Review: Panorama – The Child Protectors
Monday, 2 November
Only three weeks ago the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Kim Bromley-Derry, said children’s social workers needed a Police, Camera, Action! style programme to increase public understanding of their role.
Obligingly, the BBC’s Panorama gave us a taste of what that might look like when a camera crew went “on the frontline” with Coventry Council’s child protection team.
Bromley-Derry was right: such a programme can help to demystify what social workers do. We sat in on the calls, both genuine and hoaxes, the difficult decisions social workers have to make every day, the stress written on their faces as they tried to juggle priorities of a caseload three times the recommended level, and manage the exhaustion as they left the office each day.
We saw Sarb, a newly qualified social worker, checking an anonymous tip-off of child neglect. As she pulls up outside the door there is something looking ominously like excrement smeared on the windows.
What follows is a harrowing example of the type of cases frontline social workers encounter daily. Police are called and the grandmother agrees to take the children after she realises they may have to be taken into care.
Perhaps we could expect this kind of incident to be included for its potential to shock viewers but the programme also showed the more subtle and difficult decisions social workers have to make.
A single father struggles with alcohol problems after his partner has left him and his four children are taken into care. We see him cooking for his children, making their beds and tidying the house, trying to prove he should have his children back.
We see Lucy, another newly qualified social worker, talking to his eldest daughter, trying to work out whether things have really improved and whether it is safe to let the children return to their father permanently. As she points out, the stakes are high, as the children have already been in care twice and she needs to be sure it won’t happen again.
Perhaps the most striking element of the programme was Sarah, with two years’ experience, trying to juggle her 39 cases and upset she can’t give any of them 100%. When she is asked about cases such as Peter Connelly and Victoria Climbié she says, fear etched on her face: “I just keep thinking, that could be me. That could be any of us.”
Well done, Panorama, for a well-balanced, well-researched piece that will surely go some way to improving the public image of child protection workers. It’s desperately needed.
This article is published in the 12 November issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Child protection demystified