BBC1’s fly-on-the-wall series Someone to Watch Over Me had many
strengths. By far the most important was the portrayal of social
workers as caring and compassionate and tough-minded – a welcome
antidote to the bumbling and incompetence usually shown on TV.
The reality of difficult decision-making came over clearly. None of
the Bristol social workers was a gambler, but while weighing up the
risks and benefits in their cases each feared that the next turn of
events might be their downfall.
The most powerful message was in the last of the series. One woman
was an enthusiastic hospital social worker who was on a period of
extended sick leave – the assault she had suffered from a service
user seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back as she
struggled to keep on top of her 30 cases. Another woman was a
front-line team manager who had resigned, realising the sheer
impossibility of keeping any kind of grip on the 300 plus
children’s cases within her responsibility.
It would be good if Bristol social services were an exception but
sadly this isn’t the case. Social workers across the country
continue to be overstretched and poorly resourced. None of my own
staff has a caseload of 30 children – but they are under pressure.
Give me 300 children’s cases to manage, and I too will pack my
Lord Laming’s proposal to increase “the status and rewards” of
children’s work awaits implementation. This is not merely a matter
of social workers’ pay and professional recognition, important
though those are; it is about the price of protecting
While the series was being filmed last year, Lisa Arthurworrey
appealed to have her name removed from the Protection of Children
Act List. She failed. Many in the profession will have thought her
position not a million miles removed from their own, and find
abhorrent that she might be the scapegoat for the systemic problems
that the BBC portrayed.
Until children’s services are resourced adequately there will be
more preventable child fatalities, more Lisa Arthurworreys, and
certainly more of the wasteful staff turnover that we saw in
Richard Purdie is a senior care manager at Bradford