Some things have only got better

    Last year, after 30 years, I moved on from working at local
    authorities to lead Cafcass. The sense of completing a personal
    cycle was confirmed when I met one of my new social work staff in a
    local office. “Nice to see you again” he said. I guessed where we
    might have worked together. “No, you were my social worker”, he
    reminded me. He and his brothers were children in need, back in
    1977.

    A lot has changed in social work. In the 1970s, I worked with
    many black children institutionally abandoned in long-term
    residential care. One nine-year-old, Leroy, just wanted to be back
    with his mum. I searched for her, in an era before tracing
    agencies. I kept nearly finding her but she had drifted away. Today
    we would have found Leroy an adoptive family. A number of staff
    with complementary roles would have been working together to help
    him. Back then, being a social worker was a much lonelier business,
    without the tools we have now.

    In those days I had a caseload of more than 100 vulnerable
    adults as well as 30-plus children in care. It was an
    emergency-only service, if that, plus annual telephone reviews.
    “Ignore me” could just as well have been stamped on many files.

    The development of community services to vulnerable adults over
    the past 15 years fills me with pride – a fantastic achievement of
    our welfare state.

    But I am still haunted by my mistakes. A few years ago, a police
    officer rang me to say a woman they’d arrested on suspicion of
    arranging a contract hit on her step-father, had also arranged to
    have me killed. Eighteen years before, I’d allowed her to stay at
    home with her mother in the hope and belief she’d be safe, after
    her step-father returned from prison after years of sexually
    abusing her. He’d been through a sex offender treatment programme,
    but nothing changed and she was abused again. Experiences like that
    have left me with an abiding understanding of the vulnerability of
    social workers.

    I’ve worked with so many amazing people whose advice and support
    has been crucial on case after case. I am proud to still be a
    social worker, albeit with another hat on. Like everyone I work
    with in my new job, we share rock-solid values. The feeling today
    is just as strong as it ever was.

    Anthony Douglas is chief executive of
    Cafcass
    .

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