Social workers face mass burnout, low pay and enormous workloads – we can’t be responsible for keeping every child safe until society changes,writes child protection worker Vince Peart
Image: Yvonne Spendley / SWNS)
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. Star Hobson. Two innocent and defenceless children who died at the hands of those who should have loved them most.
Two names that will have been heard throughout the country this week, and whose tragically short lives will have turned the public’s stomach sick with grief and anger as the harrowing nature of what these little ones endured came to light.
As questions are rightly asked about how this could have happened, and how any parent could be moved to cause or allow their own child’s death, the fact that both of these children had involvement with social services will be brought to the forefront of the debate.
It is possibly presumptuous to assume that the local and national reviews into these tragedies will offer up the old mantras of ‘lessons to be learned’ and ‘missed opportunities’, yet, considering the patterns of the past, such a presumption is likely to be borne out – with Arthur and Star’s names laid alongside those of Jasmine Beckford, Victoria Climbie, Peter Connelly and Daniel Pelka as sombre testament to social work failings.
There is no shying away from the fact that these children, like Arthur and Star, had social work involvement in their lives and that there were indeed missed opportunities for intervention. It is far too simplistic an answer to simply attribute these failings to individual social workers or even the entire system though; social workers did not murder these children, and the blame cannot be laid solely at the feet of professionals.
These are systematic and societal issues that require systematic and societal responses.
Solutions to these issues will not be found within another review, more legislation, tightened guidance and increased scrutiny. Nor will they come from a basis of political and public attacks on an entire profession. Social workers ourselves will tell you what the problems within our profession are – and we will tell you the solutions, too.
Leeds Live/MEN Media)
We need lower caseloads, better resources, investment in early intervention services, and less bureaucracy. We also need public and political support to move the narrative away from social workers ‘stealing’ children and ‘failing’, to social workers being registered and respected professionals holding the same societal status as teachers, nurses, police officers and firefighters.
Another national review will not change the fact that one in five social work positions are currently unfilled, sickness rates amongst the profession are spiralling due to vicarious trauma, we are working 10 hours of unpaid overtime every week, and the average social worker only lasts six years before leaving the profession forever.
Parliamentary statements about taking children away from parents “if there is any evidence, any inkling, any iota of harm” will not reverse 10 years of cuts to early intervention support, children’s centres, youth clubs and outreach projects. You cannot legislate or debate away cycles of deprivation and intergenerational trauma that are several decades in the making.
Social workers need support. We, and our clients, need to be listened to. Arthur and Star were let down, we are not denying that, but if we truly are to ‘learn’ from their ‘lessons’ then we must start by building up the social work profession instead of knocking it down.
We need the support of the public and our politicians to do that. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes an entire society to protect one, too.
*Vince Peart is a frontline child protection practitioner and independent social worker. He is the consultant editor for Social Work News
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.