‘David Cameron is undermining the safety and welfare of children’

Professor of social work Ray Jones reacts to government plans to consult on jailing social workers who fail to protect children

by Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London 

If you actively wanted to undermine the safety and welfare of children and young people, you could not do better than this government and its politicians.

As child protection workloads increase by over 50% since 2009, the government reduces funding for the police and children’s social services so frontline professionals have to cut corners and ration their time with children more heavily.

In relation to child sexual exploitation, they oversee the demise of youth services and allow academy and free schools to disengage from local child protection partnerships.

Blame and punishment

And when horrific abuse takes place, they ensure those who give their professional lives to protect children are blamed and now to be punished.

There is then the predictable consequence that it is increasingly difficult to recruit social workers, paediatricians and others at the frontline, or appoint directors of children’s services experienced in children’s social work and child protection.

This government also ensures it is only public sector workers who can be blamed, fined and imprisoned, while at the same time opening up children’s social work and child protection to the market place – and to private companies, which causes fragmentation and confused accountability.

Mr Cameron has a history of grandstanding and playing to the gallery on child abuse. In 2008 he tucked in behind Rebekah Brooks and The Sun to seek political advantage following the terrible death of Peter Connelly.

Playing to the gallery

He is at it again, with the cutter-in-chief, communities secretary Eric Pickles, at his side along with health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is overseeing increasing disruption and chaos in our health services.

And shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper – the wife of Ed Balls who was complicit in the The Sun’s ‘Baby P’ blame game – wants mandatory reporting of child abuse. This is crazy.

To protect themselves, anyone with any concern about a child would have to define it as child abuse. Thresholds would tumble, triaging would stop, families needing help would be caught in child protection assessments and conferences. And children’s services would be overloaded, at increased risk of collapsing under the weight of even bigger workloads.

Police and social workers have learnt a lot over the past six years about child sexual exploitation. They are identifying and tackling more criminals, exposing and prosecuting networks of abusers and protecting more young people.

More time and capacity would certainly help them to act on the learning. It is a pity that senior politicians seem not to have the same capacity to reflect and learn, and seem unable to resist playing to the gallery.

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32 Responses to ‘David Cameron is undermining the safety and welfare of children’

  1. Bob Banks March 3, 2015 at 5:23 pm #

    If the Westminster enquiry has any teeth then national politicians and ministers who were involved in cover ups and deliberately misplacing files should also face five years in Jail for failing to protect children.

  2. Beegee March 3, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    This is the lowest blow, under-resource services, then target people trying to make a difference. We already have laws for people who are deliberately negligent in their duties. Just another example of how under-valued social care, the youth service and other young people’s services are. Good luck recruiting!!

  3. emmer March 4, 2015 at 12:33 am #

    The Goverment has covered up paedoplile ring /rings for years.Now Cameron advocates protection. Election round the corner… too late the public are not stupid no use trying to distance yourself now and shift the blame!

  4. Keith berry March 4, 2015 at 6:17 am #

    If we want to identify who should be prosecuted for being complicit in child abuse then we should look no further than this government. As with the NHS they cut budgets, reduce staff, reduce training, increase the nunber of experienced people leaving and remove working together duties all making it more difficult to keep children safe. Then they blame front line workers.

  5. Alison Holden March 4, 2015 at 6:45 am #

    Social work is an incredibly stressful and difficult job. It expects us to have in-depth knowledge on a variety of subjects, and with the cuts faced by many coucils, this expectation of expertise is even more prevalent. We get to court with a case, and as per usual, our opinions are ignored and scapegoated, however hard we studied for them. Social work is sacrificial; rising caseloads, less time to spend with children, less money to provide them with true help, more statutory duties, less salary in real terms as we spend more and more time working. And now, this government want us to take the blame for not having the time or the energy to devote ourselves to further study, sleeplessness, and debilitating worries about the tomorrows “to do” list. We are just there, according to Mr Cameron, to “suck it up”, and to sacrifice our very freedoms for not having the tools or support provided to us which would help prevent sexual exploitation. Well, he can find someone else…enough is enough.

  6. Mandy Miranda March 4, 2015 at 8:43 am #

    After 23 years in social work I thought I had heard it all, David Cameron how dare you! I think it’s time we stood up to this mountain of abuse from the government and media. I work as a trainer at present, but this has made my mind up, I won’t return to social work unless they recruit 10 social workers for every one currently in post. Give every social worker a part time social work assistant and administrator, then it might be safe. You pay us a pittance and demonise us at every opportunity. Cannot imagine why anyone would want to join this profession.

    • Tara March 6, 2015 at 6:43 pm #

      After 11 years doing frontline, it has become impossible to protect children. After a great deal of self debate and absolute sadness, I have made the decision to leave. I just cannot live with the real fear of something very serious happening to a child that I am working with because of cuts in resources, court thresholds and the increasing work pressures. I miss it terribly but it is simply impossible and very very dangerous!!

  7. Heather March 4, 2015 at 8:50 am #

    Well i know experienced social workers who have said this is the final straw, and have decided to leave. They work all hours and when they can’t get all the reams of work done they are told how crap they are. I made the move away from childrens services last year and my mental health is so much better.

  8. Nicola Griffiths March 4, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    Social workers are working within a system which fails them and the people they work with. Threatening social workers with prison, will drive them out of the system. Bureaucracy is prioritised over children’s needs. The focus is still off the child. The focus remains on the paper trail which will provide evidence against whoevers neck is on the line, usually the social worker. Social workers are assessed by their reports not the positive outcomes for the child. Refocus on the child, listen to the child, value the social workers experience and trust them. No recruitment campaign will work if the threat to social workers is prison. If the system does not support social workers how can they do their job properly?

  9. Marian March 4, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

    Looks like David Cameron wants the social workers to be jailed for longer than the perpetrators.

  10. George Bragan March 4, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    Plenty of people have explained the difficuties of how professionals work on a daily bases trying to protect the most vulnerable within our society. I would like to say how the people who work within the goverment appear to be living on a different planet Cameron and co. They appear to be living on a different world than the rest of the population. I would like Cameron and co to try doing our job for a day!! Whatever happened to the bigger community, thats a joke, get real!!

  11. John March 4, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

    Penny wise; pound foolish is the first thing that comes to mind. Political correctness is a straight jacket that needs to be removed. I have heard that where a local authority has outsourced service provision, the contracted companies are telling Ward Councillors to “go away” when they have advocated for their constituents. In effect, being told that it is not the Councillors’ business anymore. So where would this situation leave outsourced Social Work?

  12. Steve Rogowski March 4, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

    As usual Ray Jones hits the nail on the head.
    The Tory (and even, albeit to a lessser extent, Labour) emphasis on austerity means services for young people have been cut to the bone. In addition, practitioners are suffocated by bureaucracy and targets thus having little time to spend time with children/young people and families in order to build trusting relationships and resolve problems. They are also under pressure to simply process cases as speedily as possible which means that errors are almost certain to be made. New Labour’s and now the Coalition’s embracement of managerialism and all it entails has much to answer for

  13. Alison Harness March 4, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

    I used to be a childcare social worker and left in 2008 following symptoms of severe stress. I now work in the field of mental health and continue to feel defensive and appalled at the way childcare social workers are treated. It makes me continually angry and I can recall in vivid detail many of the cases I worked on, where despite concerns I was advised that ‘nothing more could be done’ and I had to ‘let it drop’ due to the infinate numbers of new cases coming in daily. There just wasn’t the staff, resources or legislation to deal with any of the issues effectively. Particularly teenagers experiencing sexual abuse and grooming behaviour.
    It’s a job I will never, ever do again no matter how short of money I am. A friend of mine has just started doing her social work degree and is the only person specialising in childcare on the whole course. When I did my Social Work degree in 1996-1999 the majority of students wanted to specialise in Childcare Social Work.

    As someone has said previously, good luck recruiting, good luck farming the role out to private agencies and good luck with the new legislation demonising hard working and under resourced proffessionals. The privatisation of adult care support has highlighted huge shortcomings in the quality of support, undermining the proffessionalism of social care and increasing Adult Safeguarding referrals and concerns due to the lack of funding Local Authorities are prepared (or able) to pay private companies, leading to inadequately trained, unmotivated and potentially abusive staff. Yes, well done tories!

    Childcare Social Workers, I salute you all.

  14. Ian Stevenson March 4, 2015 at 3:55 pm #

    When children under perform at school, it’s the teachers who are held accountable. Sometimes teachers are not doing a good job, more often children don’t well because they behave badly. There are various reasons for that : it may be poor values at home, it may be stress caused by lack of work or too much work, or inconsistent income or parental strife. We hear that phrase ‘failing their pupils’. In fact some of our most dedicated teachers work with these kids and often make a huge difference. The exam results may not be in the top half but there is more to education than exam results. Mr Cameron and many of his cabinet have little or no experience of people who live in these situations.

  15. Debbie March 4, 2015 at 4:49 pm #

    Having just completed my dissertation on whether or not we should implement MR into the UK, I can say this is a great news! Yes, it will increase the workloads of social workers but in the long run it will prevent the amount of abuse our children suffer, therefore, meaning less need for services in the future (its all in the research), surely that is the fundamental reason we all came into children’s social care?
    Bottom line is…or services will be swapped with the TRUE scale of child abuse rather than the tip of the iceberg we currently deal with and justify it by cost and workloads. I know I wanted to be a social worker to really make a difference, our current system and statutory guidance continue to let children in our care down. Maybe mandatory reporting could be one step closer to a better system? I’m all for it.

    • Rob March 5, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

      Unfortunately Debbie, for every research paper positively supporting MR there are equal papers highlighting the dangers and flaws of such an approach. I’m happy you’ve completed your degree. Rather sad that you have such a one sided view of the “research” world.

  16. anon March 4, 2015 at 5:26 pm #

    David Cameron is aware a majority of the abused children and young people were residing in private run residential units from the private sector who tend to employ unskilled, unqualified minimum wage workers. If David Cameron wants to leave behind a legacy before he’s ousted from government let’s hope it’s not a cheap photo opportunity off the backs of abused children neglected in the private sector.

  17. Nancy March 4, 2015 at 7:13 pm #

    I was so disappointed in my “new” home government and Cameron. I have been a SW for nearly 19 years, and have worked in Child Protection and Mental Health in both UK and US. I came from a country where we had two full time SW’s working in Congress impacting on laws made and services provided to a sensationalized media in bed with its Prime Minister who is blind to how difficult it is to be a SW in these tough times. Think about it UK, you are now uncovering and opening up all the truth around sexual offences, and starting to prosecute those even employed by the BBC which will open the minds of the country and therefore increase the number of cases that we see every day. How much is Cameron receiving back hand from the likes of the Daily Mail…..what carrots do they stream in front of his face? Disgusting! Makes me want to go back home….all of us immigrant SW’s brought here due to victoria c. and baby peter will now have a mass exodus leaving you all to pick up the proverbial pieces with a lack of newly qualified SWs coming through due to your putting SW’s in jail. Well done, questioning Cameron’s IQ in the Southwest.

  18. Annie March 4, 2015 at 8:18 pm #

    The truth is that CSE has been going on for over 30 years, look at Keighley, Bradford, Colne, then at Blackburn, Accrington, Burnley, then at Dagenham, Birmingham, as a social worker I was reporting this to senior management years ago, I was reprimanded for stating that it was Pakistan taxi drivers and their relatives, I was told it was a racist allegation. However, I was speaking to young girls in LA care of 12 years and above who were being picked up for school by taxi and groomed via alcohol, cannabis and other drugs, taken to strange houses, abused and photographed with threats to release the photo’s and hurt their families. The police would not get involved as there were, in their words ‘no complaints from the girls’, no wonder. There is also a great deal of sexual abuse in Pakistan and Bangladesh families which is pushed to one side, this will be the next big ‘failure of social workers’. A friend who works at Tesco has telephoned the police in Rochdale on many occasions to report men of Pakistan origin buying lots of vodka and having very young girls in the cars outside, guess what, no action as there has been no complaint by the girls.

  19. Jo March 4, 2015 at 9:29 pm #

    Who wants to be a social worker?

    I dont . . .

    Who wants to be a social worker?

    I dont . . .

    Really I’m fed up with this blame and bullying culture. Intimidation and manipulation. Exploit your goodwill, keep you oppressed under a form of modern day slavery, so you don’t even have time to realise your level of stress is completely out of control. I know so many social workers who have been made physically unwell and even heard of one that died at her desk. Sorry David you just helped me see the light. I’m out of it. How hypocritical to cut funding in one hand and threaten prison with the other. Bricks without straw. I stood up and cried at a serious case review begging them to make sure they report that lack of resources (too many cases per social worker) contributed. The majority of other professionals in the room voiced their agreement but no it was never mentioned. If you do the maths its appalling. Lets say at best you have 20 cases. In our area its 25. But for 20 cases divide that by 37 hours thats 1hr 51minutes per child a week. Minus supervision, driving time, reports and feeding the machine, how much time does that leave to see the child? I really feel for Social Workers. They need some love too.

  20. Sarah Forde March 4, 2015 at 10:44 pm #

    I have been qualified as a Social Worker since 2006 and in child protection for the last 6 years. Hand on heart..I came into this job to…pardon the cliché, make a difference. True, there are good and not so good social workers but this is the case with any profession i.e. politicians. However, apart from the odd one, I have only come across committed, caring, empathic, sincere, nurturing and hard working social workers who seem to be continually swimming against the tide, hence, I am currently off work with stress/anxiety related to the job and the job only. I am overwhelmed with a job I am passionate about and yet am growing more and more disillusioned. This just adds to the utter frustration and dismay. Perhaps a day shadowing social workers may be useful? Then maybe an insight into some of the challenges of being a Social Worker in 2015.

    Time and time again, child protection is explored with similar themes arising i.e. stop the blame culture and explore the systems theory, large case-loads, lack of support including reflective supervision, issues with multi-agency working etc. etc.

    Rather than vilifying and persecuting social workers…perhaps this stance should be aimed at the perpetrators of the abuse. Yes, mistakes are made and people should be accountable. Is this the answer? Not in my view.

    What with the media, the Government and public perception, how does any Social Worker stand a chance of simply doing their job?

    Who does this impact on? Who will be blamed for the next tragedy?

    • sabine ebert-forbes March 5, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

      Hi Sarah,

      I have been where you are at now, and after 23 years in the job I opted for a move to pastures new. That came with a considerable drop in pay, but I am overall a happier, healthier person. I have ample of opportunity to apply the skills I learned over the years. Sarah there is life after social work!

      Sad and scandalous though that many of us have to make the decision to leave social work. But at the end of the day it’s either our health or our demise.

  21. Annette March 5, 2015 at 8:29 am #

    One party are as bad az the rest! Made my blood boil when I heard this on the news.
    The last Labour government were told over 10 years ago about child sexual exploitation by gangs of men by their own MP Anne Grey. So if the new proposals come into being, does that mean the Labour elite will be prosecuted for knowing, but doing nothing about child abuse? I wonder what Anne thinks if it all now, being forced out of her own party for telling the truth years ago and not being believed.

  22. Kelly Burgess March 5, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

    Totally agree with the article. In an already under-funded, stretched area, where it is hard to recruit social workers, least of all quality ones, this government has done a brilliant job of making an already bad situation worse.
    It may seem a little conspiracy-theorist, but it begs the question why?
    Investigations into what has been termed the “Westminster paedophile scandal” of alleged sex parties that included children at Dolphin Square flats, which has implicated politicians and other senior figures seems to be getting closer to the answer to that perhaps…

  23. phill wheatley March 5, 2015 at 4:49 pm #

    Just as architects create the environment in which people have to arrange their furniture, so do the politicians of Cameron’s ilk, create the misery in which children and the elderly suffer and to boot, seek to imprison those who dedicate their lives to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

  24. Debbie March 5, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    I have been saying for many years that the governments have been ignoring the one recommendation that would actually make all the difference, lower caseloads. They make lots of noise about professionals working together but sweep the lower caseloads under the carpet where they are then left. This is the only thing that will make a real difference to outcomes. If social workers had realistic caseloads, they would have had the time to get to know the children and families better. Children would then feel able to talk to their workers and workers would be able to notice any changes. After 13 years I have decided to go independent and spend my time completing assessments. I have made the decision not to go back into frontline work. I know I will miss working with the families and I know there are other jobs with children but, at the moment, I don’t want to have the responsibility any more. It shows how skewed the thinking is when, as somebody stated earlier, they want the social worker to do a longer sentence than the perpetrators of the abuse!!!

  25. Dave March 5, 2015 at 8:34 pm #

    I am glad that it has been noticed that David Cameron and his government are trying to dismantle children services as they have done with connexions the youth service. All they have done is cut services across the board and now social workers are to be jailed for a system they have created. Resources to children have been cut year after year. I think this government needs to take responsibility for the chaos they have caused. Role on the general election.

  26. natasha March 6, 2015 at 1:34 am #

    Ah DEBBIE (the one who just finished uni).
    Wait until you have a caseload of 25 plus, core group minutes to type and educational professionals sending you daily emails every time a child is off school. THEN remember your views on MR.
    I personally chose to quit frontline cp after 4 years. I was burnt out with the demand. Its easy to comment on a job you have never done and point fingers. But the truth is children’s Social work is a VERY HARD job. David Cameron does not have to ABE children who have been groomed not to ‘talk’ to Social Workers and therefore refuse to make disclosures about their abuse.
    I hope he fully intends to send to prison (for a minimum of five years) all of the perpetrators of CSE… No thought not. Jimmy Saville springs to mind.
    Rant over.

  27. Jimi March 6, 2015 at 8:52 am #

    Unfortunately I can’t see end to all the blame culture by the politicians, they should leave the professionals to do their work and stop reactive games to please the public.
    The more cut in children services the more crises being created, they should take more responsibilities and put funds where needed most. Too much talks most especially as election is fast approaching.

    I can’t say I am glad as the general elections is round the corner, because no much difference in any of the parties…….

  28. Michael Murphy March 6, 2015 at 11:08 am #

    What Cameron fails to understand is that by putting social workers in the dock, you make children and young people more, not less, vulnerable.

  29. Jim H March 11, 2015 at 9:35 pm #

    The support of children in need and the protection of children at risk continues to be based on a model created in the 1970’s!! Hopelessly inadequate. Will never have the professionalism it deserves all the time it is delivered by local authorities. It requires a totally different approach (that certainly does not includes a five year prison sentence for social workers) that has strong, clear leadership and management that does not behave in a risk averse manner – and allows social workers to do their job – which is much more that assessment.
    I wonder who really has the courage to learn from experience, all those serious case reviews, prominent child abuse enquires that has made not the slightest difference down the years.!!