Social work diary: ‘It’s the hardest day of my career so far’

A school social worker struggles to manage one particular case and its associated stresses


The girl informs me she is homeless. She’s been abandoned by her parents, who have returned to their native country. It has taken her a year to pluck up the courage to speak to a professional about this.

I make a referral to social care. I’m told there will be no response today, an assessment is only possible tomorrow. I telephone my partner in the evening to help me destress. They have spent all day assisting a high profile celebrity. Contrasting environments.


The girl managed to stay on a relative’s sofa last night after much pleading. Today a social worker visits her school and completes an assessment. I’m informed later there will be no assistance from social care as the girl doesn’t have the required UK border agency documents. I can’t believe it. On the way home I crash into back of another car at a roundabout. I was already thinking about tomorrow.


This is the hardest day of my professional career to date. The girl’s relative turned her away last night. She ended up sneaking into a friend’s house to sleep on the floor. No adults in the house knew she was there. She left early in the morning to avoid being found.

I phone the social care department and ask them to chase up the child’s solicitor regarding the border agency documentation they need. There are then seven hours of constant telephone calls until a breakthrough comes out of the blue. A charity is willing to give the girl a small amount of money so she can stay in a bed and breakfast tonight. After work I go to a gig. It’s the biggest buzz I’ve felt all week.


Despite last night’s breakthrough we’re back to square one. The charity could only cover one night in the B&B as an emergency. Tonight, in the absence of alternatives, I feel forced to pursue the emergency out of hours route to try and get the girl somewhere to sleep.

Eventually she is placed by the duty social worker in a B&B. Two hours later, my paperwork on the case is complete and I leave the office at almost 10pm. I head home for a jog, my method of relaxation tonight.


The child and I report to housing at 9am as instructed by last night’s duty social worker. We are told that ‘nothing’s changed’ and the girl can’t be housed. I don’t accept this and push management for an altered response.

Finally, several hours later I’m told she will be put up in a B&B over the weekend. This is the most stability the child has had in 12 months. I get sent an all staff email, everyone is going for a drink. I go home and sleep.

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6 Responses to Social work diary: ‘It’s the hardest day of my career so far’

  1. Laeticia April 13, 2015 at 11:32 am #

    Thank God for social workers

  2. Natalie April 13, 2015 at 7:24 pm #

    Wow! I really applaud those in this and other professions alike. I could never do this. Xx

  3. alan April 14, 2015 at 9:15 am #

    a simple call to the unaccompanied minors team would have got this child a bed for months. Its very simple as this is their remit. No need for any stress

    • Simon April 15, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

      Only simple if you know of the resource Alan. I find that they are not always disseminated widely.

    • Matt April 21, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

      Many local authorities no longer have unaccompanied minors team so this is not an option for everyone.

      I dont understand what UK border agency documents they require before they will offer support to the young person. As a child under the age of 18 social care have a duty of care to provide safe accomodation no matter her immigration status.

      My undestanding is the only way they dont have to provide support is if they consider the young person to be over 18 in which case they need to do an age assessment to prove this. in the meantime they should support the young person until this has been completed.

      I would contact both the Refugee Council and Shelter for further information and advocacy support as I am sure what you are being told is not legal.

  4. lisa April 26, 2015 at 9:55 am #

    I really feel your anguish, just the thought of knowing you’re going home to a warm bed and knowingly leaving a child homeless and potentially in a huge amount of risk is simply horrifying. Where were your supervisors in this case?