Public concerns

social worker with just 19 months’ experience and a high workload
would not struggle with a complex child protection case?

that’s exactly the situation faced by Lisa Arthurworrey, the social
worker who has been scapegoated in the media coverage of the
Victoria Climbie case. Her evidence earlier this week outlined the
substantial additional difficulties she faced in carrying out her
work. Department restructuring, allegations of in-team bullying
requiring distracting team-building sessions during lunch breaks
and a lack of managerial support all contributed to the difficult
working conditions in which Arthurworrey found herself.

are many overloaded social workers around the country attempting to
juggle high workloads while learning on the job. Children remain
protected because the child protection system is built on the
premise that inexperienced members of staff receive regular
supervision, support and back-up from their line managers. They can
refer up, they can use their managers’ experience to gain the often
crucial second opinion in a case, and they can expect both advice
and direction.

appears Lisa Arthurworrey received none of the above. On the rare
occasions that this inexperienced worker had supervision sessions,
she had to listen to one of her managers discuss her relationship
with God and experience as a black woman. According to
Arthurworrey’s evidence, the North Tottenham social services office
was in a severe crisis. Yet the chaos that reigned in one area
office of Haringey social services did not permeate up to the top
of the department and beyond. Instead, Haringey received a glowing
report from the joint review team. While Arthurworrey told the
inquiry she had never even met either the assistant director
responsible for children and families services or the director,
they were receiving plaudits for managing a well-run department.
Without this case, the reality behind the facade would not have
come to light.

This is
further evidence that the performance target-ridden approach to
managing social services departments can fail to meet the needs of
vulnerable clients. An over-emphasis on targets can result in a
senior management system focused on achieving success in the eyes
of the Department of Health rather than in the eyes of their own
front-line staff and, more importantly, users. They can end up
overlooking serious problems either running through a department or
isolated in one area office.

Workplace cultures can – and should – be scrutinised and improved.
The culture of the wider society and its response to child abuse is
harder to influence. No system can guarantee to protect all
children at risk. Haringey Council acknowledged this in its preface
to the part 8 review, when it stated that even had it acted
properly, Victoria’s safety would not have been guaranteed.

alone cannot protect vulnerable children. This difficult task also
relies on the public, who give agencies their mandate to intervene,
to make decisions and, inevitably, sometimes to fail. If the public
lose their trust in, and respect for, social workers they will be
far less likely to report concerns about children, and will eagerly
condemn mistakes rather than ensuring they – as well as the
professionals – learn from them.

evidence this week raises suspicions that the Climbie case has
already impacted negatively on public perceptions. Community
‘s exclusive survey has found that a large proportion of
people say their opinion of social workers has got worse because of
the publicity surrounding the case and the way Lisa Arthurworrey
was singled out during the criminal trial.

workers must not be scapegoated. But how can they not be
scapegoated in the media when they are neglected, blamed,
intimidated and unsupported within their own departments?

– See
news, page 6

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