have their own issues
about separation and loss. Jay Barrett*, eight, was abandoned by
his mother every time a new boyfriend came along. He told me he
hated his previous social worker “because she left”. His mother
simply asked me: “How long will you stay?” I didn’t make any
So why are so many leaving? It’s a difficult job, working with
damaged people at their lowest point. There are no right answers,
yet the consequences of getting it wrong seem huge. The sense of
responsibility can be overwhelming, yet the deadlines, forms and
reports stand in the way of really helping anyone. The only people
I know who don’t work weekends or evenings are those who get up at
5am every weekday.
My borough, like others in London, has tried to solve the crisis
by recruiting staff from overseas. But they aren’t staying either.
Some always intend to stay a year then travel again. Others feel
de-skilled by our system or are astounded by the volume of
paperwork. All find that salaries that initially appear attractive
do not go far in the world’s second most expensive city.
Another issue is the high number of newly qualified staff in
front-line work. Once they were sheltered and introduced to child
protection and court work gradually, but this seems rare now. So a
vicious circle develops: inexperienced staff arrive, quickly feel
overloaded and leave, but their cases remain to be handed on to
whoever comes next, while the clients get more frustrated.
Now it is my turn to leave. Why? Well, I’m tired of going to bed
thinking about work and waking up still worrying. I want to do the
sort of reflective, solution-focused social work I was trained to
do, and feel more certain that I am helping people.
So for me the recruitment crisis has its bright side. With so
many vacancies and so few applicants, I felt confident applying for
jobs and was in a good position to negotiate. With a choice of so
many boroughs and voluntary agencies I can try new ways of working
and explore more specialist fields. After all, if I don’t like the
new job, I know there will always be vacancies in child
*Not his real name
Clea Barry is now an adoption social worker.