Social Care comes to fore after tragedies

It might be enlightening at some point in the near future to
poll those who had been either near the July bombs in London or who
had relatives, friends or loved ones personally affected, to gauge
if their view of the social work profession had been altered by the
support they received.

Much of what those in social care do is too easily maligned and
misinterpreted as the powerful telling the vulnerable what to do
and how to live their lives. No matter how varied and wide-ranging
the scope of social work is in the 21st century; no matter how
strongly social workers argue that one of their goals is to
encourage self-determination and empower those often tragically
lacking in confidence and social skills – their activities are too
often treated as suspicious by those who have no personal contact
with social care but who do read the sensationalising tabloids

At a time of events such as the siege of the school at Beslan or
the July attacks in London – the strengths of the social care
profession become plain. The discovery for many people is that
while they are accustomed to associating social workers with the
problems that arise from dysfunctional behaviour – they are less
familiar with their ability to help with the complexities and
practical challenges of so called “normal” family life, when
individuals are suddenly and violently taken off guard.

In the wake of the four bombs that went off on 7 July, social
workers from several London boroughs worked with police and
hospital staff to set up a family assistance centre and offer

Counselling is the unmet need that comes to mind in the wake of
a tragedy – but trained volunteers can and do fill that role. Also,
it may not be what individual members of the public require most. A
survey of 1,000 Londoners conducted by the online version of the
British Medical Journal after 7 July but before the second attack
said that almost a third of Londoners suffered serious stress.

The researchers concluded that most had, nevertheless, coped
well with only 12 seeking professional counselling, the rest
relying on family and friends for support.

Reports at the time and subsequently indicate that where social
workers did make a significant difference was as “navigators”,
offering individuals a way through the bureaucracy of the modern
welfare state. Janet Haddington, a social work manager from
Westminster Council, helping to co-ordinate social services’
involvement in the aftermath of 7 July, put it succinctly to
Community Care. “We are trying to ensure that people get the
information that they are seeking when everything around them is
chaotic. Our role is to problem-solve and signpost – and not leave
them to make it on their own…”

People obviously have different needs. It’s in dealing with the
range of the solutions required immediately post-crisis that social
workers come into their own – helping with benefits if a
breadwinner has been killed; organising care for children if both
parents are hospitalised; providing temporary aid to an older
person if their carer is missing or injured – as well as being
prepared to listen, advise and co-ordinate a longer term network of
support, if that is required.

The main questions of those involved in such tragedies have an
eternal resonance – who, what, why, when, where and how do I cope
now? The core skills of social care provide not only many of the
answers but also a much-needed anchor for individuals enduring
perhaps the most extreme personal turbulence they will ever

Of course the lessons of what worked best and why in the
aftermath of Beslan and the London bombs are worth learning – but,
as many more members of the public now know, what counted for many
at the time personifies the very best of social care practice:
constructive and emotional support in a way that works.

Yvonne Roberts is a writer and journalist.


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