Undercover documentary to shine light on social workers ‘struggling to cope’

Details released by Channel 4 say Dispatches sent an experienced social worker into the council to try and get a 'true picture of what is going on'

A documentary filmed from inside Birmingham’s children’s services will shine a light on overstretched social workers “struggling to cope and battling constant changes”.

Channel 4’s Dispatches sent an experienced social worker into the council, which was branded “a national disgrace” by chief inspector for Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw in 2013.

“Our undercover social worker found overstretched colleagues struggling to cope and battling against constant changes in their attempts to keep children safe,” a briefing about the documentary said.

‘Troubling picture’

“What she found was a troubling picture of chaos, low staff morale and confused decision making on how to handle serious cases where children could be at risk.”

“This investigation by Dispatches provides a timely insight into problems faced around the country by those on the frontline of child protection.”

The programme description referenced the council’s troubled past, including being subject to 27 serious case reviews in the last 10 years. It also mentioned the recent murder trial surrounding 18-month old Keegan Downer, who Birmingham services placed in a special guardianship arrangement with the woman who eventually murdered her. The last three Ofsted inspections in the council have rated it ‘inadequate’.

“Birmingham city council has insisted that sorting out its children’s services is a top priority, and claims that substantial improvements have been made. To try and get a true picture of what is going on, Dispatches sent an experienced social worker into the department.”

Inside Britain’s Children’s Services will air Thursday 26 May at 10pm. Birmingham council is expected to respond to the programme later this week.

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9 Responses to Undercover documentary to shine light on social workers ‘struggling to cope’

  1. TK May 24, 2016 at 12:52 am #

    I entered the social work profession in England in 2006 (I’m an internationally trained SW with now 20 years experience in several countries). The problems and issues have been the same since and where well documented before. It is the same and will remain so as long as the Gov wishes to continue to blame SWs for a broken system they refuse to adequately fund. Maybe they should try protected caseloads, supervising cases based on need not cost, and above all, stop blaming social workers for the mess the crappy system they have facilitated into existence.

    • EM May 24, 2016 at 10:11 pm #

      Well stated, TK.
      I am a sinior Social worker and the past eight weeks have being challenging due to over stretched hours of work, sometimes leaving wrk at 9 or 10pm working on court reports as well other reports while balancing them with visits, meetings, dealing with emergencies, missing YP’S processes, and so on and so forth. Sometimes all I do when I get home is wash and sleep, as no energy to prepare food and eat, provided I do not take more work home. (At least I thank God I have a manager who is approachable.) Social workers are misused and abused by the system – all the wrk and less pay, no encouragement but blame blame blame tge service. It makes me feel so vulnerable sometimes such that it’s only my love for the job that keeps me in.
      The government needs to stop the cuts and encourage the profession.

  2. Philip May 24, 2016 at 10:48 am #

    This is just another indicator of a system at breaking point or struggling to cope. Another message that we have overspent in previous years and now having to pay the price. I spoke with a council official the other day and once they had twenty six staff doing work now they have six doing the same job. And its working what were the other twenty staff doing, maternity, paternity leave sick days by the hundred and loads more fiddles lets get real time to pay the piper get more efficient and stop bleating on

    • A.M May 26, 2016 at 8:56 am #

      Philip, shame on you. Maternity, paternity and sick leave are not ‘fiddles’. That right wing rhetoric is not welcome in social work. Social workers are the victims of the system, they do a good job despite the system, they are not responsible for the failing service. That, I’m afraid, is down to defunding and devaluing from way on high.

  3. George Topping May 24, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    I am an elderly Msc Student at Birkbeck College but I am also disabled and a carer for a disabled mother. I am fully aware that social workers are working within a system which is broken but find they are committed to providing the best possible support. In our case social workers have been extraordinarily kind and helpful but it is the providers which let us down. We live with a substandard service whereby a week does not pass without them not following the care plan, sending in strangers without identification and leaving doors and windows unlocked. I feel sorry for our social workers who try, as we do, to make the system work but government policy insists they must use providers who are more committed to making profits for share holders rather than providing care which the client deserves. Therefore, government policy has set up social workers to fail despite their best efforts.


    George Topping

  4. LongtimeSW May 24, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

    Phillip – Are you serious???? IF you had spent any time with front line workers (they are the ones who look ill, work when they are ill, trying to be creative with ever decreasing resources such as closed children’s centres by the way!) you would know that the cake is sliced thinner and thinner, non-SW tasks becoming suddenly the responsibility of frontline SW’ers and little understanding of the 80 hour weeks worked (not paid or claimed as TOIL – or is that another ‘fiddle’?) – If you are in social work and oblivious to what is happening around you, the way things are going they will come for you next – it’s your fault don’t forget

  5. Harold Mellor May 24, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

    Yet Again, dont tell me service led and not needs led. This profession takes too much criticism ever likely nobody wishes to pursue a career in this, not forgetting the children who are let down.

    Lets also focus on the positive aspects of the excellent work Social Workers do on a every day basis stuck between there manager and service user.

    Roll on this government.

  6. Anita Singh May 25, 2016 at 6:12 pm #

    One child on my case load who was subject to a safeguarding plan and had to be accommodated under Section 20, I had the following administrative tasks to complete:

    1. Formal Email communication Request re: LAC Placement/Liaise with Fostering
    2. Refer to and attend Access to Resources Panel to request S20 accommodation
    3. Section 20 Agreement, Medical Consent and Delegated consent forms,
    4. Liaise with Fostering re: Placement search and matching
    5. Meet with Foster Carer/transfer of child to foster care
    6, LAC medical request & separate arrangements for GP, dentist and Opticians.
    7. Child Looked After Care Plan on electronic care records
    8. Placement Planning Meeting and Placement Plan
    9. Communication/Co-ordinate date with IRO service re: LAC Review
    10. LAC Pre-Review Report
    11. Co-ordinate PEP meeting
    12. Co-ordinate support to parents to attend LAC meeting
    14. LAC Review Meeting
    15. Core Group Meeting and Core Group Minutes
    16. Case Conference Report and Review Conference brought forward to end CP status

    That was without all of the work entailed in visits to the child, parents, friends and family and then foster carers, the extensive but unsuccessful work undertaken to prevent the child from becoming LAC, the PLO meetings that amounted to nothing, private fostering arrangements that fell apart, arrangements to stay with dad that fell apart and the period of time supporting this child who was at one point sofa surfing and at risk of CSE. This was one of my less complex cases out of the 29 cases that were allocated. Another 8 were highly complex and in care proceedings, with a mushroom cloud of paperwork and recording generated by the Courts. So if Birmingham Social workers are failing, ask yourself the reason why their service is deemed to be a national disgrace?

  7. William pennington May 26, 2016 at 12:28 pm #

    I am the husband of a social worker who has been in the job for over 20 years .She came into this job to protect children but alas the working with and protecting children has become only a small part of the job 80% of social work time is spent staring at a computer trying to keep up with the never ending stream of red tape and regulation .I am told of ever increasing breakdown and women in tears because of the impossible job they are expected to do with decreasing services. As a husband I am fed up with sitting alone at night while my wife works hours and hours of work she does not get paid for .I did a calculation that over 20 years she had done £250000 worth of unpaid overtime and she does all this because she is dedicated to protecting children .