‘It has never been more important to come together and support each other’

A child protection social worker describes the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on her role, and the challenges of protecting children when schools are closed and partner agency support is being redirected

Photo: AnthonyJess/Adobe Stock

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.

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5 Responses to ‘It has never been more important to come together and support each other’

  1. Sophie Ames March 25, 2020 at 7:08 pm #

    A really good piece Beth and I have nothing but admiration for you doing this job. Stay safe xx

  2. Grace March 25, 2020 at 7:10 pm #

    I find it really hard reading this type of article as the social worker is so proud of the work she is doing to keep children safe. We as a profession but ourselfs at risk everyday for others and it is an expected part of the job. We are again being asked to do this go house to house with no protective gear and some workers see this as a badge of honour but what say if this worker had coronavirus with no symptoms and went to her 5 visits a day for 5 days a week. Went to her office mixed amongst her collegues that are doing their 5 visits a day for 5 days plus their own familys. All with no protective equipment. Is that actually safeguarding. Especially when we are seeing people age 21 with no underlying health conditions dying today.

  3. Virginia Savage March 26, 2020 at 5:02 pm #

    The article is a good reminder of our need to be mindful of the care for the most vulnerable in our communities. Many in this helping profession, I’m a retired clinical social worker, have an inflated notion of our abilities. The author mentioned the cuts to human services without stating that these were decisions by so called fiscal conservatives who value profits over people. In such an enviornment the social worker operates as a broker for very limited resources which may put their lives at risk. Practices like home visits without the proper use of protective equipment and safety protocols, are unhealthy for all involved. There is nothing grand about being a martyr. That behavior only reinforces the social worker’s savior mentality and is a poor role model for clients.

  4. Stephanie March 26, 2020 at 6:05 pm #

    Local authorities can apply to Public Health England for PPE. When you’re in a hospital, if you’re in an area where there’s a COVID-19 patient, the hospital should be providing you with the requisite level of PPE and sorting your infection control. In the intervening period between them obtaining PPE in its own right, surely they are liaising with your CCN team and community providers to ensure you are adequately protected? According to guidance, there are very few SWs who will actually need PPE during this period.

    I do accept that the pressure on us as frontline workers has increased exponentially, and will continue to do so, and agree that it’s incredibly difficult to hold together a team to provide that peer support that is what keeps us all going. My understanding and use of technology for that purpose has certainly increased significantly over the last couple of weeks!!

  5. Rachel March 31, 2020 at 8:45 am #

    It is worrying times vulnerable and those working with the vulnerable. Which is why I find it odd that universities have postponed social work placements. Get us out there helping, get us qualified!!