Five years on from the tragic death of Baby Peter, abused and neglected children are not being protected.
The results of Community Care’s survey of 600 child protection social workers presents disturbing evidence that thresholds for intervention have increased to save money and time. The hundreds of detailed examples given by Community Care readers are some of the most harrowing I’ve read during 10 years of reporting on children’s social care.
Even children where there is clear evidence of sexual abuse are not always meeting the threshold for intervention that the law clearly states they are entitled too. Likewise for physical and emotional abuse as well as chronic neglect.
From babies at risk to teenagers deemed capable of “voting with their feet” and “able to self-protect”, the awful reality of what it means to be an abused child is being hidden by a system that is at breaking point.
It would be tempting to blame individual social workers – plenty of politicians and irresponsible media outlets do. But this simplistic vilification just makes the problem worse.
Social workers have issued a cry for help. By responding to our survey, they are blowing the whistle on poor practice, not of their own making, but on a system that is under-resourced and doesn’t allow professionals to do what they are trained for.
The majority of social workers do not receive counselling to help them deal with the difficult and disturbing cases they encounter at work. They should. Police officers working on the same cases do.
We know from other Community Care surveys that social work caseloads are rising. One reader recently sent me a job advert advertising for a child protection social worker able to manage high caseloads of around 50. Not only is that irresponsible, it’s dangerous and wrong.
Social workers face violence and threats every day. They do not get the consistent and regular supervision they need to reflect on and improve their practice.
Yes, there are examples of good practice. Social workers protect thousands of vulnerable children every day. But the profession needs to be bolder and braver in speaking out about the reality of rising demand and reducing resources.
Don’t blame social workers. Support them. Abused and neglected children deserve nothing less.
Ruth Smith is editor of Community Care. You can follow her on Twitter @ComCareRuth