Social work diary: ‘Leaving frontline practice is hard but local authority bureaucracy deadened my soul’

A new job has given me the chance to be re-inspired by reflection, learning and colleagues who will challenge

'I think my new role is somewhere I could wake up' Picture: Lilbear (Flickr)

by an anonymous social worker


The weekend papers brought more horrific news about the abuse of children in the public care system. The actress Samantha Morton described in the Guardian how files relating to the recurring sexual abuse she experienced, and complained about, when a child in care had dismissed her accounts. The files used language such as ‘frolicking’ in their analysis of what had happened.

You want to think that things have changed, that it wouldn’t happen today, however sadly this is far from the case. I am reminded of a case I came across where a 13-year-old girl was convicted in court of wasting police time following a rape allegation. She was given a court order as a punishment for this offence.

When I looked into the case I was really disturbed. The girl had a difficult background and was vulnerable. The police had ascertained that on the evening in question sex had taken place with the two older boys who she said had raped her, but they didn’t believe her allegation of rape, an account she continued to say was true.

At the very least, two offences of unlawful sexual intercourse had taken place. Yet who was prosecuted? No action was taken against the males and the girl was prosecuted and convicted of wasting police time. Language in the files felt both patriarchal and collusive; the offenders being described as ‘lads’ with the victim seemingly blamed for looking older than her age.

I don’t want to dismiss the seriousness of women making false rape allegations. I may not know the whole story. But this was a vulnerable young girl who had been the victim of two sexual offences. She also described what she experienced as a hostile and unsympathetic police reception, and interview experience.

We complained, of course, but were told everything was done ‘by the book’. If vulnerable girls are still being treated like this in 2014, it shows how far we have to go.


I am a few weeks into my new job in social work education. It was a difficult decision to move from practice. Not only was I leaving my attachment to the colleagues and work that had interested and sustained me for many years, there was also the sense of leaving the heart of the social work profession. Isn’t practice where our efforts really count and make changes?

This is undeniably true, but after many months of mulling this over I was also very conscious of impotent I felt most of the time. As a middle manager in a local authority implementing cuts and undergoing frequent restructures, weariness had taken over from passion. In some ways I wish I had had the resilience to stay and keep fighting, but there is no doubt that for me the combination of local authority bureaucracy and social work paperwork ultimately deadens the soul. I‘m glad to be doing something different, I want to fully engage again, even if it is a different type of work to what I was doing in practice.


I have lunch with one of my new colleagues. She describes how she encourages her students to think critically, to challenge and be radical advocates for social justice and their social work values. I think about how rarely these conversations occur in a practice setting, and how exciting it is going to be to be re-inspired by reflection, learning, and colleagues who will challenge. I think this is somewhere I could begin to wake up.

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2 Responses to Social work diary: ‘Leaving frontline practice is hard but local authority bureaucracy deadened my soul’

  1. Jim Greer September 18, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    Good luck in your new career. I will say, however, that academia can have its own frustrations. It is not always easy for people from practice to adapt to some elements of when the education sector operates. One thing which I missed was the fast pace of local authority social work.
    It is a different culture and it certainly took me a long time adapt to it. However, with good colleagues and support it can be a very fulfilling journey. It doesn’t need to be one way ticket either. I went back to the local authority sector for a couple of years as a project manager and then back to academia. Hope it all goes well.

  2. Natasha Phillips September 18, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

    This must have been a difficult article to write, however, despite my initial view that moving to academia is in some ways like giving up (and perhaps taking a step back, because, rather sadly academia has no place in the real world), I admire your choice.

    I hope you inspire your students to challenge sub par norms, to show them that social work is not only vital but some of the most sophisticated work out there. That you instil in them the checks and balances that keeps the God complex at bay, the Saviour Syndrome under wraps to be used only when needed and the compassion to question every prejudice and bias they feel, or see.

    And most importantly, I hope you will teach them that nothing will change or get better unless they stand together as a united front. The next generation will remain powerless unless they understand that change can only occur if they form an alliance and keep their passion for supporting and protecting children alive.

    If you are going to step back into the shadows, make sure you do so with the determination to empower your students. I wish you much luck.