Undercover documentary on social work in ‘inadequate’ council to air on Channel 4

Undercover: Inside Britain's children's services will air on Thursday 26 May

Birmingham council
Birmingham council (Credit: Rex/Neil Farrin/Robert Harding)

An undercover documentary filmed in a children’s services department will air next Thursday.

Channel 4’s Dispatches will air a one hour documentary on experiences from Birmingham’s children’s services on Thursday 26 May at 10pm. The programme is called ‘Undercover: Inside Britain’s Children’s Services’,

In the brief description, Dispatches quotes chief inspector of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw, who branded the services “a national disgrace” in 2013.

Birmingham’s children’s services have a troubled past, having been branded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in its last three inspections. The council is currently in the middle of its three year improvement journey which began in 2014.

In 2010, Dispatches showed a documentary filmed by an undercover social worker in Surrey’s children’s services, which uncovered problems within the service.

Birmingham council said it was too soon to comment on the show.

19 Responses to Undercover documentary on social work in ‘inadequate’ council to air on Channel 4

  1. Peter Endersby May 20, 2016 at 9:44 am #

    Channel 4 provides the stocks and rotten vegetables and will let the press and public throw it all at will. I suppose an undercover expose of good or outstanding Children’s Services doesn’t fit the underlying narrative or maybe one on the inspectors or the impact of cuts to services. Perhaps one on how programmes like these are made and the relationship between the media and politics is too much to ask would be too intrusive.

  2. Robert Bain May 20, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

    I absolutely agree with Peter on this one. The media gives the public what the public wants or rather what it thinks the public wants. Politicians are very concious of public opinion. It is in their interests to be if they wish to be re-elected. Therefore the media controls what the public perception of social work is like and the media has no interest in painting anything other than a bad picture. And so the public see only the popular demonisation of social workers, Channel 4 are not interested in those of us who face threats of physical violence for protecting their vulnerable family members from the same people who threaten us. Neither would it be of interest to film a hospital social worker like me trying to find a place of refuge for a victim of domestic violence at 20:00 on a Christmas Eve when we should have left at 17:00. Well they wouldn’t as they are all in a west end bar by then.

  3. Old School May 20, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

    These type of programmes are not helpful as the public will view all of our Social Services departments and Social Workers as inadequate and needing improvement. This is far from the truth and does not acknowledge the excellent services and professionalism out there in most places.
    I am also concerned that students thinking of embarking on a career in Social Work will be put off by the bad publicity and hype that Channel 4 portray for ratings. If the leaders in our profession such as the CSW Isabelle Trowler and the Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan do not come out in support of colleagues in Birmingham Social Services following this programme I will have even less respect for them than I do now……..and that is coming from a fairly low point!.

    • CK May 20, 2016 at 4:00 pm #

      ‘These type of programmes are not helpful as the public will view all of our Social Services departments and Social Workers as inadequate and needing improvement.’

      Comments like this would appear to betray a pretty dim view of ‘the public’s’ intelligence, as well as a selective memory: Anyone remember the Panorama on Winterbourne View?

      ‘This is far from the truth and does not acknowledge the excellent services and professionalism out there in most places.’

      And where is the evidence for this? It’s a very bold statement. The internet is awash with narratives that directly contradict this cosy ‘reality’ that professionals are fond of constructing about their practice. I suggest you read the blogs of Mark Neary and Dr Sara Ryan as a starting point.

      Are they the victims of media brainwashing?

  4. Gerald May 20, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

    There was nobody standing up for Care Homes for the last 10years, with a far better public record. Behind them.Just get on with it and make the necessary improvements that we all know is necessary.
    At least your Councils aren,t cutting your funding to shreds as they did with the Private Sector.
    Stop winging and put the children first, for a change

  5. wendy May 20, 2016 at 9:17 pm #

    Let’s spare a thought for the hard working social workers in Birmingham at this very difficult time.

  6. Yvan skavar May 20, 2016 at 10:16 pm #

    I think this says more about the ethics and motives of the undercover social worker than anything else. A kiss and tell story of no value and will only serve to damage our profession and serve a government narrative seeking to privatise what we do. Shame on the social worker

    • Emz May 23, 2016 at 3:00 pm #

      And you are coming to this conclusion based on very little information and without having watched the programme? Maybe hold that thought until you have seen what the programme says? You know…evidence-based..?

  7. MS. C. May 21, 2016 at 4:56 am #

    We, your colleagues across the pond, face the same demonisation.

  8. mrm May 21, 2016 at 7:12 am #

    Whilst we acknowledge there is some really serious issues going on within children services such as bullying that impacts massively on social workers trying to do one of the toughest jobs in our society and this needs to be addressed, programs like this is not helping matters. Its just another kicking to the profession, who on the whole are trying very hard to make a difference to the lives of people and in the face if a government who cannot stand the people and anyone who might want to support the vulnerable shame on the government to then be kicked and stamped on further and portrayed to the public in this manner is an utter disgrace. Can you imagine a society without social workers? We need the government and media to work,with us not against us, to support and respect our positions and the fantastic work we do in our communities. Does the government not realise that for every inadequate authority is a failing on the government part, for stripping us of our resources and making our working conditions impossible. No wonder good social workers are leaving in there hundreds. If I was a graduate I certainly would not bother with this profession, its not worth it. Its not about the vulnerable or the quality of our relationships with the very people we are trying to help.its about pushing paper and ticking boxes and if we don’t do this on time we are put on performance…..shame on the government..idiots.

  9. Andrea May 21, 2016 at 10:02 am #

    Call me naïve but as Birmingham has said ‘it’s too soon to comment’ – do wish it wasn’t referred to as a ‘show’.
    I am assuming that agreements were reached regarding editing and filming prior to it beginning and that Birmingham agreed in the first place in order to put forth the reality of the job?? My concern is that those that do not want to see that, won’t………….
    So, if it goes down badly – it’s Birmingham who have to answer to why they allowed it – no?

    • Carrie May 21, 2016 at 10:01 pm #

      Andrea, no. It was an undercover social worker, filmed in secret. No agreements.

  10. Sharon May 21, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

    Perhaps those filmed are fearful for bad practice and if that is the case they should not be in the profession.
    I have no issue with under cover work, as a practitioner myself I would not have worries about it.
    If this lifts the lid on bad practice and children being left at risk why is this a bad thing, surely children’s needs are paramount that’s why I qualified.
    If you don’t want to watch it then don’t..
    I’ve worked in birmingham and have reported poor practice to the top with nothing done about it. Good on Dispatches..

    • From Within May 24, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

      Here here!

  11. Oliver Cadore May 22, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

    There is enough negative coverage of social workers and the work we do in th media. A useful excersice would be an exposure of Ofsted and how the non-ministerial government department has an impact on the way social services conducts its business.

  12. Ruth Cartwright May 23, 2016 at 5:50 pm #

    If bad practice by individuals is exposed, all well and good (although it would be a pity if viewers extrapolated from that and formed the opinion that all SWs are poor practitioners). My concern would be that management failings and the extreme cash-strapped-ness of Birmingham Council, which mitigates against being able to offer anything resembling a good enough service despite the efforts of SWs and other staff, are not exposed in the same way. Some major deficiencies in service will be down to the cuts and the programme would need to be seen in that context. I will view it with interest….

  13. From Within May 24, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    I make no apologies for what I am about to say. As an employee of the city council department mentioned, I found out about this on social media and not from my employer. To me, that is unacceptable.

    However, I have witnessed exemplary practice in this department from very dedicated, hard working staff who are working in an extremely difficult organisational context. The working conditions are poor, IT systems unhelpful and facilities for the storing of confidential/personal information woefully lacking and inadequate. Senior management seem oblivious or ignorant of the staff turnover, asserting recently that recruitment has improved, retention is stabilising and that caseloads have come down to an average of 17: this is not the case for most of the department with safeguarding in particular struggling to recruit and retain.

    Constant reorganisation creates disruption and after being assured in 2014 that there would be no more major changes, the department again is in the midst of reorganisation with teams moved and decimated, remits changed and the children and families bearing the impact of the disruption caused by changing workers. We are told that building relationships is important but we are never in a position for long enough for anything to work and bed in, let alone relationships with families!

    The buildings that the Social Worker’s work in are not fit for purpose, too small, no room to sit with 6 people to a bank of desks allocated for two, frequently. The safety of staff is not often considered with staff working late and nobody even knowing or caring about it most of the time; all whilst workers are trying to offer a service to vulnerable children.

    Nevertheless, in the midst of the creative, innovative and exemplary practice I have seen, there is a wealth of dangerous practice, unchallenged by management and workers who are not fit for the job remaining employed without consequence. Management decision making can often be poor and erratic, defensiveness and unprofessional behaviour is commonplace and the drift, delay and uncertainty for many children and families is all to common. This has to change and the whole culture of the organisation needs to change.

    Will that change come from making it a trust? I doubt it. The pool of excellent staff in the region is too small and who wants to work in Birmingham? Staff leave on a daily basis, replaced with agency workers who often work hard but are disappointed by the culture and practices they witness; bulling is not uncommon. There is a severe lack of basic knowledge among many staff and a culture of dismissiveness where issues are raised. Most authorities in the region are in a similar state but their profile is not as high as Birmingham. I welcome positive change and plead for common sense and basic knowledge to be injected in to many of the social work staff in the region….that is what really needs to happen!

  14. stephanie young May 25, 2016 at 10:12 pm #

    I heard about this through the jungle drums. As a foster carer I think instead of people going undercover to slam SW’s its time we showed them support. There are good and bad in most professions but on the whole these people are hard working. I have dealt with many SW’s from Birmingham over the years and believe me I have met many that bend over backwards to help in a crisis. Everyone Im sure would welcome positive changes but this can only be reached if everyone works as a team. Moral is low thats obvious by the high turnover of staff, SW’s come and go only to be replaced by agency workers, who although work hard are expected to fit in and pick up where others have left off, and sadly thats not always been possible.
    I think a ”kiss and tell” story is of no help at all, not only does it turn the publics opinion, its sad that young people in care can sit and watch this on TV, they have enough to contend with without seeing it ….

  15. Spartkett May 28, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

    It was uncomfortable viewing because it pitched the issues too low blaming staff and managers rather than looking at the political, social and cultural issues which affect social work trying their best to support families and protect children. I work in an area of high deprivation and poverty in what is a relatively small local authority therefore the available resources to support families are limited. My caseload is 31 but I am also expected to cover meetings, visits and paperwork for absent colleagues, spend two days a month on duty covering new referrals which need an urgent response and I also am on the duty rota for ABE S47 investigations which can happen at any time. It is simply not possible in 37 hours so my evenings and weekends also belong to my job.

    Like my colleagues I am absolutely dedicated to finding the best outcomes for families while protecting children and I go above and beyond my role if I think it will help but it is wearing to be in the receiving end of so much criticism. There is also a staff retention problem on my LA which means that the only new recruits are newly qualified staff supplemented with agency staff which is the only solution otherwise my caseload would rise further. Staff burn out in about 2 or 3 years therefore the most experience staff tend to only have 2 years post qual work under their belt. Three months into the job as a newly qualified staff member I was expected to prepare two SGO’s along with all the final hearing reports on a case I which was transferred from a departing colleague. My support was being directed to where I could find the forms…which I completed within 2 weeks and went off to court alone.

    Its the reality folk and i dont blame my managers….there just simply is not enough money to offer sufficient pay to attract experienced staff and to cover the costs of sufficient staff to cover the work….then of course there are the absent resources needed to be able to give families the best chance of being able to continue caring for their children which is what we all want.