By Beth Dawson
In the times of uncertainty and urgency that we find ourselves in today, it has never been more important to come together and support each other.
I am continuously reading the outcries of support in the media, on social media, and from various organisations and individuals for the NHS. The NHS is what keeps this country going; it is part of our culture, our heritage and is something that we, as a nation, are incredibly proud of. We are extremely lucky to have a national health service and in unprecedented times such as these, we should be even more grateful for it.
However, an aspect of public services that is often overlooked is that of child protection and safeguarding. Social work is an essential part of public service, and it too is overworked and underfunded.
As a child protection social worker, I am required to continue to be on the ‘frontline’ irrespective of any virus. I am not given any clothing protection or protective equipment in order to do my job, but I am required to go into people’s homes (sometimes up to five different homes a day), attend meetings in schools and in hospitals and hold meetings in my office among other things.
My office remains open and all of my amazing colleagues are doing the same thing. As social workers, we come into contact with so many people every day and often rely on public transport to get from visit to meeting to office.
Given the years of austerity and budget cuts to essential public services, items such as laptops are often a luxury that local authorities can’t afford to give their social work workforce, and so working from home is not always an option. In addition, research has demonstrated that working alongside your team in an office-based environment is essential in reducing stress and burnout among frontline social workers. Reduction of stress and burnout is more vital now than ever before.
Safeguarding vulnerable children requires social workers to challenge, manage and mitigate the effects of many health and social issues such as domestic violence, substance misuse, neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, mental health problems, child exploitation, and many more. Our job, as social workers, is to protect the children and young people who are the victims in these situations.
This week, school across the country have closed. The announcement was met with a great deal of anxiety across the sector, and has huge implications for child protection social workers. Schools and teachers are one of the main partner agencies we work with in order to safeguard and protect vulnerable children from abuse and harm.
Without schools, how can we keep our vulnerable children safe? Teachers have ‘eyes’ on children for approximately 35 hours a week. They are the ones who will refer to children’s social services if a child has an injury, hasn’t come to school, or is behaving differently.
On top of this, health visitors are no longer doing safeguarding home visits and are being drafted in to support other areas of the NHS as the NHS itself comes under increasing pressure. From where I stand, this means that social workers now have a multitude of other jobs and tasks to do, whilst also still completing their social work duties.
A sector which is being put under increasing pressure to work “within a multi-agency context” is having all their partner agencies taken away – leaving the single child protection agency to figure things out on its own.
Part of being a social worker is to be resilient, dedicated, calm and resourceful and it is so important for us to remember and draw upon these qualities and values – they will enable us to get through these tough and difficult times and come out stronger the other side.
This situation is temporary and, as a profession, our focus and priority are those vulnerable children who otherwise have nobody looking out for their safety and wellbeing.
Beth Dawson is a child protection social worker in an assessment and intervention team.