100 quotes from social workers that the government shouldn’t ignore

The alarming comments that follow were all submitted by children's social workers responding to our UK-wide child protection survey

Credit: stevendepolo on Flickr

The 600 social workers who responded to our child protection survey, published last week, raised serious concerns about the state of child protection today and the pressure they’re facing – to downgrade cases of child abuse to reduce costs and meet arbitrary targets.

Find out more about the survey and its findings here, and scroll down for 100 messages from 100 children’s social workers trying to blow the whistle on a system they feel is unsafe. Please share or comment if you think the government needs to listen to them.

100 reasons why the child protection system isn’t safe

“I have been told not to accommodate children as this will cost too much and we do not have the placements for them. I have also been told not to take cases to child protection as there are no social workers to take the case.”

“The father was released from prison after serving a sentence for significant sexual abuse. He had three young children and his partner resumed their relationship and allowed him in the home, where he was having contact with the children. She did not believe he would harm them and he had not completed any work regarding his offending behaviour. This was considered a child in need case.”

“Ofsted observed the number of child protection cases was very high so the [local authority] reduced the number of child protection plans.”

“We were told if you had a teenager on your case who is 14-16 years old they could not have child protection plans anymore as they are either deemed “capable of voting with their feet” or “able to self protect”, regardless of the concerns in the family. We were asked, or told, that these cases could not go to a case conference and if they were already subject to plans then they had to be de-planned to Child In Need.”

“Eight children lived in chronic neglectful circumstances. There was domestic violence from Dad to Mum, suspected sexual abuse by siblings, violence from older siblings and poor parental control. In my view it needed a legal planning meeting, but it became a child in need case, as it was when it was given to me. I had a real battle to get a child protection conference.”

“If a family is not engaging, the case is still child protection, but managers want it to go to another team so new child protection cases can be given to the worker.”

“A child disclosed he’d been hit by his father, with significant injuries to substantiate. Child confirmed regular abuse, but it was the first time social care heard of it. Decision was made by higher management to allow the father to stay home given the first disclosure, therefore reducing child protection number.”

“Children with an injury by a care giver would normally go to a strategy meeting. More pressure is put on duty teams to send cases to child in need for visit, which delays cases going to child protection and I feel leaves children at risk.”

“There was a request for accommodation made for a 13-year-old at 9am. But the request was withdrawn at 3pm when a manager defined the young person to be over 18. Placed young woman (who claims to be 14) in a hostel for adults. She was raped and became pregnant.”

“I held a case where I strongly suspected sexual abuse and the parents of the child continued to expose their son to the suspected perpetrator. My assessment strongly supported the need for child protection status, but my manager passed my assessment back to me twice, to change wording and the recommendation to child in need. My supervisor was also requested to impress that I needed to change my recommendation. This went up to service manager level and my supervisor changed my recommendation. Shortly after a disclosure of sexual abuse was made by the young boy and the assessment was sent back to me to change the recommendation to that which I had originally recommended.”

“Children who were at risk of physical harm, but had sustained emotional harm because of their father’s abuse were de-planned before their behaviour had been appropriately managed by mum. My time was then freed up to take other cases.”

“My manager was under pressure to reduce the number of cases so I was told to close cases and move them on to a CAF (common assessment framework).”

“Previous child died due to chaotic and unhygienic home conditions. The parents are not managing routines and missing appointments for the children. Children are presenting as smelly, unkempt and often late or missing school. Care proceedings ended in child in need plans.”

“There were 32 domestic abuse incidents in 13 months. We were told it was child in need as the mother was working with the local authority – yet she was still with her partner and the child witnessed all incidents.”

“Families where there is on going emotional abuse or neglect are classed as something family support workers can deal with. I am working with a family where the mother’s mental health issues + drug addiction greatly impact upon her children and her ability care for them. But the fact that the 14-year-old can pick up the pieces each and every time is seemingly ok. There is no consideration to the emotional abuse and neglect going on in the home because they are ‘safe’.”

“The process is now that child protection can only last for a 9 month period, then if [the case] is not meeting the threshold to remove the child, the plan is to remove the plan. This leaves children at a significant level of risk.”

“There are no support services in child protection so I have known a case to be reclassified because all of the money is ploughed into early intervention. I believe this leaves our most vulnerable children in society without social work support and intervention.”

“I have too many cases to have a sufficient understanding of what is occurring in each of them and to adequately assess the experience of the child amongst all of the other issues.”

“I am due to pick up a case as ‘child in need’ where the 14-year-old reported that her dad had threatened to strangle her. The family have had services in the past due to similar concerns and have not engaged effectively. The child has not actually been SEEN by the current initial assessment social worker.”

“I had a child who was repeatedly neglected with other professionals raising concerns. However, child protection thresholds were not met and the child was deemed a child in need.”

“A serious case of emotional abuse was declassified from a care order to child in need, then forced to close. The child was a 13-year-old boy who was seriously scapegoated by both parents. After the case was closed the child ran away from home, and was sexually exploited. It reopened as a child protection case and he has since been accommodated.”

“Children’s centres are taking on too many social care referrals as a result of social care not having the resources to take them. Most staff within the centres do not have a level 3 NVQ, let alone a social work degree, so they are pressurised to step cases down from child protection to child in need so that management feel better about allocating a child protection case to the unqualified staff.”

“Child protection plans are more complex to complete, now asking for breakdown of risks and needs. If there are more needs than risks, the child protection plan is withdrawn, however a high number of needs may, when drawn together, reflect chronic neglect, which should be managed via child protection and not child in need.”

“A case where a single Father of an under-5 child was consuming alcohol was completely downgraded from a child in need case even though the father had attended two meetings smelling strongly of alcohol within a week, and police had been called to the home because of shouting.”

“There was drift on many of the child protection cases with no support services in place for families to access. Children were made subject to child protection plans for over 18 months with little progress.”

“The department closed open cases, which I believed were still in need of a service, due to the pressures to bring the numbers of children needing a service down to meet government targets.”

“The child is prepared to stay at home and suffer the abuse as it keeps the family together. The child does not want to be responsible for hurting the family.”

“Siblings with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), ADHD and attachment disorders placed with grandparents. Grandparents are struggling physically and emotionally. Domestic violence towards grandparents by children. Young people involved in anti-social behaviour. No wider support network, few community resources, no respite services. Eldest is vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The case is held by integrated services. No Child in Need input as the case does not currently reach the thresholds. What is the long term future of these children – foster care? Will they be able to stay together? It would cost more money to put these children into care, yet services are saying there are no budgets, resources or local FAS training available to provide early intervention to keep this family together in the longer term. Saddening.”

“I had a 4-year-old where I felt he had been sexually abused by his father, but was told that the child was to remain as child in need as we were trying to cut the number of child protection cases.”

“I interviewed two children at school who were pushed over and hit by a door during a domestic incident between their parents. I wanted to make a child protection referral, also based on previous domestic violence and a senior social worker refused. I referred for a core assessment and the case was re-allocated.”

“You are forced to progress assessments quicker and when the management are not happy with your assessment you are asked to re-assess until the right outcome has been achieved, that the management are happy with.”

“Children being left with mother who brings home men, sex offenders, drug dealers and violent. Obstructs any forms of contact with biological father. Local authority not bothered because children doing well at school academically.”

“Local targets to reduce the number of children subject to child protection plans – set for both teams and individual workers as appraisal targets.”

“Cases are managed by unqualified workers at the children’s centres who do not always recognise the signs of abuse and tend to form a more informal relationship with the parents, making it hard to challenge abuse.”

“Our team is busy and so passing to child in need can free up workers.”

“There are cases with a long-standing history of neglect that the department feels should be left as the skeleton in the closet. Primarily, and rather sadly, this is in respect of older children where the attitude is, what are we going to do with teenagers?”

“Sometimes direct assaults are not made section 47 child protection cases as managers direct otherwise, especially with teenagers.”

“A child was held against a wall by the throat with another adult witness. Police were not even consulted and managers did not classify the as child protection. Young person was punched in the face by mother, followed by another assault, and this is not deemed to be child protection.”

“There is a reluctance to classify CSE (child sexual exploitation) cases as child protection, but to treat them as child in need. This is partly due to child protection procedures being an imperfect tool to deal with CSE. The problem is that if cases are not considered safeguarding cases then agencies can pull out without recourse to multi-agency meetings.”

“Long history of dometic violence going back 16 years, very obvious pattern of behaviour. Child protection Chair decided to removed children from not just the child protection plan, but social work involvement, going against my professional opinion as a social worker. The case was closed to social work involvement that day. A month later, the mother had been stabbed and a child injured by her partner who she had allowed back in the house.”

“We’ve now been told we have to dedicate one afternoon a week auditing our own cases. We have enough paperwork to do without having to give up more time with our families. I try and do as much paperwork as I can at home in the evenings so I don’t get behind with my visits. No wonder social workers don’t stay long.”

“Many services have been cut and services that are still around do not chase families like they used to. If families don’t engage they just close the case and leave it to social workers who do not have the time to provide intervention work or a high level of monitoring.”

“Burnt out social workers who are underpaid do not function at a level where they can protect children effectively.”

“My colleagues and I are under a vast amount of pressure, with some holding a caseload of 40. Just this fact in isolation puts children at massive risk as we don’t have the time to see all of our families. If there was at least double the amount of staff then perhaps we would be able to do our work properly. There is never enough time to work in the way you would want to, completing tasks thoroughly and writing up your case notes. The feel of the work is tense, pressured and there is never any time to stop, think or reflect (or even eat lunch). No time to reflect can also have a serious impact on our decision making.”

“After a poor Ofsted inspection a strong culture of bully and fear pervades the local authority that I work for. I’m depressed, unhappy and after five years since qualifying I have decided to leave child protection for good.”

“I work in a very rich, resourced borough in London. Therefore resources are available to prevent or reduce risk, as families are given various types of support. But I am conscious that many other boroughs do not have a fraction of this and therefore in those boroughs, it is very difficult for child protection workers to work well and support the family.”

“Returning to case work after 6 years out, I was allocated 39 cases within 2 weeks. Had no knowledge of the database, the various team members, other agencies and current practice. Despite expressly saying I needed a good induction, I was thrown in at the deep end. Net result 6 months later, the legacy of the lack of induction has persisted. I have lots of cases that I have no time to close and many cases that need to be on a child protection or child in need plan that I simply have no time to do!”

“Local services and charities we rely on are being cut because they no longer receive funding. There is more pressure on social care teams to respond to the need of children at risk as the early intervention sector is being cut more and more.”

“All funds are put into acute/crisis intervention out of necessity. There are not enough resources for early support. This is a self perpetuating problem, which will result in more high level cases costing much more. There is no long term, sustainability planning any more. Central government is accountable for this and should stop blaming those at a local level.”

“Caseloads are to high to be able to do a thorough assessments and meet with the family. Also due to high caseloads, it can take time to refer families for appropriate services of support.”

“Although frontline staff have not been cut, the supportive services around us have been decimated. Thus, social workers are having to pick up work that other services would have done. Leads to increased caseloads, lack of time for reflection and good analysis.”

“Every service is over-stretched and their criteria is now so high that we end up attempting work that previously would have been done by a specific service. For example, a service that offers support to children who have lived with or witnessed violence now won’t work with children who are ‘safe’ i.e. in a refugee, so I am undertaking this work.”

“Children are suffering significant harm due to thresholds, lack of resources, constant changes in social workers and staff sickness. There’s a danger of issues being missed and children being lost in the system. We are staffing departments with NQSWs who are not experienced and lack support and training.”

“There are NO resources now. Universal services have pulled their remit to focus on their core function, they ignore safeguarding. The other supporting services have disappeared or the ones that are left provide a minimal service.”

“Most services are being cut and will be cut again in the next financial year with children’s centres being hit. It’s foolish to think that simply not cutting frontline services but cutting all the others wont impact on child protection.”

“Many services are having their funding cut. There are very few services to offer families and children support outside of social care. There is very little in the way if early intervention to prevent the risk of harm escalating.”

“In the last few weeks there have been a noticeable amount of complex cases with families unable to cope due to the stress and strain of the lack of resources available to them. It has led to crisis point where extreme things have happened and children have been harmed by adults no longer able to cope and under huge pressure with little support due to budget cuts.”

“Local authorities are increasingly ignoring neglect cases, resulting in horrendous long-term neglect.”

“Case of chronic neglect, horrific sexual abuse, emotional abuse and addiction issues. On the child protection register for two years. No change and still managers won’t accommodate!”

“Care planning is being driven outside of the formal process of reviews. Children are discussed and some social workers are then directed to return the child home, often quite troubled teenagers, within days of the decision. This is despite disagreement from social workers.”

“The council has been tipping children out of care at 16 again to save money. This is putting practice back 20 years. This should never be acceptable. Outcomes are reverting back to the bad old days.”

“Pressure is being put on social workers to return children to their parents when they’re on care orders. I don’t agree with this practice as on most occasions the same issues are present.”

“We had a learning disabled child aged 9 who had been sexually abused. The mother was mentally unstable and going out every day to find arguments with males in the community in the hope that they would kill her. She was often getting beaten up. The child got one day in care under a voluntary agreement and was then returned to the mother with no other help in place. The case did not meet child protection or child in need thresholds.”

“Social work decisions vary according to the budget pressures. It is harder to get agreement to place children once the overspend bites.”

“Great reluctance to pay for carers when it’s clear it’s needed. Children are often left for too long with unsatisfactory parents.”

“It is always the case with teenagers that senior managers want them returned without any real work being done to successfully reunite the young person and sustain their placement with their family.”

“‘Edge of Care’ Meetings routinely held for all children over 10 years, ostensibly to ensure no child is removed from family unnecessarily, but it feels like a gate keeping exercise.”

“Children have been returned home to reduce looked-after numbers, only for the child to return to care shortly after with further abuse.”

“The local authority advised the parent that a mother and baby placement would be found. The birth parent agreed to this, however the local authority was unable to source an in-house placement and the service manager refused to pay for an independent placement. Therefore the newborn was allowed home in an extremely risky situation with significant domestic violence.”

“A child [had been sexually exploited] and was on a police protection order. I wanted the child to be accommodated over a short period of time away from the area to complete some intensive work around CSE. However, the senior manager, stated it would not do them any good and I had return the child to their family. This child has since been on a PPO 3 times.”

“A 16-year-old who had been sexually abused by her father, with her paternal grandmother’s knowledge, was placed with her paternal grandmother. And this is after the paternal grandmother had been assessed as unable to safeguard her or meet her needs.”

“Managers have exceeded their targets and need to reduce the number of cases in the team.”

“Teenagers at risk of self harm and poor parenting are denied alternative placements to save money and reduce looked-after numbers.”

“Targets to reduce the number of looked-after children directly impact on social work practice.”

“Huge pressure not to accommodate anyone over the age of 14 unless in an emergency. Children have been returned home without time to do proper return to home plans as management have agreed to very short periods in care, despite no change or improvement in the home.”

“Managers are reluctant to allow children to go into care due to the cost.”

“Unmanageable high caseloads prevent you from spending adequate time with children and families. The majority of time is spent completing paperwork and updating the care first system. Other agencies do not take responsibility and most of the pressure and responsibility is placed with the social worker. Lack of money and services to offer support to families. Good services have closed due to budget cuts.”

“Workers do not have the time or support to keep children safe. There is shocking management of local authority services.”

“I can’t commission expert assessments due to there being a lack of resources. This has recently included assessments looking at the sexual risk a father poses to his child, which was crucial. I subsequently had to complete this assessment, despite having a lack of knowledge and training to do so.”

“My team is at full capacity due to funding reasons, yet we have one of the highest intake of child protection cases in our area. It’s pushing each worker above their capacity, resulting in added pressures and not having sufficient time to dedicate as we would like to the cases coming through.”

“Caseloads are too high. Visits are not being completed in timescales. There is pressure to ignore concerns.”

“Many services are having their funding cut. There are very few services to offer families and children support outside of social care. There is very little in the way if early intervention to prevent the risk if harm escalating.”

“Inconsistency with managers’ decision making and thresholds. Each manager gives a different decision and priortises different cases.”

“Budget cuts are impacting on the number of social workers within teams, this is increasing the caseloads of staff, which in turn increases the risk of mistakes occurring.”

More from Community Care

One Response to 100 quotes from social workers that the government shouldn’t ignore

  1. Saz November 28, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    Words fail me. I am disgusted and ashamed. “Please government put more money into protecting our vulnerable.” X