By Jenny Molloy
Dispatches. Scandal. Exposure of poor practice. If I had commissioned that documentary with that brief I would be telling the filmmakers to return to the drawing board. Scandal that wasn’t.
What it was, though, was a gross betrayal of trust. It made me furious thinking of the children and families who have social workers, for the children and families whose confidential situations were openly shared on national TV, the children and young people who are looked after, and the social workers who had welcomed ‘Vicky’ into their teams.
Social workers deceived
Children and young people who are cared for by the state build strong relationships with their social workers, this only being possible through sound emotional and professional investment in them. As a care leaver, had that been my social worker deceived in that way, I would have wanted Vicky hauled before HCPC. Wouldn’t you if your parent had been deceived and shamed in front of millions of viewers?
The Children in Care Council of Birmingham have shared their feelings loud and proud. They feel exploited. Exploited by a social worker. They have found a voice in the storm. ‘Vicky’ has succeeded in giving children and young people in the care of Birmingham another seed of doubt that adults are not to be trusted. Should ‘Vicky’ be made to justify her poor judgement under fitness to practise rules, the Children in Care Council should absolutely be given the opportunity to share their collective voice as evidence.
I don’t buy ‘Vicky’s’ motive for secretly recording her colleagues’ angst and concern about vulnerable children. Social workers are skilled professionals – at what point in your training does it suggest deceit as sound professional judgement?
I would have a different view had ‘Vicky’ been exposing abuse, as Panorama did with Winterbourne View, but she wasn’t.
What she exposed was an organisation in the process of a significant improvement plan, which involved human emotion. Any leader worth their weight will be ‘holding’ the team and individuals’ emotional cycle of change. I saw nothing that indicated this wasn’t happening. Change to this extent is painful, confusing and evokes fear. There was no cover-up by Birmingham.
There was, however, concern and compassion for children in abundance.
System at breaking point
What ‘Vicky’ did succeed in doing, although by default, was to give the conspiracy theorists background into what happens when risks for children are identified, and ammunition to continue their campaign of hate.
There is much national discussion from parents whose children have been taken into care, of there being no reason for social services involvement. This documentary showed this not to be the case. Children are at risk of abuse and harm, not just in Birmingham, but across the country, and what was clear was that the system, through lack of financial investment and the desecration of all services needed by ‘the poor’, was at breaking point.
Professionally I have first-hand experience of this having opened up a winter night shelter and working within prisons. Desperate people are driven to extreme behaviours and options, with interventions by social workers unable to properly deal with poverty, mental health illness and addiction to name a few. So why are we as a sector accepting this? The junior doctors took extreme action against government intrusion. I don’t see any other option but to plan a campaign to join them.
But guess what, Birmingham children, young people and social workers – there is a lot of love out there for you. The sector supports you, as do the children you care for.
You are significant to those children and to their successful life chances as adults. Do as you say. Hold your head high and crack on with giving your energies to effecting change. My social worker would tell me – feel the pain, grieve and then stand tall and walk forward. And this, social workers of Birmingham, is my message to you.
Jenny Molloy is a care leaver, patron of BASW England and the author of Hackney Child, Tainted Love and Neglected.