From a young age my father abused me. I have memories from when I
was three of witnessing domestic violence by my father towards my
mother. At the age of 12, I saw my father murder my mother. I too
believed I would be murdered. It was at this point, in the late
1980s, that I came into contact with social services.
Looking back I can see how limited the service provision was for a
traumatised child. I briefly saw a few therapists but felt
misunderstood and different to other children seeking therapeutic
input. I had experienced and witnessed something very few children
or adults will. The few therapists I saw said they could not help,
having had no experience in this kind of trauma. Now I am a social
work professional I realise one cannot always predict the exact
nature of family circumstances or their outcome. There will always
be exceptional circumstances.
When I was an older adolescent I came into contact with the
psychiatrist Dora Black. She was the only professional who had any
expertise of working with children who had witnessed murder at the
hands of one parent by another, having written the book When Father
Today I work as a social worker with children and families and
volunteer on a foster care panel. My experiences as a child having
a social worker, being in foster care and using mental health
services, have given me invaluable insight. As a social worker I am
aware that domestic violence is common, alongside mental illness
and the search to find the “right” services in case work. When I
was a child there was no “right” service and today there is still
no “right” service.
This is because service providers face a losing battle. I can
recall the sheer frustration of services not meeting my needs as a
child. However, as a provider, I am able to see that service users
need to be realistic. No service can meet all of a person’s needs.
Service users need to be taught to use services to the best of
their ability. Services are there to provide help, support and
guidance. We all know there are gaps in services and inadequacies,
but the nature of a service means it can never meet demand
entirely. The issue is knowing how to use and access those services
As a child user, the services I needed were simply not there; the
level of expertise I required to deal with my complex and severe
trauma did not exist. As an adult provider I can see how
complicated the system is and how much pressure there is on social
workers to provide the impossible.
Social workers have a vast workload and are trying to provide as
much support as possible to many families. Considering the nature
of the job, it is disheartening to be in a profession with little
status. Social work is an invaluable profession that deserves to be
recognised in its own right. Perhaps one day it will gain the
status it needs and deserves.
Gayle Sanders is a social worker who experienced childhood