Debate on making social work more attractive

We asked:- What could be done to make working with older
people and in child protection more attractive

These are some of the comments we

“If employers placed more emphasis on the value of
therapeutic aspect of the relationship between client and social
worker and less on the task orientated aspect, then more
satisfaction and interest could be generated.

Time to develop on going work which recognises and values the
individual older person as a person would encourage more emphasis
on quality of life rather than resource led provision. In a nut
shell, if as social workers we were valued for what the client
measures as an improvement in their quality of life, then the job
would be more interesting. The continual emphasis on blame culture
instead of genuine inter-departmental work with limited resources
makes life more stressful than it should be.”

Mabel P Mowatt
Senior Social Worker (Cancer)

“I have just started work as a newly qualified social worker
and it appears that everyone is too busy to take the time to talk
to me or perform any of the usual social niceties which would be
‘normal’ in any of the other offices I have visited or worked in
during my studies. 

I can only assume this is because it is ‘child protection’ so
whatever they are dealing with is more important that trying to
make a new social worker feel welcome. But as a result, I am
already looking for another job!”


“I recently bailed out of child protection work after 15
years as both practitioner and manager. I love the work and many
others actually enjoy it too. Unfortunately my time and the time of
my staff  was increasingly spent in court where social work staff
and managers are often  treated as the lowest of the low and are
afforded no professional status.

Despite the fact that social workers are highly trained and
skilled professionals, their reports are often rubbished or deemed
to need “checking over” by other “experts”. More recently, social
workers appear to have become the “accused”, often being
cross-examined by an ever increasing band of barristers for many

In recent years, several very skilled and experienced child
protection social workers opted to cross over to other areas of
child social work or leave the service altogether due to their
negative experience of the court process. I don’t believe the
Children Act was intended to line the pockets of solicitors and
barristers and the notion of a speedy resolution via the court
process is a nonsense when timetabling for final hearings is now
approaching a year in many family courts.

What staff have said to me is “why should I put up with this
treatment, work with risk, make life and death decisions, for the
same terms and conditions as other social workers who have less

So the answer to the question is: –

1. Make sure that social workers are afforded the professional
status they deserve within the court process.

2. Stop treating social workers as the guilty party. Social
workers do what they are asked and are managed by a hierarchy who
are responsible for the protection of children.

3. Make the court process less adversarial and more
child-centred rather than parent centred.

4. Look at the terms and conditions of social workers in this
field; is it fair to pay them more given the responsibilities and
level of expertise they need to fulfil the role?”

Jan Benn
Former Team Manager and head of an independent fostering

“At the moment social workers risk their careers if a child
protection case goes wrong.  It is the frontline worker who is
blamed.  This is surprising as social work is very hierarchical,
and no decision is made without reference to a senior, and usually
endorsed by very senior managers.  In a way, social workers
“do as they are told”.  The thing is that managers do
not accept blame and it is the frontline worker who gets all the
blame.  This is not so much the case in other professions, such as
the police, where individual policemen seem to be more

Furthermore, child protection is grossly under-resourced so a
lot of the work is done in emergencies. This means that social
workers may find it difficult to stick to arranged programmed
monitoring of cases, as they can be ordered to take on a new child
protection investigation. 

These two factors make for a demoralising scenario, where job
satisfaction is likely to be undermined.

There are a whole range of other issues around those described

Finally, I hope social workers go into the profession with an
aim to help people.  However, child protection involves
investigating a crime.  As such, social workers are no more than
policemen, especially so far as the public are concerned. 
Furthermore, the value system involved in investigating a crime
cannot be the same as someone committed to helping a person deal
with personal issues.  I think people want a job where the value
systems are clearer and responsibility is something that can be
clearer. While no-one can argue with the need to emphasise the
needs of children, and the need for protection, we are still
working on issues about the needs of parents, in terms of
supporting financial and physical needs and emotional needs so that
they have the resources to parent the children.

So child protection is too scary.  It is under-resourced,
crisis-driven, and it must be hard to see positive outcomes.  Other
people seem to get to do the “interesting” therapeutic
work, or work on parenting.”

John Rogers

“To work with older people or support the people who are ageing
should be encouraged by society. Old age is not merely a volunteer
programme, but more so a political, social commitment. The use of
skills and knowledge should be applied to deliver appropriate
services to the elderly. There is a scope in ageing with increase
in longevity, better health care, degeneration of family

The intergenerational programmes to link the children, young
person, adults with the old age community have been successful
running in developed nations. The need of residential homes does
open opportunities to work with elderly. With increase in demand
many professionals would like to have a carer to provide quality
services to the elderly.”

I am a professional social worker and am looking for
opportunities to work with elderly and do need to get some
guidance. Please feel free to contact me for any further

Karuna Kaura Gupta

“In my opinion, measures need to be put in place to improve
the working environment for those working in child protection.

I believe the over-burdening of paperwork in the bid for greater
management control, means that workers spend increasingly less time
in face-to-face contact with children and families. This in turn
increases work load and leads to social work teams especially in
inner cities only able to respond to crisis, leading to a decrease
in preventative work. This in turn can lead to lack of job

Good practice has always been for more experienced social
workers to assist in the training of newly-qualified workers.  This
meant that new workers felt supported and were trained in the job,
and often joint working with an experienced social worker, helped
to develop new social workers decision making in a safe supportive

My concern is with the rapid turn over of frontline staff, which
in some area offices lead to a high percentage of newly qualified
staff, running front line services.
Obviously money is a major factor in attracting staff. Retaining
staff can be better achieved when social workers are adequately
supported in a learning culture within their work place. In my
opinion this would leading to better staff retention, and possibly
less time off on sick leave.

I also believe we require high quality representation in the
media that supports social care workers rather than feeling
targeted and vilified by the British press.”


“I worked for eight years in frontline child protection,
eventually working up to senior practitioner level. The majority of
my time in child protection work was rewarding, however, it was
also very stressful and on two occasions I had long periods of time
off work for depression and stress related to work. I spent seven
years on prozac.

I had very good support from my direct line managers and also
achieved the child care ward.

I was recently talking with a friend who had completed the DipSw
and was deciding on a route to take in social work. My advice was
to do at least two years in frontline child care. Despite what the
job did to me and I did stay much longer in frontline than most, I
still very much believe if your chosen career is going to be in
childcare and with families you should have this minimum time in
frontline. Without it you do not experience the difficulties
families find themselves in and how to be innovative with

However, now with life in a culture of blame and liability
claims, it is no wonder potential social workers are steering clear
of child protection. The government needs to look at better
protection for all social workers whatever field.”

Colin Saunders
Social Worker

“I am a self-funding full time student going into Level 2 of
last year of DipSw in Cardiff.  I’m a mature student who has worked
as a carer with a support worker with adults with learning
disabilities and also a social work assistant (statutory services)
with adults.  I’ve been very lucky to have had many experiences
with many different types of service users and I believe students
should be given more opportunities to experience the different
groups.  I was put off my Level I placement to work with children
and families as I hadn’t the background or experience to do
Seconded students from my local authority seem to have less choice
than self-funding students in that their Level 2 placement must be
spent where they are actually working!”


“Firstly, the government needs to spend more money explaining
and promoting the role of social work to the public (and to members
of parliament).  The recent teachers’ recruitment campaign
has proven to be most effective in this regard. The government is
now reaping what it has sown and things are not likely to change in
social work without great investment.
Secondly, pay and conditions are very low.  Social workers are not
well regarded by most councils and are frequently seen as people
that they have to employ rather than people who can make a real
difference to the communities they serve.  You only have to look at
the average local authority social services children’s area offices
(compared to other local authority buildings) to see the relative
low investment in the structure and fabric of the children and
families social services department environment.  As a worker in
social services since 1982, I now do all I can to distract those
who ask me if I think social work is a career they should
undertake.  Although I enjoy my work I am at the end of my tether
with the low pay, the lack of employer respect, the lack of staff,
the shortage of resources etc. 

At the end of the day social workers are working to pay the
bills like everyone else so if they feel unloved and underpaid they
will leave (or not enter the profession at all).  What I find so
sad is the fact that this is still not understood by those that
need to know.”
Paul Marron
Reviewing Officer

“Better pay, better access to post-qualification training,
better use of media – promoting positives, successes and benefits
rather than failures.”

Sue Roughton
Designated Nurse Child Protection North Yorkshire & York
Selby & York PCT HQ

“Build a professional ladder for frontline social work  as
per doctors in the health service – workers would start as ‘basic
grade qualified social workers’ – and work their way via additional
training (PQPlus), selection through merit and experience, into
senior social worker and finally ‘consultant’ status – all the
while continuing to practise with service users directly but taking
on wider roles of clinical management, audit & review,
teaching, and organisational and partnership roles.

It would also be beneficial to develop a skill mix of other
staff in support of this core social work role and provide separate
organisational (service) management from professional managers who
don’t need to be social workers.”
Sarah Davis
Former social worker – now a senior manager/planner

“The emphasis in child protection work should be on
recruiting and retaining highly experienced social workers

1)  valuing and developing knowledge base and assessment
2)  co-working cases so that experience, knowledge and decision
making can be shared

3)  encouraging ‘sabbaticals’ where workers can gain experience
in therapeutic      settings working with children, families and
abusers, learn from the                  experiences of those
children and families and then bring that experience back into
child protection case work and service provision

4)  rewarding experience financially and with longer holiday

5)  ensuring that practitioners have a direct input into service
development so          that policy and practice guidelines closely
reflect the reality of implementing them

6)  effective management approaches to closer inter-departmental
working with      less reliance on lead agencies and greater
clarity around shared responsibility

7)  making more time available for inter-professional networking
and skills sharing

8)  a substantial investment into resourcing of services that
will do more than monitor children, but will produce and respond to
detailed assessment of need

9)  a substantial investment in provision of effective
alternative provision for              children who are deemed at
risk and unable to remain at home which would help workers faced
with making those difficult decisions 

10) moving away from the blame culture that seems to pervade
social work where workers are made to feel responsible for finding
a solution to a child protection problem that does not offend
anyone and costs society even less!”         
Judith A James
Brighter Futures for Children Ltd

“The things which would make child protection or elderly care
more attractive career options would be:

* resources to do a good job i.e. time, training, regular
* tools to do the job
* staff support services e.g. counselling
* professional and career development e.g. mentoring and
schemes, opportunities to shadow other workers, career and pay
progression which didn’t depend on workers having to go into
management in order to earn a decent living, opportunities to study
for further qualifications (and time to do this)
* a holiday entitlement which enables staff to take regular
* career break options
* structures which enable workers to have a say in service
* pleasant working environments which demonstrate the organisation
respect for workers and service users
* a decent rate of pay commensurate with qualifications and

Some authorities already have some of these things in place but
they are often hard to access because of workload.”

Karen Marshall

“As a social work student, my concerns centre around support.
In light of the newly qualified social worker in the case of
Victoria Climbie and the lack of support she claims occurred. As a
newly qualified social worker in 2006, I would want to see support
increased and supervision extended, without any discrimination or
stigma attached.”

“I think that experienced field workers should be valued. We
should be paid higher wages rather than have move to another
profession because of unmanageable case loads, long working hours,
a lack of higher management support and no consideration for the
personal circumstances of many of the social workers who are mainly
women (i.e family commitments, such as children).”

Sharon Hall
Supervising Social Worker
Parents for Children


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