Hundreds of social workers at breaking point and the government still isn’t listening

Government tells Community Care the experiences of hundreds of social workers who responded to our survey are "simply not true"

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.

See our full findings and watch a video of social workers’ experiences

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.

Related event: The ‘Baby P Legacy’ five years on – What have we learnt? 12 December, London

“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.

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2 Responses to Hundreds of social workers at breaking point and the government still isn’t listening

  1. Linzi Hanlon November 21, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    How can the government be so short sighted! The reason that number of children on CP Plans or looked after is going up is partly because families are not getting the early help that the very same government promised. These families start out with problems that don’t meet thresholds which then escalate because of the lack of support so more draconian steps have to be taken when those problems inevitably escalate. It is so disheartening for social workers who train to do their jobs to support change not flit from one crisis to the next.

  2. Maisi November 22, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    I find it so sad that this data has not been taken seriously , but it doesn’t surprise me! I left child protection due to these issues and joined the adult sector, and I am sad to say the situation is no different in this area of social care, I work in a hospital team where stress levels are ridiculously high , staff turnover is high and with every social worker that leaves their post becomes frozen due to ever increasing budget cuts. We now get fined out of our budget for staff sickness which is increasing stress levels and reducing effective practice as workers come in who are clearly not fit to work but are to scared of the consequences if they take time off. We have less workers, more paper work, higher amounts of referrals and the cases are more complex yet no one appears to be acknowledging this. I fear social care practice is becoming ‘dangerous’ in both children and adult sectors. Despite this myself and my colleagues continue to give 100% to our clients and strive to achieve best outcomes with the limited time and resources available to us.