Social work diary: ‘The boy down the road has been seriously failed by social services’

A case that’s close to home serves as a reminder of what happens when social work intervention is too half-hearted, writes an anonymous social worker.


There’s a restructure pending. Our area boundaries are changing and it looks likely I will need to move offices.
I began working in this area over 15 years ago, and while for a number of years I have done jobs in different places, I have still built up a huge bank of knowledge about the area, the local agencies and resources.
Quite often I will know something about the family of a new referral, and have even got to the point where I am now working with the children of service users I knew when they were young people.
I’m writing my response to the restructure consultation trying to make a case as to why I should be allowed to stay in my current location.
What I want to say is that I should be here because I’m committed to the area. I know it, I care about it, it matters to me that the services are good in this locality.

Is being committed to an area allowed in today’s social work? It feels old fashioned and I know that elsewhere in the organisation service managers are being moved because they’ve been in an area too long. They are seen as too comfortable.

Yet it’s important. Understanding the networks, the estate, and the ways poverty impacts on people in a specific geographical place has considerable value. In social work academia we call it ecological theory but the people now heading our service aren’t from a social work background.

I decide that I’ve got a better chance of staying in my current location if I use the language of business need rather than social work theory. I work out the cost of mileage and make this the focus of my argument.


Living on patch isn’t all good. I’ve been trying to meditate every morning to improve my stress levels. Unfortunately the upstairs room in my house, where I go to meditate, faces the bottom of my street where I can see the flat of one of our service users.

It’s a case of a young person who, in my view, has been seriously failed by social services. Living with a heroin dependent mother he has had to look after himself, and probably attend to her needs, for most of his childhood. 

Attempts to remove him were too late, and too half-hearted. To properly turn things round by the time a child is well into adolescence takes real commitment, and resources.

It’s very easy to justify non-action and say a child doesn’t want to move if they show any ambivalence at all about foster care. Yet this young person really wants to get away from sleeping on the floor of the one bedroomed flat where his mum has left him with someone completely incapable of looking after him.

He just wasn’t keen to go to a foster placement miles away from anywhere he knew, where he couldn’t see his friends; because without any family his friends are all that he’s got.

So he stays in the flat at the bottom of my road, with no parent, no school, no structure and no one seemingly able to do anything about. My team have advocated strongly for change, but we’re not the decision makers on this one and we are at our wits end in trying to improve the situation. 

I can’t work out if it’s good to be able to see the flat or not. It’s a reminder of work, which is actually the main thing I am trying not to think about in meditation, but it’s also a reality check. This is how some children have to live. All I have to do is face the pain of observing it occasionally.


Today I am at court. I see a family who live on our estate and whose child is in the same class as my daughter. I decide that it’s best for everyone if I can be as anonymous as possible so I play a game of cat and mouse all day to avoid any contact. 

I leave the court room before the family enter, and avoid any eye contact as I walk through the waiting room. I think I’ve managed it quite well. They’ve left without me having to identify myself. I can relax.

It’s Friday night and we order a take away to celebrate the weekend. The bell rings. I grab my purse and answer the door It’s the father of the family at court. He’s the delivery driver.

“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” he says. “I know, you were at court today. You must be a social worker.”

Suddenly the takeaway is not seeming such a good idea.

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