Today we published the results of our UK-wide child protection survey.
It revealed, as everyone involved in child protection around the country will already know, that most social workers are overwhelmed with towering caseloads and fear they, and their colleagues, aren’t able to follow best practice because of budget cuts, rising referrals, squeezed social care services and high vacancy rates.
Despite this, the vast majority of social workers are doing the very best job they can to protect children in extremely challenging circumstances. But when hundreds of social workers (73% of the 600 who responded to our survey) tell you they don’t have the support or resources to prevent a child at risk from coming to serious harm, you really know it’s time to listen and take their concerns seriously.
If only our government took this this view. Instead of vowing to support social workers, the Department for Education sent us a dismissive response that, in summary, said the views and experiences of the 600 social workers who responded to our survey don’t matter. The findings are “simply not true” a government spokesperson said, citing the rising number of child protection plans and looked-after children.
“The actual figures show that in the last year there were more children put on child protection plans than the year before, as well as an increase both in the number of looked-after children and children in need at the end of the year,” the spokesperson said.
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“We will continue to focus on overhauling child protection, cutting red tape and improving the skills and experience of social workers so they can make the right decisions for children. The vast majority of councils are protecting child protection budgets more than other services.”
Unfortunately this just doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground for most social workers, according to those we’ve been speaking to, the hundreds who responded to our survey and many of those who shared their views on Twitter this morning.
To dismiss social workers’ views and experiences outright is both disrespectful and irresponsible. To suggest that all children are getting the protection they need simply because child protection plans are rising – as you’d expect given the huge increase in referrals – shows a worrying level of ignorance and an unhelpful interpretation of data.
And it’s, frankly, offensive to tell committed social workers, and thus the children, families and other agencies they work with, that you don’t accept the concerns they’re raising or care about the strain they’re under.
Social workers need to speak out and record their experiences, but we recognise this can be fraught with political tensions, not least the prospect of losing your job. Yet hundreds of social workers have tried to blow the whistle by sharing with us some harrowing examples of the pressures they’re facing and the children they’re struggling to protect.
Blaming and vilifying social workers, or focusing on cases where professionals have made mistakes, will not help. It will not help children, it will not help families. It is time to listen.