“We must never disbelieve that sometimes the actions we are involved in cause hurt”

Social workers reflect on the protests at The Social Worker of The Year awards and how the profession should communicate with angry groups

About 20 protestors gathered at the awards. Photo: Ruth Smith

“Welcome! To the annual child abuse awards.” The cry greeted social workers, managers and even government ministers at The Social Worker of the Year Awards last Friday.

On an evening designed to celebrate great social work, the megaphoned shouts of angry protestors upset many social workers, but prompted much reflection on how the sector communicates with people who are angry at having their children taken into care.

About 20 protestors attended the event following a campaign on social media. Under the watchful eyes of police and security staff the protestors accused attendees of being “child abusers” and “criminals”. Whilst uncomfortable to hear, Bridget Robb, BASW’s chief executive, called for the voices outside the building to be heard.

Photo: Ruth Smith

Photo: Ruth Smith

Speaking to Community Care after the event, she stressed the importance of social work not being defensive. “I think the day we stop listening, the day we stop hearing is the day we stop calling ourselves a profession and we just become local government employees,” she says.

The protestors were expressing pain and anger at a system they feel lies and fails to listen to them.

“Most people in that room would’ve understood the right of those people to demonstrate against what seems to be harsh and oppressive treatment,” says Brian Mitchell, curriculum team leader for health and social care at Bradford College and at the event to present an award. “It’s a fundamental democratic right of everybody so you can’t criticise it, but we’re the one profession that goes, ‘of course they’ve got every right to do that, we might not agree with that but they’ve got every right to do that,’ even on this evening.”

Social media has fuelled the anger of protestors, says Jenny Molloy, who was attending the event in her official capacity as a patron of BASW. “Parents who have had their kids removed have been able to connect with each other and really instil in themselves these amazing myths that social workers want adoptable kids, and they get paid bonuses per every child who is adopted, which is not true.”

She highlights a “serious lack” of support for parents after a child has been removed. “They have to put their anger somewhere. And their anger is towards social workers and the courts.”

“We must never disbelieve that sometimes the actions we are involved in cause hurt. I hope the next stage, having made the protest, is actually finding the ways to have a dialogue about how things can change,” adds Robb.

“We know ourselves how we want the system to change to provide a better service, so we can also understand why people involved in the systems also have views on how things need to change, so why wouldn’t we have a discussion?”

This was supported by Professor Ray Jones, independent chair of the Social Worker of the Year Awards. “What is helpful is to create opportunities for dialogue and debate, as much as hostile chanting and sloganizing. And I hope those opportunities will arise.”

“Creating the possibility for people to meet and talk together, and with a recognition that social workers are not the adoption decision makers, that lies with the courts and judges, and that social workers themselves do not easily look towards children being removed from parents,” is key to generating a discussion on these issues, says Jones.

What’s needed is a service to support parents, says Molloy, as well as advocates for the families during the proceedings, someone not involved in the case but who can talk the everyday language that families need in order to understand what’s happening.

“One of the things we’re guilty of is we sort of assume people know what we do, because we know what we do,” says Mitchell, who agrees there’s a need for a “common language” to explain processes and what social workers do.

“We have a responsibility to try and make sure that people are helped to either challenge the decisions made about themselves or their families or find ways to move on in their lives, whatever that might look like,” says Robb.

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7 Responses to “We must never disbelieve that sometimes the actions we are involved in cause hurt”

  1. Hilary Searing December 9, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    Aggrieved parents have the right to protest and I hope the profession engages constructively with their concerns. I realise that children’s social workers face mounting criticism and are under enormous pressure – but the profession really must take more responsibility for raising standards of practice in care proceedings. With this in mind, I have written an article for students called ‘The Social Work Role in Care Proceedings’ at http://radical.org.uk/barefoot/careproceedings.htm

    A number of recent setbacks for the profession (e.g. in N E Lincs) suggest we are now at a critical fault-line in society where social work practice and political forces collide. Serious weaknesses in the training of children’s social workers are creating political pressure for change. In particular, there is increasing pressure to follow the recommendation of Sir Martin Narey for greater specialism in the training of children’s social workers.

    • Patch December 10, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

      Would that be the same Martin Narey who chose to ignore the effect of Re B and Re B-S in his ‘myth busting’ guidance on adoption? The same Martin Narey who chose to ignore ECHR in Y v. uk:
      “family ties may only be severed in very exceptional circumstances and … everything must be done to preserve personal relations and, where appropriate, to ‘rebuild’ the family. It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing.”?
      The same MN who claimed that the 26 week rule has no effect on Placement Orders?
      He doesn’t strike me as the kind of piper anyone human should follow.

  2. Edna December 9, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    Social workers write the reports with an embellished, poorly evidence based content quite often with stock in trade phrases like’ put own needs before the needs of child’ then citing a single event they have homed in upon to do so.

    Whether what they write is fact does not matter as judges are far from better in actually taking an independent view that might challenge social workers. All part of a gravy train system of jobs at the public purse, Protecting children or adults is a lie on which these jobs are based. Both children and adults are frequently removed from the frying pan only to end up in the fire. Rotherham / Rochdale anyone?

    Social work managers frequently decide what the report must have in it to get the decision the managers want. There may be no monetary bonuses these days for adoption, but indeed their are targets for managers which social services leaders full well know gives them their jobs.

    Thank goodness for social media.

  3. Jenny December 10, 2014 at 8:22 am #

    Uninformed, heavy-handed and self-righteous is how I would describe the manner in which social workers approached me. They disrupted communications between those who knew my friend and hospital staff so that she was not investigated or treated for stroke until she had had a further more severe stroke whilst an inpatient.
    When social workers wreak this sort of havoc, then go on to isolate a harmless old lady from everyone she knows, it is no wonder if they are regarded with extreme distaste. The threat to our liberties from the interception of communications by intelligence and law enforcement is nothing compared with the relationship destruction engineered by rigid, ignorant and insensitive social workers.

  4. Planet Autism December 10, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    “We must never disbelieve that sometimes the actions we are involved in cause hurt.”

    Nor that those actions were frequently wrongful in the first place.

    And it’s not only parents whose children have been removed who are outcrying against the corruption within the system.

  5. Patch December 10, 2014 at 11:13 pm #

    It is extremely disingenuous of anyone in Social Work to pretend that they are serious about effecting change, when reports like Dr. Lynne Wrennall’s ‘Parliamentary Briefing: Miscarriages of Justice in Contemporary Child Protection: a brief history and proposals for change’ – written in 2004, have been ignored for more than 10 years, while people – not everyone, but a substantial number, – continue to have their children taken on the basis of spurious evidence presented by people, often unqualified to give a professional opinion.

  6. G Hall December 15, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

    Hang on. Not to say that every Social work decision is perfect or that mistakes are not made but these decisions are not made solely by social workers. The removal of a child is ultimately a court decision, families have solicitors who can challenge what the SW is saying. There is a hearing. It is likely that our court system is skewed against those with least power in our society but asserting the idea that social workers are in some sort of conspiracy to take children and tell lies is not helpful if people really want to be heard.