We will not do your dirty work

So much for joined-up thinking. The government began threatening to
take the children of failed asylum seekers into care just weeks
after the green paper came out.

Field social workers, residential social workers and fostering
officers are, it seems, to become enforcers for the Home Office. As
well as providing a service for children who are in need they are
to be expected to take frightened, angry children into state care
and provide for them. Not because of any problem within the
children’s families but because of vindictive policies.

The green paper declared that many who work with children and young
people in front-line roles “feel undervalued and under siege”. It
acknowledged that social work in particular had a recruitment
problem, with vacancies running at 11 per cent in England. Yet now
the government is proposing to dump another dirty job on children’s
social work agencies. The message is far from appealing – “become a
social worker! Meet interesting people from foreign countries who
love their kids! And then take their kids away from them!”

I don’t really see how social workers can be party to taking
children into care in these circumstances and still be true to
their own professional ethics. “Respect for people” is a pretty
basic principle and using children as a means to an end like this
clearly violates it. But leaving that aside, consider the knock-on
effect on the rest of the already overloaded system. Every
foster-care bed that is taken up unnecessarily by the child of a
failed asylum seeker is a foster-care bed that is no longer
available to a child who really needs it. Every hour spent sorting
out accommodation for the children of failed asylum seekers is an
hour that could otherwise be spent investigating child abuse or
doing preventive work with a struggling family.

One of the things that struck me most in the Victoria Climbi’
Report was that some intake workers spent a high proportion of
their time dealing with the financial and accommodation needs of
immigrant families. They were doing jobs that would normally be
done by benefits and housing officers. And yet they were still
expected to operate a proper child protection system.

If we are going to learn anything at all from Victoria’s case,
couldn’t we at least learn that you can have a children and
families service, or you can have a general dumping ground for
problems created by government policies. You cannot reasonably
expect to have both.

Chris Beckett is a lecturer in social work at Anglia
Polytechnic University.

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