Where do you stand on the question of whether some social workers should be paid more than others, depending on their field? Here, practitioners state their views
Many child protection social workers believe they should earn more than other social workers. Even the government’s chief adviser on the safety of children, Roger Singleton, said last week he would push for more pay for child protection e_SDHpsocial workers. But the issue has the capacity to split the profession.
A child protection worker:
Children’s secretary Ed Balls recently declared in the Commons that the first priority of government is to protect its most vulnerable citizens: children. And, given that it is child protection social workers that hold case responsibility for this task, the only rational answer to whether they should be paid more than other social workers is “yes”.
What makes me so confident about this is the level of risk management undertaken by these workers. Approved mental health practitioners are paid in many local authorities at a higher rate than child protection social workers. But do they really manage greater risk?
Child protection social workers are often told by other professionals that they wouldn’t want to do their job. This is not a criticism of the role, but recognition of the complexity and level of risk management involved. They are being respectful. And my worth as a child protection social worker is partly based on this positive recognition.
I have worked with adults with mental health problems, with learning disabilities, and those seeking asylum. But I have also worked with adults with these same issues – plus issues of substance misuse, disability, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and criminal activity (including offences against children) – in the child protection arena. I am asked to undertake assessments and enquiries because these issues obviously impact on parenting capacity and the welfare and safety of any children involved. All social workers seem to be working with these adults. But it is only the child protection social worker who also has responsibility for the child’s welfare.
Adult social workers are involved in awful and stressful situations. Think of the adult mental health social worker who is involved in the sectioning of a seriously ill service user. Now think again about this same situation but where a child is involved. It is common for a parent’s anger to be focused on that social worker for removing their child. Yet the child protection social worker has to somehow continue trying to work in partnership with these angry adults for the sake of the children.
It is this dichotomy of safeguarding a child while continuing to work in partnership with the adults around them that makes the child protection social worker role so stressful and complex. And it is for that reason I believe they should be paid at least £3,000 more per year if recruitment and retention issues are to improve.
A child protection social worker and former family support social worker:
There has always been a suggestion that child protection teams should be better paid than other teams due to their large, difficult caseloads, long hours and high levels of stress. Child protection social workers are usually considered deserving of a mixture of respect and pity, while the rest are, well, just social workers.
However, while I work hard for every penny I earn, I do not think that discriminating between social workers is justified.
I entered child protection two years ago. It is my opinion that child protection work should only be undertaken after a number of years’ experience and specialist training. It is the level of skills and the complexity of work you take on that needs to be rewarded, not the type of team you are working in.
Then there is the issue of safety. I have always worked with challenging service users and dangerous situations, and I have never felt that my employer does enough to ensure my safety, regardless of which team I am working in. Should I put a price on my health or on my safety? I’d much rather see my employer take responsibility for ensuring my safety than be paid a bit more to put myself at greater risk.
Much of the stress of my job is caused by the pressure to meet targets and performance indicators, and by huge chains of management and useless, repetitive paperwork. If you lose them then my job becomes more attractive and a reward in itself.
Nick Robinson, older people’s social worker:
To claim any particular type of statutory social work is worth more than another is divisive and damaging. At a time when our profession is under scrutiny following the Baby P case, once again the focus for improvement is on children’s services, leaving adults’ practitioners feeling ignored.
But this is a time when social workers should be standing together to assert our common value base and distinctive way of working with people to bring about lasting and positive change in their lives, not claiming hierarchies of importance and reward.
As Community Care’s recent research (www.communitycare.co.uk/111270) demonstrated, high vacancy rates are not exclusive to children’s services. Many adults’ social workers can also face heavy and complex caseloads.
Safeguarding has taken up a higher proportion of adults’ social workers time in recent years. The relative lack of statutory powers in this area makes it more challenging than child protection work, where the law provides clear powers alongside duties and responsibilities. The Mental Health Act 2007 and Mental Capacity Act 2005 have also increased the scope and responsibility of the adults’ social worker role.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the supposed lack of stress involved in social work with adults or older people. Sadly, some of these misconceptions are shared at times by child protection colleagues.
More views from readers
● Bulldog Allan: Ask any social worker in any statutory child or adult team and I would wager that they can all come up with real reasons why their particular area of expertise deserves more pay. When we get onto the sticky issue of pay then heads can rule hearts. Social workers need to be united as one profession, whichever field we work in.
● Duvetqueen: Is it acceptable to discriminate within social work fields? A child’s life is no more or less important than, for instance, that of an adult with learning difficulties. They are equally important. Saying social work with children is the most difficult (or important) role is just a way of reinforcing social oppression and discrimination.
● Grinch: I’ve worked across the different sectors, with adults and children alike, and there is no doubt that frontline statutory child protection/child in need work is the most demanding and stressful area that I’ve worked in (and many of my colleagues across the different sectors would say the same). This is not to say the work requires a higher level of intellectual capacity than other areas of social work (it doesn’t) or that the frontline is somehow more valuable (it isn’t). But it’s not called the frontline without reason, and its level and scale of risk management is rarely matched elsewhere.
● Adra: I’m not sure paying child protection social workers more is the answer in itself. But incentives do need to be given. It’s not the job mechanics themselves that are significantly harder, but the added pressures from outside influences and perceptions. I’m not sure why it’s so hard for people to understand that this may mean you need some extra honey to get the bees.