Dear ministers, this is why social workers quit child protection

In its focus on attracting new entrants to child protection, the government is overlooking the support needs of practitioners already doing a taxing, traumatic job

Photo: Jummie/Fotolia

by Sophie Ayers

During her time as education secretary, Nicky Morgan said that social workers should be tested to give them the same professional status as ‘surgeons and lawyers’. She cited the example of Peter Connelly (also known as ‘Baby P’) as social work failings.

In speeches Morgan was complimentary about social workers. She described us as unsung heroes “completing thankless work”. However, the underlying message delivered was that current social workers are not meeting the expected practice level – which is a significant generalisation.

I have the same aspirations as Morgan and the government that social workers should be admired, trusted and respected. However, the government’s solution to the debate about the perpetually corroded reputation of social workers is based on future aspirations, rather than on considering the skill set that already exists in abundance within current social workers.

High fliers

The government consistently says it wants make improvements by attracting ‘high-flying’ graduates into the profession. Over the past year, it has repeatedly backed and expanded the ‘Frontline’ graduate programme to achieve its aims.

I consider myself to be the very graduate that the government would like to recruit. I obtained grade As in my A levels; attended a ‘top 10 university’ and achieved an upper second class degree. I read newspaper articles, am politically aware and sometimes, when time permits, I write poetry.

Yet the model of looking at future high achievers insults the substantial amount of bright; analytical; passionate and dedicated workers that I have had the pleasure to work with. The simplicity of future plans for testing seeks to find fault in individuals rather than assess the role of child protection social work in greater detail.

It is widely known that there is a shortage of child protection social workers. This does not mean that there are not enough people qualified to complete the work, but there is certainly a shortage of people willing to do it.

Expiry date

The reason for the shortage is that there is a clear expiry date. Some practitioners will progress up the ranks to management, while others flake away to emotional despair, a change of career or an area of social work which they consider less demanding.

I am baffled why more focus is not applied to the emotional impact of the work rather than looking at systemic failings or processes. Child protection social work is unique, disparate and taxing. You will always have a changeable day, which requires you to adapt to so many circumstances.

Social work is an isolating profession with work completed by individuals without the support of others. You are expected to complete your visits solo, without the emotional fortification of others. Referrals are made with minimal information, sometimes just an address, child’s name and date of birth.

I have faced real risk during my time as a social worker. I have stepped over a dead body whilst I discussed with the potential killer where her children should sleep that night; I have been held in a house with a machete; been spat at; had a window broken over my head; hid under a desk whilst a service user destroyed my office and had more death threats than I could count.

Emotional framework

Police officers generally visit in pairs, with crucial intelligence relating to the home address; weapons at their disposal and the power of arrest. Police officers also receive ongoing support from psychologists to manage the recognised trauma that they face.

Whether it is funding cuts, a lack of awareness or malaise into the traumatic working life of a social worker, the emotional framework is not there for even the most robust individual to cope with each harrowing episode.

I will always remember the time that the police refused to attend a property due to the risk of firearms. My colleague ensured she filmed me on camera: her car engine running. At least then, the potential murderer would be captured in evidence, if the worst case scenario came to pass. This dice with death was to ensure that a father had the correct court documents and a right to participate in care proceedings.

Not only overt risk takes place but other situations occur that gnaw away at social workers’ psyche.

Try being the person who takes a brand new baby away from the hospital ward. Try sitting at the back of a ‘riot van’, waiting for the scared little ones to be brought to safety, screaming for their mother. Walk from a court when a Judge agrees with your plan of adoption, watching the families you have destroyed react to the desolate news.


Frequently, with each chilling event, appropriate support is not readily available. Although, this is entirely dependent on the resources available within each local authority. Generally, there is simply not the time, the structure or the knowledge to manage such traumatic events.

’Firefighting’ is a term often used within social work and this is a live issue within many local authorities: emotional protection is the last possible priority.

Recruitment and retention within social work will continue to be a theme until there is wider appreciation of the demands of the profession.

The solution appears to be so apparently obvious that I am dumbfounded that it has never been progressed. Why look for the perceived intelligentsia or seek accredited professionals from abroad? If only we could nurture those fabulous beings already in existence: waiting for more cohesive emotional support; appreciation or awareness of the daunting task of everyday social work.

If only the government could start to understand the formidable and monumental task that social workers face every day: perhaps appropriate funds could be delivered to secure better working conditions to maintain the talented, diligent and creative workforce that is already in place. Hopefully the profession’s faith will be restored by Nicky Morgan’s successor.

Sophie Ayers is a child protection social worker

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74 Responses to Dear ministers, this is why social workers quit child protection

  1. Del Toro August 10, 2016 at 10:33 am #

    Can’t blame the Government when it is management that are the ones treating the workforce so poorly.

    • S E C August 10, 2016 at 4:45 pm #

      I left local authority child protection, section 47 work 7 years ago, it was desperately unsupported, the morale was rock bottom, the demands excessive and unreasonable. Management was ineffective and hardly ever there and the upper management were only interested in targets not outcomes. I wasn’t trained to tick boxes and punish people, I was trained to use skills I had acquired through study but also importantly through life experience. With the ultimate goal to establish positive change in individuals and families utilising strengths based, relationship positive child focused work. What it became was a faceless heartless and compassion less service. High flying academics are not always the answer if they have no people skills or compassion….

      • Vicci August 10, 2016 at 10:46 pm #

        I agree with everything you said.
        They brought a new system in were we had to tick boxes when I said none of the said what was needed, or what happened I was told to pick the nearest comment. None of them were tailored for our teams cases. We were just told to get on with it. It sickens me that the actual workers were not consulted when they were working on the system.
        I had to go to hospital with young people having abortions, I walked in on a young person who had self harmed all over her face,neck,arms chest , legs and it was a blood bath. I sorted it but it affected me really badly, I didn’t get any support.
        I could go on for ever. I was a leaving care support worker, not a social worker. Everyone in social service should have the opportunity to talk to someone. Not their manager some one independent. Social services everywhere need help not continuous telling of and being run down for their failings when they have been saying for many years that they need help and have not been given it. Vicci

      • Diane August 11, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

        I worked in Child Protection for 8 yrs, what you say is exactly right, child protection is now more about ‘stats’ not quality work with families….It’s a soul wrenching profession. 🙁

    • Suzy q August 10, 2016 at 6:20 pm #

      The issues have remained virtually unchanged since I began practicing ten.years ago.
      Case loads too high
      Court deadlines and high case loads lead to a lot of extra hours which impacts negatively on emotional well being
      Lack of resources within authorities although some are significantly more under resourced than.others
      Blame game
      High staff turnover impacts on morale of team members
      Lack of experienced social workers to support newly qualified workers both practically and emotionally.
      Resilience to protect yourself
      Salary does not reflect the hard work and risk to self both physically and emotionally in working with the most vulnerable people in our society

    • A.M August 10, 2016 at 10:27 pm #

      Come on Del Toro, look at the bigger picture.
      Who do you think is cutting funding and services?
      Who do you think has the power to really & truly support social work?
      Who is setting policy?

      • Marion Thorpe August 16, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

        That isn’t the point. If there is a political solution at least manager should be raising the flag for us. We have nobody to fight our corner. Our Trade Union (Unison) does not acknowledge the issues and our representation is poor. Oh to have a voice like the BMA has been for junior doctors.
        if policies are made which we cannot operate or which denigrates us then managers should be putting forward the reality of our tasks to politicians. But it seems to me that managerialim has taken over the show

    • Jane Healey August 11, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

      Del Toro… You can’t blame management either. The problem lies in no one having enough time to attend core buisness let alone truly attend to the emotional & psychological welfare of hundreds of excellent workers. Services are overwhelmed with demand for service. Organisations run on the bare minimum of managerial/ team support. Even the best managers truly literally don’t have time to attend the competing tasks and issues presenting. It is absolutely a government funding issue.

    • Carol August 11, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

      Sophie,s article reflects all the experiences I had during my 20 plus years as a child protection social worker. It did not seem to be such a dangerous job when I started in the 1990s, the risks increased over the years. I too experienced the Police refusing to attend a home due to the risk of firearms and knifes to their officers and I had to go in alone.
      Government wishes to put the “blame” on social workers and individuals. It now hopes to hold the social workers in their employ personally responsible for complaints, the relevant Local Authorities do not wish to be responsible for the actions of their workers and face financial claims Workers are on a hiding to nothing and there is less support for them. Due to the hugh turnover in staff there are few very experienced social workers and social work managers. Top Local Authority jobs now seem to go to accountants and managers who have not been front-line social workers, consequently they have little or no idea what the job entails. No amount of explanation can give a true depiction of the job.
      Government and Local Authories both share the causes of the decline in the employments problems for social workers, the Government trying to patch up to problems by blaming them on the perceived lack of training and skills of the workers. This is not realistic and they conveniently forget the amount of financial cuts they have imposed on Local Authorities, which are also causing many of the problems.
      I loved my job as a child protection social worker but if I were young now I would not be drawn to the service as the risks are too high and the blame culture is unacceptable.

    • Katie clark August 11, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

      The government are the only ones who can dedicate more money and that is the only way things can improve. Have more social workers, fewer caseloads, allow the protection of those that need it. .the children at risk and in need. .the vulnerable adults. .and of course the social workers who put their lives at risk.

    • US Social Worker August 11, 2016 at 11:13 pm #

      I was a CPS investigator for 13 years in the US. I loved my job but when it all became about statistics and numbers CPS workers could no longer do social work. Children’s safety was no longer the focus; however management would say it was. The stress of the job nobody can imagine. You work all day, come home and mentally keep thinking about your cases, go to bed and dream about solutions for your cases problems. It never leaves you. CPS workers have no support. They are hated in their communities, so often isolate themselves at home after work. You are careful where you eat or go out for leisure activities because you do not want to run into clients when you are desperately trying to have down time. After dealing with a terrible traumatic event, there is no crisis intervention for the worker. You deal with one terrible issue and move on to the next. Workers are pushed to their limits and treated like robots……….keep producing. Those above who make the rules should be forced to work a year in a CPS workers shoes before changing/developing policy. I left my job to take care of myself, because my employer could have cared less.

    • Maria Walsh August 12, 2016 at 1:56 pm #

      I agree wholeheartedly with this article. I qualified 5 years ago and have always attempted to maintain a sense of emotional equilibrium by attending therapy; which is definitely needed in the profession. The over riding cause of my distress was not the clients but the verbal abuse and pressure I received from managers; I started having panic attacks at work. I realised I was not only seeing domestic abuse in my clients;but more so in my relationships with my superiors at work. I have since left children’s services and I work in another field. I’ve got my life back, I am exercise more, having better friendships I sleep better, and I’m starting a counselling course.

      What is needed is a honest and frank conversation about how staff can be supported, many of us unconsciously carry our own wounds that impact upon the work, and ourselves. If we are going to help others; staff need to be contained and helped. Then things will move forward for everybody…I hope and pray that compassion can be a value that we bring back into social work…for the good of all …

    • Marion Thorpe August 16, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

      Oh yes you can and we aren’t even paid as much as police, lawyers even teachers. Ours is a blame culture with nobody to fight our corner. When I was a teacher I used to think if I don’t prepare a lesson I will get bored students and poor exam results but in children’s social Work if I get something wrong I might have a dead child or at least a destroyed life.

  2. Stephanie August 10, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

    Great article! Completely agree. I loved 95% of social work but there aren’t enough resources. I’ve taken a years break on a working holiday visa and I can’t see myself wanting to go back to it when it’s finished!

  3. Karen August 10, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

    A powerful read Sophie and helpful reminder about why we do the jobs we do… As a DCS I spend time trying to ensure there is a meaningful, holisitc support and development offer for our social workers that takes into account the emotional demands of the job. But in a system where so much is not as we would want it I agree that there is much more to do -from everyone- not just the direct employer, the whole system needs to act cohesively.
    Del- Managers are social workers as well…they like practicising social workers do the job with the right motives..its easy to blame managers, not so easy to help co-create the solutions!

    • Lucy lou August 25, 2016 at 6:39 am #

      What borough are you from? Can i work for you?!!

  4. kim simpson August 10, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

    I was impressed by this thoughtful and insightful article – thank you Sophie. It confirms my experience of now over 25 years (!! – is it really that long) in child protection, as a practitioner and a manager, that on of the most valuable things a manager can do is concentrate on building their teams confidence. This doesn’t mean being blandly uncritical, but without good leaders recognising and acknowledging the effort and expertise social workers are expending every day, practitioners will not have energy required to analyse their work and be motivated to be the best they can be.

  5. Edi Carmi August 10, 2016 at 1:13 pm #

    Agree with the author. The focus on attracting ‘high flying’ graduates into the profession, ignores that many social workers for the last 40 years have had such qualifications, and arguably received more academic and more on the job training than that provided by the Frontline scheme.

    The constant reformulation of recruitment and training of social work provides government and media with the comforting view that the problems lie with the ability and training of individual staff, as opposed to unrealistic societal expectations that social workers will be able to prevent all child maltreatment.

  6. bignev August 10, 2016 at 1:17 pm #

    Agree with Del Toro, management are atrocious. Where I worked all the long term managers either left or made to leave, being replaced with fewer managers from outside, who followed a plan from higher management without challenging decisions -yes people, social workers left to their own devices whilst going through this period of change, eventually all the workforce was placed under redundancy notice, and 19 social workers made redundant including myself. Will never return to social work again after being told by one of these so called managers that I was old school, and they wanted more younger people in post. Social Workers do a fantastic job, under extreme pressure, but it needs a good management regime to support us not against us.

  7. Chris August 10, 2016 at 1:18 pm #

    Very good article. Good professional support needs both enough staff for joint visiting when needed and experienced professionals with time to offer good supervision/support. Both are increasingly rare as Local Government have had to cut year after year.
    Del Toro: look beyond your desk. Your manager is probably doing the job of three or four people due to government cuts. The government IS to blame.

  8. Nell August 10, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    Del Toro, I have been a senior manager for 12 years. I can say that I have NEVER treated my staff poorly. Often times I have had to face criticism from other managers abut my management style. I believe that if we take care of staff, they can take care of service users. Not all managers are f that view and I think they are wrong but that is my prerogative. However, I also understand that the relentless focus on budgets and service cuts can also eat away at senior managers and some are not so good at holding that position and in a sense, protecting social workers from the fallout (which can and does include bullying tactics). I have known managers who weep on their way in to work, who have become ill through stress and have had to retire early. This is certainly not all their fault. Government policies. Media smear campaigns and the poor public profile of social work all play their part. I would never wholesale blame social workers for the failings f a few so I ask you please to have the same consideration for managers. I think the article is good, the points made are fair and should be blindingly obvious to those very senior decision makers who are also advising the government.

    • Lyn August 11, 2016 at 4:53 am #

      I am a volunteer in this department and have been for 10 years,therefore I have seen quite a lot from both sides. I do agree with you Nell, as the office I work at also looks after it’s social workers,but when funding is constantly cut,it is tough on everyone. Social workers need more support from government, there is only so much they can do without appropriate funding.

    • Jane Healey August 11, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

      Totally agree Nell. The pressure and relentless demand on all workers, including managers is extraordinary and absolutely due to budget squeezes reducing capacity for apprpriate responses at every level. The general public has no idea what those in the human service sector face, navigate and ” deal with” every single day.

    • Marion Thorpe August 16, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

      Fine words butter no parsnips! As a manger you are looking at your team but who is looking at the bigger picture. Why do senior managers just accept the policies of a government who do not understand our role. Why are they so into “covering ourselves” and never accepting the at social work is a profession where risk must be acknowledged. Directors seem so far away from the reality of our task but maybe it is for them to talk to central government occasionally and let them know when their policies are destructive to service delivery.

  9. alexc1202 August 10, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

    Sophie, I could not agree with you more. In my experience as a social worker in a child protection team, I have observed that the LA is very adept at recruiting but sadly do not seem to have any idea about retaining staff. This was galling for me personally when I recently took the decision to have a break from child protection (after some eight years in the team). There was simply no encouragement for me to stay, no questions about why I wanted to go, no attempts to support me through what was a mammoth decision. I decided instead to change teams but honestly feel so burnt out, I am unsure of the longevity of my current position. Why on earth would any sane, hard working individual accept such harsh working conditions and continued lack of support?

  10. Sharon Sidders August 10, 2016 at 1:45 pm #

    Having worked with Sophie previously, her writing is only one of the qualities which make her an outstanding Social Worker. Well done Sophie!

  11. Jonny O' Brien August 10, 2016 at 1:49 pm #

    Absolutely well said, the way in which Social Workers have been treated within the profession is appalling and then on top of that to be slated and traversed in the way we have by those outside is just adding insult to injury. All of the things described in this piece are common place, not just one-off examples of a particularly bad experience. It is frightening how many Social Workers will have faced this and much worse.

    The lack of parking, desks and adequate IT systems is one thing, and to a large extent can be circumnavigated in creative ways, much more concerning is the often complete absence of emotional support for Social Workers from supervisors and managers, not just in formal supervision but also in day to day interactions.

    That’s why people don’t want to stick around. Until this is addressed no amount of gimmicks will help to stem the flow.

  12. Clarice Gomes August 10, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

    Social workers need support, emotional,and social,psychological and brave Managers who really care for their staff .
    Social Workers almost always bear the brunt of blame.Are Psychiatrists, lawyers, doctors,judges tested in the same shoddy way?
    Social Workers need to be more demanding of their right to carry out their duty and responsibility and they can only do this effectively if effectively supported!

  13. Stuart August 10, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

    I join those complimenting Sophie on this excellent article – and on the work she has evidently done as a social worker.
    It will be interesting to see how long the supposed ‘high flyers’ and other ‘new training route’ workers last working in ‘the front line’.

  14. Lydia Lewis August 10, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    Sophie, what an incredible, hard hitting article which is so eloquently put. It’s people like you doing such an incredible job and voicing your concerns who make me feel there is still hope for the profession. I just hope the politicians are listening.

  15. Ay August 10, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    Excellent! Excellent and Excellent!

    Sophie – you nailed it on so many levels! Well-done!

  16. Paul Richards August 10, 2016 at 4:04 pm #

    The communities the children in need come from need to change. Many of the people we work with are simply beyond the pale in terms of their ignorance, aggression and instability. This social group needs to be elevated, if at all possible.

  17. Mary August 10, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

    When I delivered safeguarding training to housing staff two years ago, there were many complaints from housing staff that social workers were rubbish and ineffective. Coming from a social services background, I explained the role, the long hours, the decision making, the legal issues, the budget cuts and the dammed if they do/don’t pressure both in children and adults services. When asked if they had all the answers and the gift of hindsight why none them had trained as social workers. Not one said they would train as a social worker.

    The main problem is minsters, council members, the general public and newspapers come up with simple solutions for complex problems. There is a lack of understanding regarding the role and the pressure that it brings. If you ask for help you are looked down on, because you can not cope..

    We have all attended leaving events and in some cases funerals of committed staff who gave their all, day in day out. For whatever reason they can no longer cope with the pressures of it all. What happens, the knowledge, skills, experience and commitment is lost to the local authority, the team, the profession and the local community. This is something as a society we can ill afford.

    The well made points are relevant for children, adults, mental health, hospital social work teams as well as all public services as a whole. .

  18. Jo Ward August 10, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

    This is a really powerful and eloquent article and I agree with every word of it. What hasn’t been mentioned in the Government/management discussion is the way the austerity cuts (Government’ responsibility passed down to Local Authorities) are hitting services, so there is little support for families ‘on the edge’, and few resources social workers can refer them to. This must also be contributing to the rise in the number of children admitted to care.
    Thanks Sophie – very thought provoking.

  19. Mary August 10, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

    Sophie I totally agree – a well thought out and clearly articulated response which reflects my views and views of colleagues- It is always easy to blame Managers but they are Social Workers too who generally share the desire to do a good job despite increasing demands with dwindling resources . Instead of reinventing Social Work training the focus should be on supporting and retaining the Social Workers who still are committed to improve the safety and life chances of children. I see a number of excellent practitioners who are leaving the profession as they are burnt out ,disillusioned and for the sake of their sanity feel that the only solution is to leave and sadly I feel it wont be long until I join them

  20. Ellie August 10, 2016 at 7:46 pm #

    I applaud you on having had the courage, and the commonsense, to pen this insightful article. It is high time that Social Workers – of all disciplines, from Child Protection, to Adults, to Mental Health – got the chance to speak out about what is REALLY making the job hard to do, and what forces many to leave.

    Whilst you speak – and in a very heartfelt, honest manner – about the issues that Child Protection workers face, I should add that these issues are faced by Social Workers in other areas too. Irrespective of whether we work with adults, children, families, domestic violence, substance misusers, mentally ill people, people with learning disabilities… we ALL work with some of the most deprived, underprivileged and dysfunctional people in the world. The reason why service-users are allocated a Social Worker in the first place is because they have PROBLEMS with which they are really STRUGGLING. These problems vary in complexity and in nature, but include things like homelessness, abuse, poverty, marital disharmony and marriage breakdown, chronic illness and disability, unemployment, seeking asylum… The people that Social Workers work with are often stressed, upset, angry, frightened, mentally ill, physically ill, struggling to communicate, lonely, abused… They are NOT people whom a large portion of society even wishes to acknowledge exist. I mean, just how often do MOST people walk past homeless “tramps”? BUT Social Workers may actually WORK with them, trying to find them permanent accommodation. Just HOW MUCH do people really care about the needs of frightened asylum seekers who are fleeing forced marriages? BUT Social Workers may work with them, trying to keep them safe, trying to find them places to stay.

    I have said this before – Social Workers work in difficult situations, and with people whom many in society view as the “underclass”. Personally, I feel that this “rubs off” on Social Work, and that is why it is seen as a sort of “Cinderella” service in comparison to the NHS. My belief is that many people in society WILL NOT support a profession that works with people THEY LOOK DOWN ON – “tramps”, “down-and-outs”, “the unemployed”, “the mentally ill”… If we stop to think about the people who make up the large proportion of service-users that Social Workers come into contact with, they are people who are generally STIGMATIZED by society. And I feel that Social Workers are stigmatized by association.

    Now… it’s true that cases such as “Baby P” and “Climbie” did not show Social Work – Children and Families Social Work – in a good light. BUT… we could also argue that Beverly Allitt did not show Nursing in a good light; Harold Shipman did not show Doctors in a good light. The FACT is that there will ALWAYS be some problems. Sometimes, these are of workers’ making; other times (and more often) they are NOT.

    The REALITY for Social Workers – ALL Social Workers, and not just Children’s – is that they face working in underfunded and underresourced workplaces, with problems attributable to short-staffing, high caseloads, high pressure, overly-complex work which is expected to be completed in too-short timescales, competing legislative and procedural demands, “hotdesking”, lack of parking, too much travelling within work time… Add to this the fact that they work, as stated earlier, with service-users who may be stressed, facing pressures of their own, experiencing crises, or just plain dysfunctional… and it is clear that Social Work is NOT a job to be taken lightly.

    O.K.! So there is nothing wrong with looking to the future – with trying to encourage bright young things into the profession. However, the question remains as to what is being done to address the problems that exist NOW? Problems that lead Social Workers with years of experience, plus Social Work’s current crop of bright young things, to burn-out, or leave. There ARE people who go into Social Work wanting to use their skills and talents to do good, and to help service-users. People who want to be creative and innovative. NOW! So WHY are these people being overlooked?

    Having experienced the absolute horror of being bullied at work because I blew the whistle on bad practice, and lack of vital resources, I know pretty much what it feels like to be let down – and can empathise, and sympathise, with others who feel the same way. I know what it feels like to have to “hotdesk”, to have a spiralling caseload, to lack regular support and supervision, to be in an overcrowded office… At the last job where I worked, I was bullied because I complained that I did not even have a desk and computer! How I was expected to do my job without these, the most basic of facilities, I do not know! From what I have witnessed, I am NOT alone. Those Social Workers who do dare to speak out about the REAL problems in Social Work get NO thanks for it.

    The TRUTH is that austerity cuts are taking the biggest toll on Social Work. No matter how creative or innovative, or passionate a worker is – they cannot do the job properly with dwindling resources. As far as I am aware, NO Social Worker has yet worked out how to turn water to wine, and how to make loaves and fishes appear out of thin air! Yet, somehow, Social Workers are being asked to work such miracles every day! Meanwhile, the Government and the general public fail to understand that this is a physical impossibility!

  21. Maria August 10, 2016 at 8:17 pm #

    I’ve been a front line social worker in child protection for 15 years and a year doing IRO/CP role. I can see it from all sides. Some assessments by social workers and even higher management can be very simplistic and the use of analytical skills are I feel quite poor. Basic questions are sometimes not asked but I appreciate that this is down to time and pressure. I sometimes feel like walking away from it and becoming a van driver it is so stressful and I no longer work in front line and I would say my stress levels are much lower then they were.

  22. Shona August 10, 2016 at 8:31 pm #

    Well put I thought. I too have wondered how the obvious gets ignored by management and government alike, I am a child protection social worker also And agree with this article wholeheartedly. The effect the looking for Highfliers and the need for testing has had on me is that of feeling demoralised, unvalued, and that I am not good enough, the job is hard enough as it is without the system adding to the difficulties. Many of my colleagues are just trying to get out of the job, will such caring skilled people trying to do a good’s wrong and unnecessary.

  23. Colleen August 10, 2016 at 8:57 pm #

    I am a social worker and supervisor in California/US for 18 years in Child Welare. Much of what was said in this article is true here too. Sometimes the administrative demands on managers and supervisors eat into the work we could be doing with coaching and providing support to our staff. I am lucky to supervise social work interns now and I spend a considerable amount of time processing feelings and counter transference with them, something I would have liked to have done more of when I supervised a team of experienced social workers. Social workers sometimes have experienced their own family of origin traumas before they arrived at our agency and I see a need for us to take the time to hone in on self awareness and how they are impacted by the job. We also talk about work/life boundaries and the importance of self care. In all honesty, I do this because I know social workers have much need to do these things and have someone listen to them. I know I sure did! More importantly I see that developing self care and self awareness are the best means to burnout prevention. These two areas are not things you learn in a book. This is an integral part of maintaining a healthy social work practice. In the end, we want social workers who are strengths bases and who approach their clients with compassion. If we treat each other with the same dignity and respect, how much more could we do?

  24. Janice August 10, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

    Sophie my views entirely! In my 5 years with my current LA I have had over 10 managers some of whom have had much less experience than me. There have been several HOS and seemingly constant restructures. Of the various re configuring of teams I have lost count of the numbers of really good social workers that have left and of the new younger recruits I find that I can barely get their names before they also succumb to the overwhelming pressures. I and my colleagues work long hours- there is no acknowledgement of the impact of this , no respect and no praise. There is no consideration of work life balance and it seems to me the social work job description needs to be re written- the profession requires a Johnny or Jenny no- mates. Someone with no family no hobbies or outside interests and a high level of IT OCD. This person is likely to have limited understanding of the pressures on families we work with.
    In a climate where it is difficult to attract or retain experienced social workers my LA has taken the decision to downgrade from advanced to senior practitioners those of us on frontline who simply could not squeeze any more hours out of our working days to complete the accreditation to retain our status. It is frankly outrageous. What seems to be overlooked is the real impact is on those children and families who have to work with yet another social worker – . the constant turnover ( sometimes without notice ) impacts on continuity of assessments with the effect that there is delay and vital information is lost. This is dangerous.
    Like you I have also been threatened by clients. There are times in spite of my years of experience I suffer anxiety and sleeplessness to say nothing of exhaustion and despair. It seems to me that we do not need more academia- what we need are robust ,resilient workers (which I consider myself to be) with the all important ‘foot in the door skills’ . Those of us that have survived need to be valued and supported. They need to be able to pass on their skills and utilised to support new incumbents to avoid the chronic loss of potentially good workers . Training has to be on the job and it takes time to build confidence and skills.
    You may recruit some high academic grade flyers but my experience is that the skills you need to achieve that are not the same as those you need to get into families and protect children. It seems to me that those who can do and those that can’t become managers often quite quickly without the groundwork required to be effective , sympathetic and supportive managers.
    I am so glad that I am near retirement as the job bares absolutely no resemblance to any social work that I trained for.

  25. Daisy August 10, 2016 at 9:14 pm #

    Excellent and insightful article – so true. It resonates with so many of my experiences in a job I loved but no longer practice; I decided my health, sanity and safety needed to be protected.

  26. Cheetah August 10, 2016 at 9:53 pm #

    Absolutely right. Social workers need manageable caseloads and emotional support not just for their own mental health but so that they can can reflect on their feelings and then go out to the next family able to empathise and listen. Good SWS need to be in touch with the feelings of others as well as their own.

    Being able to make good relationships is more important than having a top degree. Given the unequal education system the push for top graduates is an insult as well as a mistake. If you asked me to name the best social workers, I would pick few top graduates. Bringing in more assessment and scrutiny of SWs will do more harm than good.

  27. BENZdog August 10, 2016 at 9:58 pm #

    Sophie – this is what we need our chief social workers to be saying.

  28. Ay August 10, 2016 at 9:59 pm #

    I left social worker after 7 years. My manager would always allocate me cases and I never said no. I was also a practice educator.

    On the day I left my authority my manager sat in her office and could not even be bothered to say goodbye.

    Leaving social worker was the best decision I ever made and I just feel so much better!

  29. Anon August 10, 2016 at 10:17 pm #

    What an amazing article Sophie so clearly poignant! Totally agree to much emphasis on strategic Timescales to make La look good statistically!
    What about our families \ children and the service we provide? Lack of consistency lack of resources lack of decision making ? We don’t academic high achievers we need to respect workers who are dedicated professionals who have a passion to work with famiies to challenge the organisational bullying!!
    Government need a reality check and to treat social workers with respect and to fully grasp the inappropriate work ethics that they are constantly subject to.

  30. Anne August 10, 2016 at 10:37 pm #

    Excellent article Sophie, you have made the points so well.
    I am pleased to see you are still working in frontline CP – I recall you as an excellent SW in a Midlands city.
    So many people have moved on to other opportunities since 2014.
    Keep up the good work and keep raising the issues – I read your previous article as well

  31. stege harris August 10, 2016 at 10:56 pm #

    Given my experiences in the MOJ and at the time being the chairman of a Family Justice Council I’m not surprised we struggle to retain professionals. …..I have every sympathy for Social Workers…..poorly performing areas cannot attract staff and the senior management are generally seriously lacking in any kind of attention to detail and ability to drive through effective ways of working…..the front line staff are left bereft of direction and support and middle management continue on as before…

  32. Penny Ledger August 10, 2016 at 11:11 pm #

    Unlike social work, the legal and medical professions expect barristers and consultant to continue to practice, specialising in the most serious cases, as well as teaching, researching and managing. This fosters a team approach with clear responsibility for the development and support of newer staff.

  33. Hels August 10, 2016 at 11:25 pm #

    Child protection workers manage more risk than fostering workers yet are paid the same!!! No wounder social worker opt for an easier ride, they are the sensible ones

  34. J August 10, 2016 at 11:42 pm #

    Well said all of it!

  35. Jayne August 11, 2016 at 1:28 am #

    I am a Team Manager in a child protection team. I am also a Social Worker. I love and hate my job. I do the best I can. But it’s never enough. It never will be. Because the system we work in is not working and never has. We are passionate about what we do but our Government, our leaders, do not understand what we do. We will never get the message across if we are not united! We need to help each other first and foremost. Support one another. Be there for each other. Then take our message to the Government. A united front is what works. Isn’t that why we came into the profession in the first place? To help those with no voice? It’s time to make a stand! Stand by our beliefs! Our professions!

  36. Annabelle August 11, 2016 at 7:07 am #

    I am just got my degree in social work and when applying for jobs I chose corrections over child protection because of many of these reasons.

  37. Kay August 11, 2016 at 8:29 am #

    I agree with Sophie. Thank you for a well thought out and on point article.
    Supporting the good work social workers do, by recognising them, celebrating and showcasing this enables workers to feel valued, respected and determined to do more of this good work. It’s not always about resources – though yes, resources will make a great difference.
    A whole system change is required and families encouraged to take more responsibility for change in their own lives. Social workers can’t make families change and it sticks – it’s the families themselves that have to do this -We don’t live in their homes 24-7!
    High fliers and graduates into the profession have their place, but only if they bring the compassion, desire and values that real social workers bring to their work every single working day. Emotional and psychological support should be mandatory- just as it is in other front line professions. Come on government time stop blaming and really get behind social workers- you need us!!

  38. Steve August 11, 2016 at 8:35 am #

    I have worked in front line CP for around 16 years and fully agree with the points that Sophie highlighted. If Local Authorities wish to retain staff and improve outcomes for clients they need to ensure that a sufficient level of staff are employed, and that they are supported. If this does not happen the end result is a high level of staff absenteeism, long term sickness, or losing Social Workers to the profession due to burn out. I supervise staff now and hold a number of complex cases of my own, but the feedback from management above is all about stats. I recognise the need for performance indicators, but child protection and successful care plans are about working with people both clients and professionals to promote positive change where possible, and not allowing a disproportionate and undue delay for a child if a reasonable and workable plan is not followed. It does not need OFSTED to enlighten us with this revelation.

  39. John Pilcher August 11, 2016 at 8:43 am #

    I have also left After 35+ years, I agree to all that has been written although no one seems to acknowledge the biggest problem which I believe is the recording tool LCS! So much time is wasted on this poor recording tool that requires experts to be on hand through out the working day and have so for many years so that spuriously, repedetive information can be recorded & at what financial cost? OFSTED drives fiquires and data and social work has become focused on meeting OFSTED requirements and have lost the focus on social work. We have all dealt with difficult,distressed & dis functional people but having a system that is consuming us from in. So after all these years and expertise in many fields, having been in managerial positions, worked in public & private sectors returned to local authority and seen how focused it is on getting OFSTED happy and not focussing on the task, then the only option for me like many others to to seek pastures new, retire and survive on a meagre pension. I’ve met great people along the way had incredible experiences and suffered possible trauma through what I have been exposed to, however like many I’ve tried to make a difference because I’m part of society and want to make the difference but I also know when enough is enough. Thanks for a well written article that will sadly only be seen by other social workers and not the general public.

  40. muncii2 August 11, 2016 at 9:54 am #

    Excellent article, though unlike some posts here, I’m not convinced that ‘the cuts’, or government policy (of whatever colour the government of the time is) are substantially to blame for the problems and lack of support for front line CP social workers.
    I think this can at least partly be laid at the door of social work education and training- specifically the academic aspects – over the last 25 years, which, in my experience (I am a retired social work practitioner, lecturer, and external examiner for sw qualifying courses) significantly failed to prepare newly qualified staff for the coal-face pressures, and the emotional and psychological impact, of working with abusing families. So my guess is that neither managers nor practitioners have been suitably equipped – emotionally – to recognise, understand, and make space for, the ‘processing’ and de-briefing which I think is essential for people doing this very difficult work . Exactly as Clarice Gomes says here. All that kind of ‘stuff’ has been out of fashion on social work courses for a long time. There is an excellent book on this kind of stress – but I doubt it would feature on any reading list:
    The Unconscious at Work: Individual and Organisational Stress in the Human Services’ ed Anton Obholzer and Vega Zagier Roberts. Tavistock/Routledge 1st ed 1994

    The use of the word ‘unconscious’ is enough to make many sw lecturers run a mile. But I agree with Sophie Ayers, that the present arrangements for sw training remain a mess.

    In my experience in LA social work, I’m afraid the management have uniformly treated front line staff shoddily, and in some cases, contemptuously.The attitude is too often’ if you can’t stand the heat…..etc’ I’d say that Nell, here, is an exception. My last full time job as a social worker was in the independent sector (forensic psychiatry) and it was the only time that a manager – a nurse- treated me as an independent-minded professional. He even gave me time off, with pay, to attend assessment board meetings at universities around the UK, and said he was proud to have someone with that experience on the team. Something which LA managers never did.

  41. Margaret Law August 11, 2016 at 10:08 am #

    Started with a relevant degree and 12yrs relevant experience, DipSW25yrs ago. Stated,”We spend 50% of time protecting children and 50% protecting Management. A more experienced colleague countered,” Don’t be silly it’s far more than 50% protecting Managers”. That’s the truth of front line work. I’ve never stepped over a dead body and drove my own car to visits. Countless dangerous situations led me to fighting Mgrs for visit risk assessments or joint visits. 10 years after retiring I still note the finger marks on loft access and briefly wonder who is up there.
    Well done Sophie for speaking the truth to power.

  42. Cee Bee August 11, 2016 at 10:18 am #

    So true and well written. Thank you for describing the work so poignantly.

    Strengthening & supporting social workers protects children, benefits society and reduces the impact on the public purse. Why is it so hard to get the message across?

    Savings will be found in improved working conditions. Fully functioning social workers prevent children coming into care, reduce offending & psychiatric problems in later life and avoid costly enquiries into serious abuse and child deaths.

    Fixing social work is simple – caseloads below 15 per worker; provide the basics; learn the lessons and don’t fix the blame.

  43. Carol Wilkinson August 11, 2016 at 10:28 am #

    Dear Sophie,

    I could not agree more with what you say so feelingly and accurately. I qualified in 1980 and my social work horror tales of sadness, life threatening risk, trying to put right the very real wrongs done to children, and their usually loving but harmful parents, haunt and scar me. They are tales told in pressurised supervision sessions with the onus, rightly, on the child concerned. Threats with knives, fire arms, broken bottles, exposed electrical wiring, fire setting, witnessing a child’s ‘failure to thrive’ (starvation) , being held hostage, all were features of my work. The children survived. I have lived, and escaped physical harm by my social work skills and ability to think and act on my feet. I am still a caring and I hope courageous senior practitioner and BIA, and practice now to speak up for and right the wrongs done to imprisoned adults in our care system. I remain a compassionate human too, but damage has been done to me. I would not, could not, advocate children’s social work in its current form to any potential social work student and advise any children’s social worker to actively consider counselling or coaching for their own resilience in addition to their supervision if no clinical supervision is provided. The police I understand have mandatory psychological sessions to assess any emotional damage done if working in child protection. Social workers get reflective practice, if they have time and an encouraging management culture who prioritise attendance, and counselling via e mail if feeling unwell. As a profession, we have very high sickness and burn out rates; our attempts at remedy are not enough and we are tacitly or explicitly expected to ‘toughen up’. Indeed we are blamed and seen as ‘over sensitive’ for having emotional reaction to the extreme human distress of others. Sophie states the case for why we are emotionally failed exceptionally well and I applaud her. The current system fails its public servants; the very people who have to protect the most vulnerable, our society’s children. Well done Sophie 🙂

  44. Old School August 11, 2016 at 10:38 am #

    Community Care please send this article and the comments to Justine Greening and Teresa May to take note – Con tricks like the Frontline scheme will further reduce people taking up and sticking with the profession for more than the current 8 years. It takes more than a 2:1 degree and on the job training to make a good Social Worker!!!

  45. Ruth Cartwright August 11, 2016 at 1:26 pm #

    I wonder what the Frontliners will make of practice when they arrive and whether they will feel that they have been misled about the huge difficulties in both the job of social work and in getting the resources and support needed. A lot of money has been spent on them and while it is predicted that many of them will not spend long in practice but will go up the ladder (so, ironically, not actually helping the real frontline much at all), if they start dropping out, that will be investigated and maybe some hometruths will be revealed.

  46. Ann Edwards August 11, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

    Sophie writes articulately and has hit a nerve. As someone who came into social work years ago with high academic qualifications (now retired) I agree with almost all of the previous comments, especially the view that social work training does not prepare anyone for child protection work – which has got harder and harder over the years. However, having worked in various settings with different client groups I do think that child protection social work is the most stressful due to factors such as the high risk of a child being injured or abused, the threat of or actual experience of physical or verbal abuse, the impact of public and press criticism, court work (where undermining of local authority social workers is a frequent occurrence) also there is more overtime working than in any other field. No other area of social work exposes the social worker to high degrees of challenge on such a regular basis. i applaud all those young social workers I have met who have faced the most appalling situations with professionalism and humanity and who have tried to improve their practice even when thwarted by managers. It is unbelievable that child protection social workers don’t have a desk in a quiet work space or anywhere to park. Please do send the article and comments to anyone in government with responsibility for social work. Thank you Sophie.

  47. Becky August 11, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

    I’m an old social work soldier in America. I have watched the same thing over and over throughout my career. It’s always a new, shiny idea or method or supervisor or required training or….. Somehow, the problems are always the fault of the social worker, who needs to be “fixed” or trained correctly, etc. We’re “not doing it right” or “don’t care” or “neglected a child on our caseload”…..of 200 children. My sanity has been preserved because of a few other social workers who are my emotional support system. I have been fortunate to have this in these last years of my social work career. It helps immensely, but doesn’t fix how hard the job is. Nothing in the system provides that key requirement of surviving in a career where you live in constant stress and danger. And then there is the pressure to do everything right all the time.

    I once looked through the personal papers of one ofAmerica’s early social work pioneers, Jane Addams. I had to laugh because she was having the same problems that we still have. Will there be money to feed the clients at the settlement house dinner tonight? How do I convince the people with money to care about children, the elderly, mothers, etc?

    Yup. They will always be talking about us, especially about what we did wrong. Meanwhile, we’ll be doing our work while their talking about our work.

    • L. G. August 14, 2016 at 4:33 pm #

      I agree with much of what you’re saying in terms of the here and now of child protection work…front line workers need better support so they can continue to support the vulnerable families with whom they work. That being said, I believe that for real significant improvements to come about, in terms of better outcomes for children, a fundamental shift needs to take place at much higher levels of government. I live and work in Canada, and it is clear to me that a system which favours the rich and fosters such vast inequality between rich and poor will never be able to protect all of its children. We will always just be putting out fires, sometimes with good fire fighting equipment and sometimes with nothing but our bare hands but what we aren’t doing is preventing the fires in any meaningful way. I for one would love for my job to become obsolete!

  48. Vicky August 11, 2016 at 8:19 pm #

    Totally agree with all of this article. I went straight into child protection when I qualified but as soon as two years were up I moved on. I actually wanted to do this role and was eager to undertake it, I felt passionate about doing the job but the emotional impact was crippling.

    I had good managers who were supportive but they were under just a much pressure as I was. I would go home and be in tears, I couldn’t sleep or switch off, part of this was not being able to do as much as I knew was needed for the families I worked with I was trying to do the job with my hands tied, all we ever did was fight fires and then get cases closed to reach deadlines although we all knew that these families would be back when the next crisis hit. I received death threats, I removed children from families and then had to continue to work with them and deal with their abuse, I went out on my own to DV calls not knowing what to expect or who would answer the door. I removed babies from hostpial. I will never forget the children I have removed, we understand the emotional impact of this on the children but please remember that the emotional impact of this on a social worker is huge also and does have a lasting impact,

    The job was making we a person I didn’t recognise it was impacting on my private life and I was tired, snappy and short tempered all the time so I made the decision to move into another area of social work.

    Despite all of what I have just said I would like to return to child protection if only the system wasn’t broken, the case loads weren’t so high (mine was 45), if the right emotional support was in place when that happens as now an experienced social worker I would be happy to return.

  49. LJ August 11, 2016 at 8:57 pm #

    Sadly true, 21 years in the job and have experienced times when I have been so emotionally drained I have had almost nothing left to give but the nature of the work means that you push through and try to build resilience to keep going when everything in the system appears to be making it more and more difficult.
    I am worried about the new push for super qualified Social workers and the impact this will have on the whole workforce, I have worked in authorities where there is no respect for the ‘older workers’ and their immense experience and I have seen how brilliant experienced social workers have been pushed and pushed until they are broken and forced to leave the career they love. It saddens me to think that all the hands on, ground level experience is diminishing, obviously there is the need to be academic and be able to demonstrate the knowledge learned through obtaining the degree but this is only part of the whole. To work in partnership with children and their families to enable them to make the changes to protect and meet their children’s is a skill and cannot be found in books, it needs a certain type of person who has empathy and respect even in the toughest of circumstances. Look at the dedicated workforce we have and support and nurture them, rather than undermining the wealth of knowledge and skill by focussing on the newly fast tracked social workers. There is room for both but there needs to be respect for both and what they bring to social work.

  50. ABC Deckary August 12, 2016 at 7:47 am #

    I love the work I do (LAC older teens). I love the intellectual challenge of dealing creatively and sensitively with emotional distress. I love helping young people move towards a positive independent adulthood. I love the challenge of balancing resources against needs. I hate the excessive size of my caseload which demands far too much within far too little time. Simple.

  51. Adele August 12, 2016 at 8:32 am #

    Police do fortunately have the equipment and powers to act when situations turn nasty but don’t work in two’s as the norm, seldom have access to all relevant information, will have to delay-not refuse- to attend a job when firearms are mentioned and certainly don’t get ongoing psychological support, if any. Both types of professionals have their wellbeing negatively affected by many cases they have to respond to and deserve more support and respect than they currently receive from both the public and politicians.

  52. Anju Sabin August 12, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

    Sofie, well addressed the issues within Child Protection. I have been in practice for nearly 8 years and have come across supportive management who have always walked with me to risky child removals, contested court proceeding and violent teenagers (1% of all scenarios we work in). Risks in this profession cannot be eliminated but definitely can be reduced by effective support mechanisms. Looking at different government agendas in the past social work has received the least attention and action. Between us; Why isn’t local authority’s exchanging good practice examples? Anyway I totally agree more needs to be done in social work for its very existence.

  53. Ellie August 13, 2016 at 9:13 pm #

    I’m going to write, here, something that may be a useful insight… who knows? Still, I hope that at least some of the material that I refer to has resonance.

    It is now more than THIRTY YEARS since a famous document known as “The Black Report” was published (it’s actual date of publication was 1980). This report, and its follow-up in 1987 “The Health Divide”, were commissioned to look at the tragic inequalities that existed within health and social care, and to recommend changes. BOTH highlighted the fact that people at the bottom of the social class scale – people who were poor, often unemployed sometimes homeless – had much poorer health, and quality of life than did the rich and privileged. Added to this, the reports further showed that inequalities in health and quality of life could also be directly related to gender, to area of residence, and to ethnic origin. In a nutshell – if you were poor, and lived in a poor area, then you were more likely to suffer ill health and a poor quality of life. If you also happened to be female, or of an ethnic minority background, then chances were that you were yet more significantly affected. If you were also disabled – then this pretty much damned you to a quality of life, and of health, that was well below average. People who BECAME ill or disabled part way through their lives often fell down the social scale.

    In 1988, Penguin published a book that contained both reports, along with a commentary upon what had, or had not been done, to bridge the gap in health and social care inequalities. What those who had analysed “progress” since publication of the reports saw was that in the eight years since the “Black Report” was first published, NOTHING had been done to tackle inequalities in health and in life outcomes. Instead, those intervening years had seen a disturbing INCREASE in the number of children growing up in poverty, and an INCREASE in unemployment and homelessness. Added to this, NO effort had been made to improve housing conditions. Preventative care, and health education were still NOT being given the priority recommended. Support for disabled and poorly people to remain in their own homes remained MINIMAL. There was NO evidence that Government, Trades Unions and employers had come together to formulate plans for creating healthier working conditions, or to monitor the working environment more effectively…

    The only changes for the positive that were noted was to mention that SOME (though not all) Local Authorities, health authorities and other organizations had decided to compile their own local “Black Reports” to address local issues – but the process of collecting data and information for there was still ongoing.

    So… NOTHING CONCRETE had been done by 1988…

    And by 2016? Well, the impression that many of us might receive is that the “Black Report” and its follow-up have been somewhat overlooked, even forgotten. All these years later, and little has changed! If anything, matters have deteriorated somewhat, as we are now having to deal with the impact of a global recession, and our own Government’s reaction to this, in respect of “austerity measures”. Added to this, we have the unallayed concerns raised as a result of “Brexit” – such as “will our country still continue to receive EU development grants?”, or “how will out imports and exports be affected – will the deplete gross domestic budget?”, “what happens of foreign workers such as Doctors, Nurses, Teachers and others whom we rely n, leave this country, or get made to leave, as a result of BREXIT?”, or ” is this likely to mean inflation stalls, or our taxes get raised?”… At the present time, many uncertainties exist as to the economic future of our country…

    And these concerns and uncertainties translate into knock-on effects for public-sector professions, in particular – like Social Work. It is NOT just Children’s Social Work that faces problems; it is ALL Social Work. Public sector jobs, because of their very nature, are ones which can easily be hardest hit in terms of austerity cuts – because unlike private companies, they have no independent income source of their own – they are state-funded. So, when the state allegedly lacks the funds, it is public sector organizations that take the cuts.

    However, in my eyes, this isn’t the whole issue. The issue is more a question of just WHAT is ever going to be done to address issues such as those the “Black Report” raised… And when? Poverty, unemployment, disability, homelessness… These are ALL issues as “old as the hills”, so isn’t it time, now, that we admitted whether we – as a nation – have answers as to what to do about such problems, or not? Surely, in the time that has elapsed since the earliest philanthropists and agents of social change first started to study issues such as poverty, homelessness, and inequality… we have gained at least some insight into how they come about, and what can be done to eradicate them? IF, as we do… IF we know that inequalities exist, and IF we know that those at the bottom of the social scale have it hardest, then WHY does our country still PERMIT these inequalities to exist?

    For example… We all know that only some rich families can afford to send their children to fee-paying Public Schools (e.g. Eaton, Harrow), where these kids get privileged treatment and a much better standard of education than many kids at oversubscribed and underfunded state schools. We also see that many kids from these posh Public schools later go on to top Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, and go into top jobs. By contrast, kids from state schools rarely get such opportunities. SO WHY DOES OUR COUNTRY STILL ALLOW PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO EXIST?

    Another example… We know that chronic ill-health and disability can be associated with unemployment and poverty, plus enforced reliance on welfare benefits. However, some employers (if not many) are still prejudiced against sick and disabled employees. They vies them negatively as time wasters, as too risky, as people who might require expensive assistance and adjustments to permit them to work. As a consequence, some companies still take a dim view of employing people who are disabled or chronically ill. WHY DOES OUR COUNTRY STILL PERMIT THIS TO HAPPEN, DESPITE EQUALITY LEGISLATION, AND DESPITE EVIDENCE THAT SHOWS MANY DISABLED PEOPLE WANT TO WORK, ARE QUALIFIED TO WORK, AND ARE BETTER OFF WHEN WORKING?

    MY argument is that our country, and Government; plus the individuals and organizations upon whom the onus falls; still does FAR TOO LITTLE to reduce and remove social inequalities and barriers to equality. This has the knock-on effect of leading to inequalities in people’s health, and in lifestyle and prospects. IF, as we do, we know that being at the bottom of the social class scale leads to problems – to poorer health, to poorer lifestyle outcomes – then WHY are we not doing things, CONCRETE CONSTRUCTIVE things, to make sure that those at the bottom have more (and better) opportunities to really make something of their lives?

    And, NO, I DO NOT mean just doling them out welfare benefits. I mean REALLY DOING THINGS – like ensuring that EVERY child in the country goes to a school that provides an excellent standard of education, and tries its best to ensure that pupils leave school with good grades and good qualifications to get them a good job, or a place at a good University. Like ensuring that disabled and chronically ill people DO NOT get overlooked as potential employees, by educating employers to understand that disabled people are just as capable as anyone else. They may require adjustments at work, but these are really NO different to a working mum having time off for childcare. Like ensuring that things such as mental health and learning disabilities have EQUAL status in health care – especially the NHS and Social Services – to physical health. Like making sure that ALL services are equally well funded – NO “Cinderella services” – from adults, to kids, to elderly, to hospitals, home care, mental health, physical disability, learning disability…

    I could go on, but the examples are endless. It seems to me that as a society we have become frighteningly too accepting of inequality – as has our Government. Perhaps it has existed for so long that we treat it almost as “par for the course”? But it does NOT have to be this way – it just takes an adjustment in how we view the world for us to start the journey to eradicating it. For instance… IF we accept that a kid from a Council Estate could just as easily be a genius as a kid from a rich neighbourhood, then we finally grasp the importance of a good education for everyone…

    We NEED to learn to understand the world in a way that does NOT pre-judge people as a result of their socio-economic class. For far too long, people at the bottom have attracted negative labels and stigma – and these are ALL the people that Social Workers work with, which is why I think Social Work as a profession attracts negativity and stigma by association. Just WHY are mentally-ill people still sneered-at by some members of society? Still seen as “nutters” or “crazy” or “worthless”? Just WHY are homeless people still treated as “dirty tramps”, or viewed as “useless”? WHY do some people – education providers included – judge people who come from humble backgrounds as less likely to achieve academically? DOES poor automatically mean stupid? WHY do some people jump to conclusions about immigrants and people from ethnic minorities? (It is interesting to see that racially-motivated hate crime increased since “BREXIT”). I mean, ARE all Moslems “terrorists”? DO foreigners really “steal our jobs”?

    With attitudes like this still existing in our country it is NOT hard to understand why both the Government, and the general public, look down on Social Work and on Social Workers. Social Workers work with some of the most disadvantaged and deprived people in the country – people whom the rich and privileged would probably rather forget existed! People who even those just slightly above on the social class scale look down on (sometimes in disgust). People who attract stigma.

    I have a parent who is mentally ill, and from the moment I set foot in Primary School, I was bullied because of this. If people in the 21st century can still be that prejudiced, then it is little wonder that Social Workers, who work with addicts, homeless people, abuse victims, mentally ill people, people with learning disabilities such as Downs Syndrome, criminals and offenders… people who are, in general, society’s “underclass”… get looked down on too. I believe that the sad fact is that our society DOES NOT want to see, or recognise the needs of these people. Why? Because we are trying to cope with a recession, and people who are having it tough remind us all that times are hard. Rather than sympathise, some people seek to place the blame on these individuals for having problems. You see, MY theory is that when a whole country is facing hard times (like our present time of austerity) then most people become LESS EMPATHIC, SYMPATHETIC and CARING for the needs of those who are struggling. Instead, everyone just looks to him- or herself – to their own needs, for fear of going under. When a whole country faces austerity measures, it becomes a sort of “dog eat dog” race to survival of the fittest. Everyone just wants to survive, and thus very few people really bother to have the time, or the care, for those who are suffering at the bottom. THEY get forgotten – or, worse, BLAMED.

    THAT is why Social Work faces problems. Because Social Workers work, quite simply, with people whom NOBODY wants to acknowledge, because NOBODY wants to be them. Most people – UNLESS something actually happens to MAKE THEM disabled, or sick, or homeless, or abused… DO NOT tend to think much (if at all) about these things. They would rather NOT think about these things. THAT is why most of society DOES NOT understand Social Work or what Social Workers do – because most of society DOES NOT understand the issues of the people that Social Workers work with. And, when this is the case, the people doing the job can expect NO understanding or respect for doing it.

  54. Child protection social worker August 14, 2016 at 10:22 am #

    As a newly qualified social worker working within child protection I felt compelled to respond to your article.
    Having faced a gruelling 12 months of post qualifying practice I am at the point of walking away from the profession altogether due to the issues raised within your article (lack of support, lack of resources, lack of recognition of the demanding nature of the work, 50-60 hours per week etc!)
    Having given up so much to re-train and become a social worker it’s been one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. I equally share your frustrations with the government as such widespread cuts have seen staff holding dangerous case loads and management unable to recruit the numbers of social workers needed to meet the demands of the profession leaving workers tired, stressed and holding high levels of anxiety.
    I am saddened that I can no longer be in a profession I feel so passionate about and really think the government need to realise that social workers are human beings and that in order for them to look after others they need to look after themselves and that with high caseloads and an absence of support this is not viable!
    If the government really want to prevent SCR’s then perhaps they should invest in providing more social workers to lower case loads and enable social workers to have the time to do their job properly attend training and participate in effective supervision!

  55. miranda August 16, 2016 at 12:12 am #

    I’ve been in social work for 13 years and never have I felt it so bad. The current issues within our profession are entrenched, complex and long standing. I’m not sure there is a resolve, we just keep pedalling the same old bike and until we swap it for something completely new and change direction nothing will change except things will continue to worsen.

    Our profession is not sustainable, it’s in crisis and every area judged as failing. We are not held in high esteem, given no credit or respect for the incredible job we do and unless the government changes its view this will continue. My manager said to me it’s like we are all being abused by each other, she by her manager, and down the chain it comes and through to our service users. Sometimes I feel the system is no more abusive than those who abuse children, young people and vulnerable adults and this saddens me deeply.

    The business model does not complement the social or medical model of our practice and it’s made things worse. We need to find a new model to replace capitalism and until then, there is nothing we can do to make positive change in how we work together to serve others….

  56. Ellie August 16, 2016 at 5:50 pm #

    I’m writing this after reading many replies to the article here that make me feel so sad. Replies written by Social Workers who clearly wanted to do a good job, and who clearly tried to… but who feel overlooked, undervalued, sidelined, scapegoated and unsupported. replies written by Social Workers who appear to feel that their profession is dying on its feet! Or, rather, is being slowly killed off!

    Perhaps it’s time for a new “Dear Ministers” post, and so here is my attempt…

    Dear Ministers, This is why ALL Social Workers should be valued,

    There has been much negativity, and bad press over the years, that has become associated with the Social Work profession. Perhaps excessively so. Perhaps unfairly so. Whilst it is true that mistakes have been made, and problems have occurred – that the Social Work profession has been the subject of media scandal focussing upon such horror stories as those of Victoria Climbie and “Baby P” – it is perhaps time that you (our Government Ministers), and the general public understood a few home truths in respect of the Social Work profession. Home truths which, should you take them on board, ought to provide you with a different view, and understanding of the profession – one which permits you to afford Social Workers some much-needed (and deserved) support, encouragement and respect…

    Firstly, it is important to remember that, even though the Social Work profession has faced embarrassment and scandal, such as the issues surrounding the cases of Climbie and “Baby P”, it is far from the only profession to have done so. Employees of any profession are only human; and humans can make errors. Other professions, including Nursing, Medicine and the NHS as a whole, have been hit by equally (if not more) dreadful scandals. Just look at the horror which the whole country experienced upon discovering that trusted Doctor Harold Shipman was a serial killer! Just look at the disgust with which the public reacted to the revelation that Nurse Beverly Allitt was a serial child killer! At least the Social Work profession has not, to anyone’s knowledge, produced a cold-blooded murderer! Both Nursing and the Medical profession have! Furthermore, the NHS has been hit by multiple scandals, such as those concerning the Mid Staffs or Morecambe Bay Health Authorities. Policing is still facing the Hillsborugh scandal. The teaching profession often faces scandals in which paedophiles are found to be employed within schools… In light of the fact that many – if not all – other Public Sector professions have faced scandals; some of which have been worse than those faced by Social Work; it does seem more than a little unjust to pick on the Social Work profession in the way that you do.

    Secondly, and this is important… Secondly, the scandals faced by the Social Work profession (both Climbie and “Baby P”) were NOT entirely the fault of the Social Work profession, alone. Indeed, both cases saw involvement from other Public Sector organizations, including the NHS and Police, who also made mistakes, and failed to protect the children in question. Furthermore, Social Workers CANNOT easily undertake the important work that they are supposed to do – protecting and supporting some of the country’s most vulnerable individuals – if (as is the case due to current austerity cuts) Social Services are left short of funding, lacking resources, facing service closures, facing spiralling caseloads, struggling with recruitment and retention… I list but a FEW of the problems that Government austerity cuts have lead to, with respect to the Social Work profession. Social Workers are NOT miracle workers. They cannot pull rabbits from hats; nor can they provide an adequate and appropriate level of service with fewer staff, ever-dwindling resources, lowered morale, and paltry funding. It is unsurprising that such issues lead to a dissatisfied workforce. What is more surprising is that such issues are NOT leading to an increased number of scandals the like of Climbie and “Baby P”! Does THIS not speak volumes for the care, conscientiousness and sheer effort put in by the Social Work profession, a profession which is clearly trying hard to maintain standards, irrespective of austerity measures?

    Have you forgotten – or, indeed, were you ever even aware – that Social Work is one of the oldest caring professions in existence? A profession that developed out of the work done by early “Almoners”; people who, as far back as feudal times, were the few public-spirited individuals caring enough to cater for the needs of the poor, sick, destitute and infirm. Does it not touch you, to understand that the Social Work profession seeks to uphold this philanthropic tradition of caring for the very neediest people in society? People who are often marginalized, overlooked, and stigmatized. People who may be physically disabled; mentally ill; homeless; abuse victims; learning disabled; impoverished; chronically ill or even terminally ill; elderly; asylum seekers… Is it not right that our country should have a workforce who care for the needs of such people? Is it not a HUMAN RIGHTS INFRINGEMENT not to provide assistance, help and support to such vulnerable people? Is it not, therefore, permitting risk of this human rights infringement, by allowing the Social Work profession to become side-lined, scapegoated, underfunded and overlooked? In side-lining Social Work, you effectively side-line the needs of the people whom Social Workers are there to assist.

    Have you forgotten, too, that the Social Work profession, above all other health and care professions, is the one most seeking to champion the rights of its service-users? Social Work is the one, and only, caring profession that has adopted the SOCIAL MODEL OF CARE, as opposed to the MEDICAL MODEL, favoured amongst the NHS. The Social Model has been championed by many disability groups, by lesbian and gay rights groups, and by many other groups representing individuals who are, or have been, otherwise disenfranchised. If you read such seminal works as “Pride Against Prejudice”, by Jenny Morris (The Women’s Press), you may come to understand that the Social Model adopted by the Social Work profession, is liberating for service-users, in that it seeks to acknowledge that society, and how society is constructed, impacts greatly upon service-users’ problems, such as disability, poverty, and so forth. By contrast, the Medical Model, so favoured by the NHS, tends to pathologize and to negatively label individuals as “the problem”. The problem – for example, disability – belongs to the individual, and is not an issue to concern anyone other than the individual affected. In this respect, the medical model may actually be damaging to service-users, in that it seeks to view them as the location, source, or cause of any problem that they may be facing. By contrast, the Social Model, as adopted by Social Workers, recognizes that there is a great deal that society can do to reduce, and ultimately to remove, barriers which effectively disable people, or trap them in poverty, abuse, homelessness… The Social Model sees the fact that society is set up to cater for the needs of one type of person only – generally fit, able-bodied, young, affluent – as creating problems which lead to poverty, disability, and so forth. There is much of value to society in the Social Model; and thus much of value to society in Social Work. Social Workers should be praised for adopting a model of care that does NOT tend to pathologize, or to blame, service-users.

    Perhaps, in considering this, you could also consider the fact that it provides evidence to support the claim that Social Work is a very valuable profession, and one which society could actually learn much from. In choosing to adopt a Social Model of care, the Social Work profession also chose to espouse values that went along with this model – values such as tolerance, acceptance, trying to be non-judgemental, attempting to eradicate prejudice and stigma. Social Work, more perhaps than any other caring profession, sought to accept that human nature, and human problems, are complex and multifactorial. They cannot simply be addressed by a model of care that locates the problem within a given individual, and leaves them to get on with it. No! Social Work as a profession recognized, in its adoption of the Social Model of care, that in any given situation there is an interplay between internal and external factors; between nature and nurture; between the individual and the environment; between the one person and wider society. Social Work as a profession recognized that things such as disability, poverty, abuse, homelessness, chronic illness, substance misuse, old age… these, and many more, often go hand-in-hand; that to tackle one, means tackling the many.

    THIS is why Social Work is such a valuable profession, and should be valued by Government Ministers, and the general public alike. This is also why Social Work requires funding, support, adequate resources, appropriate staffing-levels, quality training. This is why Social Work interventions cannot simply be of the short-term, sticking-plaster type. Rather, they must be long-term, concerted efforts to work with individuals and families whose problems – problems that are often highly fraught – have been a long time in the making, and thus may take a long time to sort out. This is why Social Work is both emotionally, and physically, draining work which necessitates that staff are provided with support to help them meet such challenges. This is why Social Workers should be permitted to work on manageable caseloads, in comfortable and appropriate working environments, with adequate resources and management support, and with adequate time afforded for them to do their job – and do it properly.

    I ask that you read this, and consider ALL of the above. I trust that, on reflection, you will see that it is more than sufficient evidence in favour of providing the respect, support, encouragement and financial investment that the Social Work profession has so long needed.

  57. Critical Duck August 21, 2016 at 4:19 pm #

    Interesting read. Wanted to pick up on something that from my perspective is a bit odd. I noted one specific statement within the article – ‘Social work is an isolating profession with work completed by individuals without the support of others.’ Due to my professional experiences I have to call time on this idea. It may be that the idea of isolation put forward is based upon poor organisational support and training, which I would agree with.

    I am able to lay claim to actual isolated social work. I have worked in an isolated Artic hunting community with stretches of up to three months working 24/7 – office and duty hours. Removals, Court, unannounced visits, the lot. Community characteristics, 90% gun ownership, significant poverty and alcohol dependency and high suicide rates. Resources: one police detachment, one school, one health centre, three social workers (maybe). Manager based 250miles away, head office about 1000 miles away. Within this context my experience was not one of isolation, as like other previous roles in Canada or here in the UK.

    Having set the picture, I see training and organisational issues.

    I have been doing Social work in the UK for a number of years (Duty and Assessment, CP, LAC) and what strikes me is how many UK trained Social Workers, while having a good knowledge, struggle with managing particular situations and navigating the relational dynamics of cases. For example, in the article, there is the example of attending a property with a colleague in which there is known to be firearms, and, which the police would not attend. In Canada over half of my home visits (in all locations I worked in Canada) have had firearms present. In the artic community it was all home visits.

    The difference is that there is training provided in Canada (think situational awareness) to help identify and manage risk. It is completely lacking in the UK. Given the same scenario in Canada, as provided above, this is how the visit should have gone (no particular order):

    – Manager and two workers discuss the plan and purpose of the visit. Including how the discussions will go and what they will focus upon.
    – Social work team gets all info as possible about the people in the home (police may provide – in the UK if there is concerns about firearms in the property could have a strat meeting). However, it would appear the risk was already known.
    – The senior management is advised of a high risk visit as are the police.
    – As possible, place a telephone call to the home first and try to agree the visit. An unexpected visit by Social Workers always increases anxieties and fears – and people do panic, increasing risk of an unpredictable events and actions – including that of the social worker.
    – Both workers go to the door, not one in the car.
    – Do not let anyone in the home block your exit from the door.
    – Do not take a bag, do not remove your shoes.
    – Identify all in the home and keep them in sight as possible.
    – Have phone on and 999 ready to be called.
    – Perhaps call the office and leave the call on with another work listening in form the office. The second worker’s phone is then the call out phone.
    – And – importantly, do not do the visit if it is believed that unsafe.

    This is not a comprehensive list but the idea is demonstrated. This kind of planning reduces the worker’s anxiety, promotes focus and importantly, it is a plan of ongoing risk assessment in the moment. Emotionally challenging, yes, but also emotionally protective.

    The idea of working in isolation in the UK, appears to me quite ridiculous. There are so many professionals involved with a child/family through education, health visitors, etc, and the CP process is set up with the purpose of ‘working together’, hence the strategy meetings, ICPCs, CIN meetings, Core Group meetings, etc. This all takes time, as does planning a visit like above. The idea in the UK is to share the responsibility. However, all the reports and managing the differing professional dynamics also consumes time. Then there is the pressure of making sure everything is done in timescales. Does seem that a lot of effort is put into progressing the process and not enough on progressing work with the family. Took me some considerable time to wrap my head around this to be honest. In Canada while there were meetings the recording processes were not as cumbersome. Case Notes – thats where the minutes go. Here there are numerous reports to fill out prior to and following meetings.

    Referal for a strat meeting, reports for conferences, core groups, single assessments, parenting assessments, pre-birth assessments, risk assessments, CIN/CP visits write ups, permanence planning meetings, placement planning meetings, contact meetings, written referrals for internal/external resources, reports for internal panels, and so on. It is the collection and movement of information that demands workers to be punching key boards. Of course such a system needs to be audited, which in turn creates another system of record keeping.

    Effectively the system is inefficient. Supervisions will the focus upon, this meeting or that report being done. Leaving little room for planning and processing challenging situations to learn from the experience and improve analytical skills.

    Every system has recording demands and a flow of information to be managed. However, some are less cumbersome than others. The Canadian experience is less cumbersome and also promotes the working with families. As a result there is more emphasis upon issues of transference and emotional resilience with workers.

    My view would be that the UK system is strained due to a patch work of measures not thought out and cobbled together over time with little consistency and clarity by the policy makers who are short sighted. Leaving a system that is difficult to navigate and work within and over bureaucratised. Most importantly, it takes time away from focussing upon the engagement process and reflecting upon the social workers position and relationship with the family in order to deal with issues of transference and emotional resilience.