By Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers
It has been said, most notably by chief social worker Isabelle Trowler, that it will be hard to secure convictions under the government’s advancing plans to extend the criminal charge of wilful neglect to social workers.
But whether or not a conviction can be secured is not the point. Placing this lever on the statute books is both an indictment of the social work profession and a shot across the bows. Ultimately, it says social workers by and large cannot be trusted to do their jobs and need to be treated punitively.
This is grossly unfair; the prime minister should be in the business of drumming up support for public servants tasked with some of the most difficult and challenging work imaginable on behalf of society.
Following the media onslaught after Baby Peter’s death, social workers were derided on doorsteps by some families when undertaking child protection work. This made the job even more precarious.
In my view, these proposals are both ill-thought out and irresponsible, tackling the problem from completely the wrong angle. In the government’s response to Rotherham, where these proposals actually originated, the government set out its stall in terms of whistle blowing, pledging to establish new processes to improve transparency and accountability.
Why go after frontline social workers?
I think that is the crux of the issue; both in Rotherham and Oxfordshire it was found that those on the frontline were frustrated in their attempts to bring their concerns out in the open by those at the top of the hierarchies.
So, the question is: why go after frontline social workers?
It simply does not make sense, apart from a dogged refusal to depart from scapegoating social workers. How tragic! Particularly when we have a national inquiry into historical child sexual abuse by those in the political establishment who have been able to wield a great deal of power preventing these terrible cases of abuse from seeing the light of day.
Speak out and stand up
They have done this by, again, silencing and discrediting victims and individual workers who tried to speak out. A minister in Jersey (Stuart Syrett) was even jailed when he attempted to speak out against the abuse – so there’s irony!
What can social workers do? I would encourage everyone to respond to this consultation collectively and individually and raise their objections.
We at BASW will certainly be responding to what is being proposed and would be very happy to hear from any social workers who feel strongly about this issue.
This is clearly a time when standing up for social work is very much needed.