In its eagerness to prove that social workers are over-zealous,
naive and unprofessional – in fact, that society would be better
off without them – the Daily Mail has once again
fundamentally misunderstood the nature of child protection.
Of course children are not taken into care purely because of their
parents’ poverty. The closest this scenario ever comes to reality
is in the case of destitute asylum seekers, and the social work
profession has made clear its objection to the legislation that
allows for this. The Mail has made no objection.
Ill-informed, over-excited debates in the Mail would be
irrelevant if it were not for that newspaper’s undoubted influence
on public opinion and, more alarmingly, on politicians.
But if the Mail can and should be ignored, the real issue
of poverty and its undue influence in the interaction between
family and state should not.
Poverty exacerbates the difficulties faced to some degree by all
parents. The stress and fear caused by simply not having enough
money, as well as the effects of poor housing, dangerous
neighbourhoods, inadequate education and poor health which are more
likely to afflict low income families, threaten children’s welfare.
The challenge parents in these circumstances face in safeguarding
their own children would defeat many who manage in more fortunate
The challenge social workers truly face is in mitigating the
effects of poverty – supporting families to manage despite the odds
society has stacked against them. But despite their efforts, there
is no doubt that poverty fundamentally disadvantages children in
In addition, poor families are more likely to be regularly in touch
with public services, and their behaviour is therefore more visible
to professionals. Their children may well be more likely to be
taken into care, while abuse in more affluent families may go
Social workers are well aware of these complexities, even if the
Daily Mail is not. In our necessary defence of the
profession, we must not ignore the undoubted relationship between
poverty and both the occurrence and the detection of harm to