Olympic planning pays off for London’s East End social workers

Everything is running smoothly so far for Tower Hamlets' children's services team but the impact of the massive influx of people associated with the start of the athletics programme is still to be seen.

While the rest of us are trying to watch the games, or alternatively escape from them, spare a thought for social workers in the East End of London who are trying to carry on their day jobs while the biggest sporting event in the world takes place around them.

But the extensive amount of planning that has gone on appears to be paying off during the early days of the Olympics according to Steve Liddicott, interim head of children’s services at Tower Hamlets.

“So far, everything seems to be running smoothly. There hasn’t yet been a noticeable increase in the amount of workload on social workers and no one is so far reporting severe problems getting to work”

Liddicott admits that nobody was quite sure what the impact of the Olympics would be. London’s Safeguarding Children Board attempted to carry out research on whether issues such as child trafficking increased during Olympics. However, they weren’t able to discover very much because nobody had thought to monitor it during Athens or Sydney.

“We have had to make preparations on the basis that if you have a large number of people from all over the world coming to one event there could be an increased risk of child trafficking,” Liddicott concludes.

All social workers in Tower Hamlets have therefore had increased training around recognising the possible signs of trafficking. Staff around the Olympic Park have also had training to help identify possible child protection issues and a single referral line has been set up.

Liddicott says one of their aims throughout this Olympics is to monitor and record the issues that do arise, so they can hand over details to the next host city, Rio de Janeiro.

Paul McGee, head of assessment and early intervention, says they also want to see if some of the different ways of working installed for the Games might have longer term use.

For example they are trialling cross-service duty arrangements so if there is a large increase in referrals, social workers from other teams can be drafted in to help.

The council has also set up three other sites that can be used by social workers around the borough in case traffic prevents them from getting to the main office.

“We spent a long time with our child protection social workers looking at different ways of getting into work and doing client visits and interviews. We also did a lot of work with our looked after children teams about ensuring visits that were scheduled during the games could be done beforehand or after- trying not to increase traffic but also making sure children are still seen when they need to be.”

Liddicott admits its still early days and refuses to be complacent. “When the athletics part of the Olympics start there will be more people concentrated in the East End so it might be a different case. We just have to wait and see.”

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