‘Yes Prime Minister, children have been let down for too long…by you’

Social Work Tutor responds to David Cameron's vow to show 'zero tolerance of state failure' in children's services

Our Prime Minister has this past weekend come out with comments where he speaks of the need to bring wholesale reforms to child protection. His plans, which will be outlined in detail in the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, promise “zero tolerance” of state failure in children’s social care services.

Writing for the Sunday Times, Cameron explains: “Even in their worst nightmare, no parent could imagine that their child would grow up to sleep on the streets, languish in a prison cell or become a sex worker.

“But for children in care, this is still all too often the appalling future that lies in store. One in four prisoners have been in care, along with a shocking 70% of Britain’s sex workers. And a third even become homeless in the two years immediately after they leave care”.

Lip service

He goes on to tell us that “behind every statistic is a human story — not just of wasted potential, but of pain and trauma” then sets out the general theme for his reforms:

  1. Encouraging the adoption process, even when it overrides family ties
  2. Less time in the classroom for social work students and more time in on-the-job training
  3. Respecting experience and common sense when it comes to decision making
  4. New demanding standards (accreditation) for child protection social workers
  5. A new regulator to oversee the system

In their rhetoric, our government and civil servants like to call social workers ‘unsung heroes’ and pay lip service to the demands of our jobs. But for all this feigned interest they are far less keen on consulting us ‘heroes’ on reforms to our own profession.

Likewise they fail to heed the advice of the many past reviews, task forces and pieces of research that have, time and time again, set out the same lessons learned – that too many cases, too little time and a lack of early intervention services create a toxic environment that stifles effective work.

Societal issues

What worries me the most about Cameron’s comments is that he speaks of social work, social care and child protection as if it has nothing to do with wider society; that those poor little children he is looking to save are simply victims of bad parenting and not victims of their environment.

His rhetoric follows that if we can speedily remove these children from their families, placing them into the care of nice middle-class parents who are desperate for children of their own, the problem is solved.

There is nothing to acknowledge the wider societal issues that result in the abuse and neglect that drives children into the care system in the first place.

No recognition of the cycles of deprivation that have been decades in the making, with whole communities cast aside following the death of heavy industry.

No commentary on how much harder it is to raise children when you’re living on the breadline or a nod to the fact that any parent, even the most skilled, would struggle when living in poverty.

Damage is done

He speaks of adoption as the saving grace for children but fails to accept that, by time that this action is considered, the damage is often done.

Foetal alcohol syndrome, trauma when children are in the womb, the known impact that early harm has on brain development, all of these causal factors are dismissed as issues that will impact on the life course of the adopted child.

Instead we see all poor outcomes for looked after children attributed to the care system and, by association, the professionals currently operating in this field.

But it is easier to blame current safeguarding processes than look to fix society. It fits a neater political narrative to focus on a failing profession instead of a nation that is increasingly unfair, discriminatory and divided between those with money and those without.

In Cameron’s eyes it seems simpler to offer a quick fix to damaged children than a long-term approach to deal with broken parents.

Such a cold view of the world, where blame is placed on the individual and not society, fits well with the wider Tory ideology of benefit sanctions, disability assessments, bedroom taxes and cuts to local services.

The undeserving poor have lost their council homes, lost their benefits and lost their community services, why not make it easier to lose their children too?

So when Cameron sets out his grand plans to save children this coming week and tells us all that a social care revolution is needed, look at his past record and ask yourself what he has done to benefit needy children before.

You’ll find that his legacy is made up of more children in poverty, families reliant upon food banks, the unchecked rise of payday loans, a scarcity of social housing and the death of early intervention services.

Yes Dave, children have been let down for too long…by you.

The author is a child protection social worker and tweets at @socialworktutor


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14 Responses to ‘Yes Prime Minister, children have been let down for too long…by you’

  1. Soupy May 16, 2016 at 6:14 pm #


    My child protection training was full time on the job with me doing my degree in my own time.

    The more I hear David Cameron on our profession the more I consider him to be so ignorant of what we do on a daily basis – he does not have a clue!

    • loiner May 16, 2016 at 11:08 pm #

      its not a question of blame, professionals are part of a problem of a bad system which pits parents and professionals against each other…..that needs to change, everyone needs to work together to help both families and children achieve good outcomes

  2. loiner May 16, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

    at last this article shows where the real blame lays………for too long families have been blamed, and these families have been accused of harming their children………this article points the finger at a man who left his children in a pub, without anything or anyone telling him he was wrong

  3. Si Jones May 17, 2016 at 12:47 am #

    Well my response is firstly never should someone with no knowledge of child protection be responsible for changing legislation or practice. Lets look at Mr Cameron’s personal record as I personally see it? Issues of neglect after leaving his child in a pub! I believe not investigated however as the local authority involved seemed to accept it was an ‘oversight’ on the part of the security staff. Surely as a parent that was with his children it was his responsibility? Then a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of people with disability. The DWP’s own published ‘conservative’ estimate is that 1 in 5 benefit related deaths are their responsibility. As PM Dave sadly the buck stops with you. This man has I believe shown no compassion for any vulnerable group within society. It seems he sees false promise as a vote winner, but its OK if he can’t win votes maybe he can buy them? It now seems unlikely that he actually has a legal mandate to be acting as PM but if there is no whitewash we shall see.

  4. Catherine knowles May 17, 2016 at 9:17 am #

    I totally agree with social worker tutor and all that is being said in his article, what is interesting within all these statistics is the number of adoption breakdowns….and how many of those young people now in prison, sex slave and living on the street, has been adopted or made the subject of a special guardianship order. Equally, interesting is what appears to be a u turn around accreditation of social work with the emphasis now being child protection workers will need to be accredited ? Finally, pushing adoption at the cost of family needs to be agreed by the family courts….and rightly judges are questioning this ideology and are wanting evidence that all has been done to keep the child/young person within a family …as for allowing common sense approach….if only social workers are no longer allowed to think, use their own skills, knowledge, creativity and common sense, the tick box culture is still here and is the first thing ofsted checks as part of their inspection….working together is a rhetoric numerous reviews have concluded…this government and any future government might want to model within their own departments of DfE, ministry of justice. Home office, DOH, and treasury…if we are ever to bring about a truly coordinated and integrated approach to children and families

  5. Get me Out of here May 17, 2016 at 10:39 am #

    The Tories really despise Social Workers in general. Facts like those presented well by Social Work Tutor do not fit the narrative of call me Dave. Far easier to scapegoat Social Workers than make changes to society and deal with the appalling levels of social inequality and poverty. In the UK politics are polarised by class inequalities perpetuated across generations. Call me Dave has a large personal fortune as does his wife, their wealth and privilege will cascade through generations yet to come of the Cameron family. I would go so far as to say that policies such as bedroom tax are a result of class hatred of the poor and specifically designed to make life more difficult for them. The Tories have no empathy, no connection to the poor, they do not live near them, go to the same places as them and their children do not mix with the children of the under privileged. They live separate lives in segregated housing and increasingly live in two different worlds. Call me Dave feels as gut instinct it is personal failings and Social Workers that are the problem not society and its social organisations. The answer according to Dave is harsh treatment of the poor and harsh treatment of Social Workers. My advice to all those Tory Social Workers and there are some unbelievable as it seems, stop voting for more of the same and start recognising Dave is not your friend.

  6. Peter Endersby May 17, 2016 at 10:48 am #

    A note of caution from education. The more interest, feigned or otherwise, this government takes in your profession the more regulation, inspection and paperwork follows. They do not trust you and never will. Their trust in the profession extends only as far as you can prove it on paper and they never think about children holistically.

  7. Tom Hughes May 17, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    Cameron criticises adoption processes but it is he who has endorsed this 26 week rubbish and is happy with judges who drag things on or won’t let adoption be considered unless all other avenues have been explicitly explored even if the evidence explicitly shows they are dead avenues.

  8. Glenys Turner May 17, 2016 at 4:58 pm #

    How wonderful to see all these comments. Excellent work social work tutor!

  9. Chris May 18, 2016 at 2:08 pm #

    Well said social work tutor

  10. George Bragan May 18, 2016 at 3:41 pm #

    In my life before as an engineer and later when I graduated with a dual hons, degree BA in sociology, criminolgy and a diploma in social work like many other social workers; I have never asked any individual to do a task that I, I could not do myself and I certainly would not comment if I did not know what I was talking about.

    Its disgraceful frrom a wealthy person such as the PM, to make comment and, to critisise a society, the he appears to know little of, It would be something if the PM; was to spend a week working on the frontline of any local authority social work team. it may be then that he may have a different point of view, because I feel the PM as no perception of anything he says in regard to the suffering of the majority; within our society, the comments from other professionals have expressed this view.

  11. Pp May 18, 2016 at 7:31 pm #

    Come and do a couple of weeks frontline!

  12. Nell May 18, 2016 at 10:44 pm #

    Social Work Tutor, has, as always, called it by its name. Sets out the truth instead of the Doublethink which is peddled by the Tories. At the heart of this is the rotten truth that class will dictate how many people will lose their children. This is nothing new. Victorian children were taken from their poverty stricken backgrounds and placed with well off families. This is going to be something akin to the Stolen Generation – free rein to remove children because of the family they were born into – and give them to the well off, ‘acceptable’ middle classes. It remains a rule of thumb that the majority of adopters are middle class and well heeled. We cannot attract working class families and due to the pressures on poorer families currently, we are not likely to. I fear this will in turn lead to more breakdown of adoptive placements in adolescence when children feel they have somehow been displaced. It is as serious in my view as trans-racially placing a child. We do not pay enough attention to class and this could be a major pitfall in the not so distant future.

  13. M Richards May 21, 2016 at 9:33 am #

    Hope he has deep pockets rather than just big ideas!