Update: Comments are temporarily broken, but please don’t let that stop you from signing the open letter if you oppose the government’s advancing plans to jail social workers.
You can tweet us @communitycare writing: ‘I sign the open letter to #StandUp4SW’, write the same message on our Facebook page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In March, David Cameron announced controversial plans to extend the criminal charge of wilful neglect to children’s social workers.
Following a fierce backlash from the profession – a petition started by social worker Zowie Overy has so far been signed nearly 11,000 times – Community Care has written an open letter to the prime minister urging him to abandon the plans.
Published on the same day that the British Association of Social Workers asked chief social worker Isabelle Trowler to advise government against the plans, we hope collective action to stand up for social work will convince the prime minister to reconsider.
To show your support, simply leave your name in the comments section below. You can also tweet us @CommunityCare writing: ‘I sign the open letter to #StandUp4SW’.
Open letter to the prime minister
Dear Mr Cameron,
We are writing on behalf of social workers in England to urge you to abandon your plans to extend the criminal charge of wilful neglect to children’s social workers.
Social workers enter the profession, certainly not for money, status or an easy life, but to make a difference to the most vulnerable people in our society. They are dedicated and hard-working, often sacrificing valuable family time to work late into the evenings or over their weekends so they can meet the needs of their service users.
As part of our campaign to Stand Up For Social Work, we are calling on central government to support social workers. Your plans do anything but. They make for strong headlines and create the impression of a government talking tough to get results, but they fail to recognise and tackle the complex reasons behind every failure to protect a child.
Although recent serious case reviews have sadly highlighted some deeply concerning social work failings around the country, such failings rarely, if ever, occur because practitioners were wilfully neglecting the needs of the vulnerable. They occur because of scant local authority resources, burnt out staff, unmanageable, out of control caseloads, unprecedented demand for services, insufficient staff training and so forth.
The Local Government Association drew attention to some of these problems in a statement last week: “Children’s services are creaking under the strain as they work to protect the most vulnerable children from abuse, neglect and child sexual exploitation.
“In an NHS system failing to cope with winter pressures, the government recently pledged £2bn to alleviate the crisis. We need Whitehall to redress the balance and give us adequate resources to get on with the vital job of protecting children.”
Social workers contacting Community Care have also unanimously condemned your plans, admitting they now feel more fearful for their safety when working in the community. Many also fear the impact this will have on recruitment and retention, pointing out the threat of jail sentences may force people to leave the profession or never consider joining it.
We believe this government is committed to preventing child sexual exploitation. However, extending the criminal charge of wilful neglect to children’s social workers will not improve practice. Instead, it will heighten the intense blame culture these professionals are working in, making it even harder for them to engage the children and families they are trying to help.
Good practice comes from listening to the experiences of frontline social workers and empowering them to carry out their duties safely and effectively. Yet time and again, we hear social workers do not feel listened to. They feel stressed, frustrated and frightened.
It is this stress, fear and frustration that caused 88% of children’s social workers to tell us austerity measures in their local authority have left children at increased risk of abuse, 80% to admit they feel stress is affecting their ability to do their job and 73% to say they lack the support and resources to prevent a child in their local area from coming to serious harm.
It is simply not right or fair that dedicated children’s social workers – who are already bearing the brunt of 40% public sector cuts, soaring workloads and systemic failings nationally – are now being cast as potential criminals who wilfully neglect children.
We urge your government, and whatever government may follow, to address this critical issue by removing the threat of jail and ensuring there is adequate funding to recruit, support and retain a highly motivated workforce, equipped with the tools to protect children.
Ruth Smith, editor
On behalf of the Community Care editorial team