Today is my fortnightly visit to a family with several young children on a child protection plan for emotional abuse.
One of the parents has a severe anxiety condition, so the children only go out to school and nursery. As it’s the summer holidays they want to go out to play but budgets cuts mean they don’t qualify for family assistants and the youngest one’s nursery has reduced opening hours. I wish I could take them to the park but social workers don’t do that anymore.
Later, I suggest to my manager that we should get legal advice as the case has made no progress and things are worse. I’m advised to approach a private agency for family assistance; somehow we have the budget for that.
A colleague has returned from a period of suspension; its reasons remained secret, but rumours about whistleblowing abounded when all their cases were suddenly reassigned. Now they’re back it’s hard to know what to say after hello. Like a dysfunctional family, none of us ask them about what happened.
One of the families I see has a boy who was bought an iPhone for his birthday. He has downloaded apps that bombard him with adverts for junk food and clothes. Naturally, he wants some of what he sees. His parents are limiting his phone use, but it’s a struggle that leads to frequent arguments. We talk about how the parents can set boundaries, but they feel they are fighting a losing battle against the advertisers.
Today I attend a child protection conference on a case I am to take over from the assessment team. The family have a teenager with learning difficulties and during an argument he threatened his parents with a knife. Police were called to disarm him. The parents are upset about the conference report, which describes father as “oppressive”. I can see it will be a challenge to gain their trust.
Another family I visit have similar problems to the one on Tuesday. Their teenager tells me that that among their peers there’s a strict code about the right brands of clothing to wear and people even get bullied if they don’t fit in. He says that he could live in a dustbin, but it wouldn’t matter if he had a smartphone. The parents tell me that they brought the elder child expensive school shoes and coat, in case he was bullied for not having the right look. I know how stretched their finances are, this puts more strain on them.
Self-esteem has become another commercialised commodity, like a new form of child abuse.
An ambulance service report reaches me; yesterday they were called to help the parent with an anxiety disorder who was having a panic attack. It details how scared the children looked. It’s clear that no amount of family assistance will alleviate those fears.
The colleague who was suspended has been assigned all new cases. They confide in me that it’s as if their past life in the team didn’t exist.