Judith K Harris never wanted to be a ‘child-snatching’ social worker, but came to view her decision to enter child protection as the best of her career
When I took my social work degree it was with a view to working with children for a year or so before starting my own counselling service.
I never wanted to work in child protection because I did not want the responsibility and I did not want to be one of “those” social workers who “snatch” others’ children away. Obviously I held the same stereotypes in my head as the public and had my sights on being a counsellor.
But my professor told me to take the child care specialist training because I “would make a great child protection social worker” and there were lots of vacancies in that area. So, reluctantly, I took on the job. To me, child protection was the worst career decision I could make.
But, as the years went by and I learned how to do assessments and child protection investigations, I realised I was good at it and could maintain good relationships with families.
Children were living in very poor conditions but I could work with the families to improve the situation. Sometimes I had to find a better future for the children because their families were never going to be able to care for them.
There was a two-year-old child I had a lot of concerns about and was worried that, if this young mum went back to her partner, things would be scary for the child because there was serious domestic violence between the couple. At any rate, the mother absconded with the child from care and I worried sick for two weeks about the child’s safety. With a lot of hard work on my part and help from the authorities, the child was found. I was so saddened by his hugely neglected state but he was safe and I was relieved.
Over the years I have read about different cases and heard about how the media portrays social workers, and I have found that I am extremely passionate about protecting children. It is not about taking children away from their families as I first believed, although sadly sometimes that happens, but it is about making sure that a generation of children is protected from real harm.
It has to be one of the most difficult, stressful and thankless jobs, but when I see a child whom I helped to have a better future because the alternative was unthinkable, I am grateful that I made the decision to start in child protection work and find it far more rewarding than I ever thought possible.
Judith K Harris is a senior social worker in London, employed through Bluecare, an HCL company
This article is published in the 12 August 2010 edition of Community Care magazine under the headline It is About Ensuring a Generation is Protected From Harm