Social worker launches petition to stop Cameron’s proposal to jail social workers

Zowie Overy, a children's social worker, started the petition after the PM's controversial announcement earlier this week

Photo: Flickr/Sebastien Wiertz

A children’s social worker has launched a petition to stop controversial laws proposed by David Cameron, which could see social workers jailed for up to five years.

‘Support social workers not imprison them’ states: “Placing the fear of imprisonment into the heart of this specialist area of social work will prevent the work being completed as professionals will be motivated by ensuring their own safety rather than that of the child or young person.”

Zowie Overy, a social worker with experience in tackling child sexual exploitation, started the petition in response to this week’s controversial announcement from the prime minister.

David Cameron warned the government is proposing to extend the crime of wilful neglect, which carries a maximum five-year jail term, to children’s social workers. The news has already provoked a furious response from the sector.

The move was labelled ‘crass political opportunism’ by one social worker, while others accused the prime minister of undermining the safety and welfare of children.

Stand up for Social Work

Overy is using her petition, which so far has 4,470 signatures, to call for young people to be educated to understand the risks of child sexual exploitation, and social work professionals to be supported rather than blamed or threatened.

Community Care’s campaign, which launched yesterday, calls on all social workers to Stand up for Social Work by taking pride in their great work, being honest about the challenges they face and urging the government to support them to do their jobs.

Signing the petition is just one of the ways the profession can Stand up for Social Work.


This article is part of Community Care’s campaign to Stand up for Social Work. We’re standing up for social work by being honest, offering support and providing inspiration.

You can stand up for social work by:

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36 Responses to Social worker launches petition to stop Cameron’s proposal to jail social workers

  1. richard bingham March 5, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

    it is David Cameron and his government that should be facing charges over exploitation of children and adult because of the lack of resources put in place for social care staff to work with

    • Shirl Taylor March 5, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

      i am frustrated and angry because this will put others off coming into the profession. If our case loads were much more manageable that would be a starter. Additionally it is always the social work profession that gets the good old scapegoating. Yours horrified,

  2. Laura March 5, 2015 at 5:51 pm #

    Where is the petition? The link does not work…

  3. Nicole Robinson March 5, 2015 at 6:28 pm #

    This is wrong on so many levels. What about the Doctors? Who miss obvious injuries. Resulting in no medical backing from doctor to support the social worker case.

    Is this a case of “don’t question authority” of a doctor? If a doctor tells a patient to take a certain tablet, no one questions it you just do it.
    Is this the same thing?
    Doctor says nothing is wrong then that’s that then?

    What about the teachers who fail to report suspected abuse cases in the first place and fail to take appropriate action.

    What about the Police, Health Visitors, Midwives, Family and Neighbours, the list is endless.

    Social Work is already a scary enough profession and a hard one to get in to You have to be built of some quite stern stuff to be able to get through the 3 year degree then working in a Local Authority team let alone children’s services.

    I wanted to go in to social work as my parents were foster carers and it made me want to work in children’s services.
    After a 6 week placement in a LA team I decided children’s services was actually not for me. I hated every minute of it and the few cases I worked on scared me to the bone and I couldn’t take that feeling home from work every night.

    We were taught in university that we were the “new breed” of social workers out to change the way social work was carried out. Question Authority, Not be Afraid to Whistle Blow, extra support for newly qualified, responsible case loads.

    I don’t see any of this happening anywhere. Teams are over stretched across all sectors, social workers are over worked. they don’t feel supported or confident to speak out and question people.

    The job is already terrifying enough without the added pressure of prison sentence. This will only make a mess of an already incredibly messed up system.

    • Julie March 5, 2015 at 9:11 pm #

      This petition should consider social workers and teachers alike as both could face jail. The money spent on this proposal would better used to pay for more professionals to work with and support children and families.

    • Emma March 6, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

      As an NQSW, I completely agree with everything you’ve said here Nicole!

    • Tara March 6, 2015 at 6:14 pm #

      Never mind the professionals what about parents. Responsibility for children starts at home but how many parents are actually prosecuted for neglect? Why are children as young as 9 out late at night with parents having no idea of their whereabouts?? This blame blame blame culture of professionals needs to STOP!

    • Liz March 6, 2015 at 7:40 pm #

      I absolutely agree this is so wrong. Has there been no learnings from Baby P? If you have read Professor Jones’s book on Baby P and see how many professionals were involved in the failings of this child and how many have been held to account? Oh I think that will only be the social workers then and I include Sharon Shoesmith in with this. Where was there protection?

      I could honestly see people leaving the profession never mind not coming into it. I am disgusted. When will the government take responsibilities for their failings in not resourcing children’s teams?

  4. Bridie March 5, 2015 at 8:06 pm #

    I have sent it to everyone on my facebook and I have shared the link for you as well! This is something I feel strongly about and I admire you for doing something about it! Just hope it works!!

  5. claire barton March 5, 2015 at 9:05 pm #

    2015 marks a 5 year end of current government. With the sights on ‘The General Election’ it is increasingly prevalent to act for the well-being of all. Social Workers, as a Profession, are at the forefront of Acts of Parliament with all associative levels of State Intervention in Legislation be it Duties, Guidance, Powers endorsed through Statutes. In addition, Social Workers adhere to their Professional Code of Practice.
    Their public role is often sensationalised in TV Dramas and publicly misunderstood as a consequence.
    Their scope of interventions are ‘targets’ implemented through an ideology of C.E.O’s who are recruited from the Business Sector and bring with them a commercial business Model that adversely affects grass-roots Social Work provision to all Service User’s.
    This petition demonstrates what Clement Atlee identified as being necessary: Social Worker’s role as that of “agitator”.
    Yes, Zowie Overy, pro-activeness is far, far, better. Thank you.

  6. Alex March 5, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

    So why do we not stand up , go to London and tell Mr Cameron what we do think of his great law? If the law would be changed and it won’t be allowed for adults having sex with teenagers since they are 18, than maybe the police would support us.They don’t come out and do anything when they know she will be 16 soon!!
    we are under staff, underpaid and daily in risk of getting abused.
    Thank you Mr Cameron you have no clue of our work

    • Tim March 12, 2015 at 6:29 pm #

      We don’t act because we r weak. We have no respectable unions. What do we pay registration for and what exactly does BASW do? When will the people who r meant to represent us stand up for us. I am treated as a specialist in court, paid lower than most of my friends, risk my life to do the job I love, and have saved countless children and changed several lives in 10yrs doing this. I lose holidays, miss lunch, take time away from my own family, handle 25 plus cases at a time, deal with violence, abuse, and much worse. And they want to imprison me if I make one mistake with all that pressure. No wonder retention is low and we r all leaving. I will take full responsibility for my actions, but I won’t b made a criminal because they need a scape goat if media interest is high.
      Don’t think it won’t be you.

  7. marianne scott March 5, 2015 at 9:36 pm #

    Think the tory government are a damn disgrace for political point scoring what about atrocities we could hold the whole damn lot of them accountable for…..oh different story if they were all threatened with the jail everytime one of them fucks up which is a lot more often and probably a lot more innocents hurt in the process of their acts or lack of action at times ……bunch of snooty money grabbing beeps

  8. Bridie March 5, 2015 at 9:37 pm #

    As I am studying social work currently and I will be a qualified social worker next year I believe this is an absolute outrange!!! I have shared this on my facebook, my uni page and I have sent it to everyone on my friend list so they can help too 🙂 I just hope this works!

  9. C Hall March 6, 2015 at 12:42 am #

    This has got to be the most ludicrous idea to date. Give the services the tools to do the job, more people, more money, instead of cutting back on every service that aids the people that need it. The government should be brought to task for those that they have endangered with their ‘austerity’ programme, and maybe prison time should apply to them. They have the money , and the means, to give priority to the vulnerable, yet they choose to denegrate those in the unenviable position of having to deal with the fallout of these unjust cuts

  10. Jo March 6, 2015 at 7:53 am #

    David, one finger pointing, three pointing back at you. Take some responsibility for your own actions. Cuts to services have saved a drop in the ocean compared to the out of control banking thats pilaging this country.

  11. Zamba March 6, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    Neo Liberal policies will see more poverty, more unemployment and more homelessness etc. etc. The shrinking state means that there will never be enough front line staff in social care and health to properly help those most vulnerable in our society. Therefore this is Cameron’s way of deflecting the accountability of people commiting suicide or children dying of neglect and harm from Government to individuals in social care and health. It’s criminal. No matter what you believe the Labour, Conservatives, Liberals or UKIP stand for they have one thing in common – they all support the neo liberal agenda and will see this country back into the depths of deprivation and poverty not seen since before the welfare state, just so a few people can retain their wealth. This is happening now and people are still watching and reading the propaganda that’s spewed daily and believing it. I am seriously scared for mine and my grandchildren’s future in this world. Those in government are in the pockets of corporations – you only have to have read about TTIP to know they’re not interested in looking after the most vulnerable in society, but they will need a scape goat – hence this proposal.

  12. Joanna March 6, 2015 at 11:21 am #

    What makes Social Workers special that they shouldn’t face a jail sentence if they do something wrong? Doctors, Nurses, Care Manager, Carers all face this prospect and have in the past been jailed. Social Workers are no different from them and should also face tough penalties if they cause harm.

    The comment about being motivated by potential prosecution is one that we in the Care Sector work with daily, isn’t it about time that Social Workers were also accountable for what they do?

    • me March 6, 2015 at 3:02 pm #

      well said.

    • anon March 13, 2015 at 1:28 am #

      250 people died at Stafford Hospital report clearly states poor practice and appalling care how many nurses Dr’s or managers have been imprisoned. Please check your facts before jumping to conclusions

  13. Kim March 6, 2015 at 12:55 pm #

    If bankers who steal, companies don’t pay their taxes, governments that lie to people, paedophiles are allowed to persist abusing, doctors and nurse who are to lazy or inept at their job are not jailed then NO Social Workers a part of a multidisciplinary system who currently labelled the scapegoat should not be the ones imprisoned.

  14. Rob March 6, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    I think the key here is WILLFULL NEGLECT, and , should this be proven then why not jail the perpetrator.

    I should not be possible for a social worker to escape prosecution for willfull neglect by virtue of their position as a social worker.

  15. elayne Derbyshire March 6, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    I am a foster carer, instead of blaming social workers, they should be changing the law. Make the thresholds of need lower, so more children can be helped and put in care. Restrict parents that abuse or neglect of their parental responsibility, and stop scapegoating foster carers, who are open to abuse from parents, who have to take it because we are not protected by legislation. And jail parents who are responsible for their own actions, but nothing ever happens to them.

  16. Cathie March 6, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    This is ludicrous when social workers are out there trying to help children and families they are being threatened with prosecution. What about the adults who are the abusers. The service has been cut to the bone and the demand is greater. The government must always have a fall guy it is never them.

  17. Philip Measures March 6, 2015 at 5:51 pm #

    Sorry folks, but this is only a proposal for Consultation – so the way forward is to ensure that individuals and organisations respond once the Consultation Period commences.

    You see, the essentials in social work are to examine the DETAIL carefully and make objective rather than subjective / emotional responses.

    It is right for individual workers and their employers to be held to account and if information is received / held and not acted on appropriately that there be the relevant and proportionate repercussions.

    Responses will also need to address Government pressures on social workers and why employers do not always encourage openness and honesty and use Compromise Agreements and ‘gagging’ Clauses to silence potential ‘whistle-blowers.’

    This Consultation may well be a small window of opportunity to shine some light on those murky areas of employment practices. So, no, I won’t be signing this Petition at this time.
    Retired (and no longer registered) social worker.

  18. considering socialwork March 7, 2015 at 9:11 am #

    Cuts to public services across the board are poorly understood. I work in a local authority and the cuts are making it impossible to keep up with public expectation. I was considering retraining and going into social work for a rewarding career until my husband told me about this proposal. The job needs to be done but where’s the incentive to train into a prison sentence – no thanks.

  19. Peter March 7, 2015 at 10:24 pm #

    Damned if we do Damned if we don’t, has been the case for Social Workers ever since I’ve been in the profession. Interesting that the whole Multi disciplinary team focus gets lost when lost when something goes wrong, all the other professions express their deep concern, state the issues and difficulties that cut backs in their professions mean, and that they can’t ensure and promise that it can’t and won’t happen again. However Social workers seem to be an elite group that should and have to get it right all the time, never miss a bit of information ( even if it hasn’t been shared by other agencies) Services have been so narrowed and focussed that sharing o information is almost impossible because of “Data protection”, ( I hear it at least half a dozen times a week) and if you challenge the other agency then they just close down on you. Cut backs year after year after year, re structuring and raising thresholds may seem to make waiting lists shorter and the real dangers and risks that children and families are living in a much smaller percentage than we know is the true reality, and now we want to make the profession to dangerous to operate in with possible imprisonment. Seriously protecting, safeguarding , assisting and making the lives of our most vulnerable costs real levels of money, time , commitment and skills and training. If Mr Cameron wants to dismantle the profession further then he should carry this proposal through, when all of the other systems, professions and organisations grind to a halt because there are no longer a skilled and dedicated social work force maybe we’ll get true leadership at the top of the tree.

  20. Sarah Smith March 7, 2015 at 11:26 pm #

    i am afraid that I agree with David Cameron but do believe that those higher up in the chain should be held accountable. SCR after SCR has shown failings in the protection of children. No lessons are actually learned that are translated on the ground. Reflex behaviour means thousands of others get put through a system not designed to deal with most cases where there is no abuse but the LA are twitchy.

    Get it right or fail the Children. Too many mistakes still go on. We cannot have any more SCRs that tell us what we already knew!

  21. Jillian March 7, 2015 at 11:37 pm #


  22. Angela March 9, 2015 at 11:49 pm #

    In the US, social workers have immunity from prosecution as long as they follow the policies and procedures set out in their agency. The social worker’s job is so physically and emotionally draining, that to add a criminal penalty on top of the already strenuous demands, I am afraid fewer people will want to enter the field. That is bad news for the safety and well being of children

    • Philip Measures March 11, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

      Oh dear! ‘Angela’ surely you wouldn’t advocate that happening in the UK – hang about though, it probably does!!!

  23. Kb March 10, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

    I just want to add my bit to the debate. From the little I know from Social Services so far; I can comfortably say that we are a crisis intervention team. So my fellow Social workers lets just do the job we are trained to do and wait to see how this consultation goes. I am sure Cameron will respond ASAP when there are fewer Social Workers left to support vulnerable children and families. May be at the point of crisis(underlined) we will have some more practical solutions to the problems we face. I rest my case.

  24. George Bragan March 10, 2015 at 4:27 pm #

    I guess the list will continue to the point where for what govenments do to make the situtaion worse and wait until the children’s abusers die and cover up offences. The PM appears to be out of touch with the real world and he needs locking up for the continual poverty and food-banks

  25. Jane March 11, 2015 at 5:18 pm #

    Is there any authority which can test Mr Cameron’s Fitness to Practise as a politician?

    The wilful negligence of children in need, (oh yes , and the adults to whom our government has statutory duties to), is rife in Local authorities. This is not by Social Work staff, it is by management ‘goons’-come ‘ yes men/women’ who are required to implement cuts, withhold essential resources from those in need.

    They often bully Social Workers ,who make them aware of the needs and risks to children and adults, by confining them to paperwork assessment exercises which are removed from the eyes, ears and heart of working with human beings.

    They ignore warnings from Social Workers because they are more focussed on budgets and ‘change management’ and GET RID of Social Workers who point out negligence. Negligence of our clients/vulnerable customers by employers is not covered by employment law as such. So Social Workers raise issues, get sacked for mentioning the word negligence and cannot get this dealt with as unfair dismissal. Might as well be in prison, where the unemployed get a meal and their bills paid! Anything would be better than showing up our heartless government for not wanting to take the rap for the state of deprivation in our society!