“Our work is very child-centred but working with the whole family is just as important. I enjoy my job because I get to protect children and to help guide families – most need assistance at a very vulnerable time when it is difficult to think clearly, and it is very rewarding to be able to help. It can be very emotionally draining too, but I have learnt to deal with it and stay strong.”
Sabina Yesmin is a child protection social worker in Tower Hamlets, north east London
How many are there and how long have they been around?
There are 4,745 (including part-time) child protection social workers, family placement and juvenile/youth justice workers. Social work can be traced to the 1800s, but local authorities were only legally required to set up children’s departments in 1948. Generic social services departments followed the Seebohm report in 1968, but the Children Act of 1989 led most local authorities to reintroduce specialist child protection teams.
Where are they usually located and what other workers/professionals do they often work with?
Child protection social workers usually work out of local authority premises, and in the voluntary sector within charities such as the NSPCC. They work with a range of professionals including hospital staff, GPs, health visitors, teachers, police officers and probation officers, and with local area child protection committees and voluntary organisations working with children and families.
What is their main role?
Their main role is to protect children from harm, whether that be because of a deliberate act or a failure to provide proper care, or both. Child protection social workers receive referrals about children, make home visits to investigate concerns, assess risk, and work with other professionals and the courts to safeguard the children and ensure their other needs are met, taking emergency action where necessary. They also advise, support and guide parents about the care of their children.
What are the main pieces of legislation that govern the work they do?
The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides the overarching framework. It emphasises the need for legal protection for the child before and after birth and the importance of respecting cultural values. The Children Act 1989 is concerned with children’s care and local authority support for children and their families. The Children Act 2004 provides the legislative framework to take forward the Every Child Matters agenda, aiming to create clearer lines of accountability for children’s services, facilitate joint working, and safeguard children more effectively.
How and by whom is their work funded/commissioned?
Most are employed by local authorities, either directly or through contracts with voluntary organisations such as the NSPCC.
What is their average salary?
About £20,000 to £25,000, although some local authorities offer extra money or benefits.
What is the normal training/qualification route?
The main qualifications these days are the new social work degrees, which have been offered at English universities since 2003 and elsewhere in the UK since 2004. These have replaced the Diploma in Social Work (DipSW), which is to be phased out by 2009. Once qualified, social workers must register with the General Social Care Council, renew their registration every three years, and do at least five days’ professional training each year. They are also required to have a post-qualifying child care award to work in child protection in some areas.
What is their biggest gripe?
They work with some of the most vulnerable children in society yet there is little public understanding of the difficult decisions they face daily. Consequently they feel they are damned if they do intervene, and damned if they don’t.