Southampton council have advised social workers to be on their guard about threats from campaigners against “forced adoption”.
An email was circulated to all staff at the start of the month after a woman followed a social worker to a supermarket and tried to prevent him leaving the carpark, accusing him of “wrongly taking her children into care”.
It is not clear whether the woman was part of a small group who have previously protested outside council buildings in Hampshire. Around 20 people gathered outside Southampton Civic Centre in April with signs reading “stop forced adoption and fostering”.
The email from council chief executive Dawn Baxendale said social workers should be vigilant and advised they could remove ID badges and not draw attention to their role if they felt safer doing so.
“I’m not suggesting that you remove your ID badge when outside the office – we should all be proud of working for and on behalf of this organisation – but you may wish to remove it if you feel safer in doing so.”
A council spokesperson said it was in regular, ongoing contact with police about threats to staff, which include Facebook posts naming social workers and old photos of social workers in court. A representative from the local Unison branch said audio recordings from social worker visits had also been published online.
However, Hampshire police had advised the council that this Facebook activity was not illegal and described it as a “grey area” the spokesperson said.
He said the council had also contacted Facebook, but Facebook’s position on defamation of individuals is unclear and getting a post taken down can be a lengthy process.
Employers’ duty of care
Allan Norman, policy manager at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said the association is aware of a number of incidents where social workers have been harassed by family members involved in court proceedings.
BASW is drafting a position statement on the naming of social workers which supports the prosecution of offendors where public criticism is criminal and goes beyond professional practice. Norman said social workers’ first instinct should be to report incidents or online intimidation to manager: “To secure a criminal conviction, police require proof beyond reasonable doubt. Employers’ duty of care to protect employees goes well beyond this.”