Some things have only got better

Last year, after 30 years, I moved on from working at local
authorities to lead Cafcass. The sense of completing a personal
cycle was confirmed when I met one of my new social work staff in a
local office. “Nice to see you again” he said. I guessed where we
might have worked together. “No, you were my social worker”, he
reminded me. He and his brothers were children in need, back in

A lot has changed in social work. In the 1970s, I worked with
many black children institutionally abandoned in long-term
residential care. One nine-year-old, Leroy, just wanted to be back
with his mum. I searched for her, in an era before tracing
agencies. I kept nearly finding her but she had drifted away. Today
we would have found Leroy an adoptive family. A number of staff
with complementary roles would have been working together to help
him. Back then, being a social worker was a much lonelier business,
without the tools we have now.

In those days I had a caseload of more than 100 vulnerable
adults as well as 30-plus children in care. It was an
emergency-only service, if that, plus annual telephone reviews.
“Ignore me” could just as well have been stamped on many files.

The development of community services to vulnerable adults over
the past 15 years fills me with pride – a fantastic achievement of
our welfare state.

But I am still haunted by my mistakes. A few years ago, a police
officer rang me to say a woman they’d arrested on suspicion of
arranging a contract hit on her step-father, had also arranged to
have me killed. Eighteen years before, I’d allowed her to stay at
home with her mother in the hope and belief she’d be safe, after
her step-father returned from prison after years of sexually
abusing her. He’d been through a sex offender treatment programme,
but nothing changed and she was abused again. Experiences like that
have left me with an abiding understanding of the vulnerability of
social workers.

I’ve worked with so many amazing people whose advice and support
has been crucial on case after case. I am proud to still be a
social worker, albeit with another hat on. Like everyone I work
with in my new job, we share rock-solid values. The feeling today
is just as strong as it ever was.

Anthony Douglas is chief executive of

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