Social work is an interesting career for a number of reasons, but for me one of the main challenges is the dichotomy of being employed by local government but working with the people who are most likely to be negatively affected by government decisions.
In my career this has never been more true than in the current ‘times of austerity’ when huge cuts are affecting the most vulnerable in society, and I am both working for the people making the cuts, and with the people affected by them.
In my small corner of London I am finding services that we have relied on are either disappearing or having to change their referral criteria to meet new funding streams, so that previous service users are no longer eligible.
Families are struggling. And I am not talking about luxuries. These are services that provided furniture, food and housing support. We are working with families who are likely to be homeless for Christmas and will be getting their Christmas meals from the food bank. It is, quite frankly, desperately sad.
Social workers ourselves are at a loss as to how to respond to this since we have neither the time nor the resources to provide what these families need. We are told more and more by our service managers that budgets need to be cut, but where are these cuts coming from?
They are coming from us refusing support we would previously have given, from us making decisions based on finances rather than families, and from us slowly but surely losing frontline social workers who are not replaced.
The result of this is that we have more cases and so less capacity to work with families and are forced to leave situations until there is a crisis before we are able to intervene. This is then viewed as a rise in threshold, and local policy soon changes to reflect this, and so the figures suggest there are less families eligible for services and the cycle of budget cuts begins again.
Put simply, when families reach crisis point, children are hurt. To stop families reaching this point we need resources and services to identify and support them, and we need to have the time to do this work.
When budgets are cut so are services, resources and time, and children are put at risk.