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You only have to look at the news these days to see how much childrens
Services are failing the vulnerable and at risk children in the uk, with baby p being the one that I think will stick in most peoples minds but for me I have experienced social services failings first hand over the last few years in a variety of different ways.
My first contact in my like with children's services was when I was a child, I had been to A&E several times in a space of a few months for broken bones and a serious dog bite, this was all looked into very closely by children services, they assessed my behaviour and looked at the family set up etc and closed the case as these were all just accidents but at the same time this system failed me as my abuse from a family member had already began, I was already withdrawn but they missed it completely, this abuse never came to light until I told my councillor a year ago about it.
My second encounter with children's services was 3 years ago when I reported two children I new were being sexually abused, I gave statements to the police but they said there was lack of evidence to prove it and the case was dropped, children's services did an initial assessment and closed the case, now 3 years later with these children being aged 11 and 13 they ran away from home in the middle of the night and when picked up by the police they spilled there story exactly as I had reported it 3 years ago, these children were failed by a system that didn't look closely enough or for long enough to see that there was a problem ad they have had to Waite such a long tie for help, they are now in the care system and living with foster parents so are finally safe from harm but is it too little too late to stop this effecting the rest of there lives.
My third encounter with children's services came a year ago just after the birth of my 3rd daughter when my own mother called them saying my children were neglected, social services came out and did an initial assessment and were happy with there findings so closed the case as there isn't a problem with my children, my mother was not happy with that so she made another call to the police with a whole load of new accusations of abuse and neglect which obviously had to be looked into, they conducted a section 47 enquiry, Section 47 Enquiries (i.e. Child Protection Enquiries) must always be formally carried out when there is "reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm" so this began by me husband and me being arrested and questioned then bailed pending further enquiries and our children having to go and stay with my in-laws for 9 days, wholes 9 days may not seem like a lot it is a life time when your life is up in the air and your families future depends on the decision of complete strangers.
The police found there was no case to answer which just left children's services but as far as children services are concerned you are guilty until they prove you innocent they decided to take this to case conference where the children's services, the school, and health workers all get to vote as to weather they feel the children need to be subject to a child protection plan to protect them from harm in the future.
Every child on the register has a child protection plan which is drawn up by professional staff working together with the parents, carers and the child (where old enough). The purpose of the child protection plan is to help to ensure that the child and family are receiving appropriate help and support, and that arrangements are in place to keep the child safe from harm. The child's health, development and welfare are regularly checked. Every child on the child protection register has a social worker that is responsible for co-ordinating work with the child and the family
My children were put on this register back in June for emotional abuse caused by my mother with the storeys and lies she had been trying to get the children to tell, in the 4 months on this plan social services have done nothing, no work with the children or us as a family not that we actually need it but look well if my children had really been in danger, how much more serious does it get in the children's services eyes than a child on the protection register, in the 4 months we have seen 4 different social workers who never knew anything about our case before meeting with us which I find very unprofessional and we were finally allocated a permanent social worker 3 weeks ago which was the same week as the child protection review to make a decision about the children coming off the register so due to the fact that nothing had been done the children have had to remain on the register.
A child's name will remain on the child protection register until it is believed that the child is safe from any future harm. Meetings are held regularly with the parents or carers and child to review the work being done and progress made. Every effort is made to work with parents in the best interests of each child. The harm to my children was deemed to be my mother who has had no contact with the children for the last 5 months so as far as I am concerned there is no reason for my children to still be on the child protection register as the risk of harm has been removed yet they still are due to social services not having done anything in the time they were given.
I have been told by children's services that once my children are taken off the child protection register they will be down graded to child in need
Children in need are defined in law as children who are aged under 18 and: -
Need local authority services to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development
Need local authority services to prevent significant or further harm to health or development
My children do not fall into any of these categories but due to the previous failings with other children children's services have to be seen to be doing something even if it is of no benefit to them or us.
From my experience I feel that the social services and children's services system is failing so many children by not paying enough attention and the reason they are doing this is that they are giving way too much time to cases that don't actually need attention my case doesn't need to be on social services books but there are many out there who need help and are not getting it, they really do need to start looking at where they are going wrong and fixing the problems.
There was a restructure of children's services staff in our area last month, 47 staff who were not qualified social workers were made redundant to make space for them to be able to pay just 3 qualified social workers so these 3 are now expected to pick up the case loads of the previous 47 staff, what a joke is it any wander this system is failing so badly
The brutal and sadistic attacks on two young boys by two young boys in Edlington, North Yorkshire is not, as David Cameron puts it, a result of 'decaying Britain under Labour', and so the Prime Minster's fault, but its is something that can't be fixed and just happens in life, a statistic. This is another Bulger affair, a freak event that happens every 20 years or so. This type of child-on-child brutality is far worse in Europe and all of the third world. It happens because kids are born into bad environments to useless under-class parents. Most kids, if not parented with the basics, are capable of this. The defining facts are that there are more unemployed people up north so the Bulgers and the Edlington event where most likely to happen there, an area with a big working-class population on those sink estates who have little to do all day. You also have to vector in the equation where the amount of kids playing out in working-class communities are far higher than in good areas and so targets of boys like this. Middle-class parent's kids are usually well behaved and rarely let out under the age of 14 in the evening. Thats why most road accidents involve working-class people. The highest child-on-child brutality and murder events actually happen in London through gun and knife crime but that's connected more too low self-esteem and the drugs trade than general delinquency and depravation. In fact child murder is at a 40-year low in Britain because its so confined to certain areas.
Look at it like a pyramid structure. On the bottom couple of layers you have a long line of naughty working-class boys and girls, then the next two rows you have kids that break the law and then the next two layers kids that are in care, less and less movement up the stack of kids as you get higher as the offences get more serious. Right at the top you have a small pool of kids capable of this type of brutality that have been forced up the pyramid like those heavy blocks that built them and the under-staffed and legally and financially restrained welfare agencies and cops having to try and work out which ones will go on to do a Bulger. This type of event is so rare it's not really the problem it looks but the media jumping all over it and so demanding heads have to roll and so the structures collapses again. Yes there are half-a-million kids out there being bought up badly but there are in most countries. Who knows, if Baby P had have got to grow up then he too might have been smoking dope and watching porn by ten years old and also a future killer? Shrinks say the damage is done at a very young age.
The actual problem is just how much power can the agencies that protect and control troublesome kids can deploy with the budgets and legal conditions they have. We saw with the Baby P case that Haringey's priority was keeping troubled kids in troubled families for as long as possible, purely on those cost issues. This is clearly what's happened in Edlington. There has been a national 40% increase of kids put in care after the trail of Baby P, councils fearing mass sackings if another baby dies, which, of course, it will. Every day was a contradiction for the over-worked and underpaid social workers in Haringey. They had huge casebooks and knew a quarter of their 30 kids needed to be taken away from unfit parents pretty much the moment they received the case in those books, like a salesman given bad and stale leads, but couldn't because of the mixed message that goes against their instinct, and when Baby P happens everyone blames the social workers, not those government budgets or the actual useless parents.
The London children's homes and foster careers handle a disproportionate number of ethnic minority kids because liberal adoption agencies with 'issues' refuse to let white folks adopt black and Asian kids for cultural reasons and so they back up. It's easier to adopt a black kid in Africa for a white parent than it is here it seems. Maybe Madonna had already tried in London? There is a disproportionate amount of ethnic kids going into care and they tend to stay much longer. That means some kids have to stay in the family home with abusive parents, another Victoria Klimbe event just too much for all concerned to repeat in South London. We need to get these kids out of crap families of what ever colour and into good families of whatever colour. It's a simple measure to take huge strains off the system. Do it now!!! In 1976 some 22,000 children were adopted. In 2007 it was less than 3,500 - 2,200 of them were children from care.
The Social Service heads of these big councils are always the guys and girls who get it in the neck, but probably the least deserving of that persecution. They have gagging clauses in their contract so they can't explain why the system is really broke and if they do they lose their pensions. Because their jobs are so high pressure and ambiguous and contradictory these guys and girls have no choice but to take that deal. That's why the rarely get sacked. If the PM stood up in the heart of the MPs fiddling expenses thing and declared the fact that members of the public average more theft and fraud from the public purse per year through benefit, insurance and tax fraud, we wouldn't like it. But it's a fact. We just don't want to contemplate or accept that there's a hell of a lot of bad parents out there and some of them are us. There is a saying that if women told the truth the whole world would crack apart. It's those parents and not the social services so much that are the problem, and when the social services try to spot and so intervene to try and stop another Edlington or Baby P we turn on them.
Kids under the age of one-years-old are the group most likely to be murdered in the U.K by a long way, according to the governments own numbers. We have to protect these kids with every measure we have. Every week we have a news story where a mum has lost it and killed her child-or children-in a fit of depression, narcotics or alcohol abuse. We come up with ambiguous medical conditions like Cot Death and diminished responsibility to explain it all away but again the fact is we have very bad moms and dads out there. Twenty years ago most cot deaths happened in cots, hence the name, cacogenic chemicals in fags and sleeping mats amongst many manmade things blamed for it. Mums took the advice to sleep their baby's on their backs and the deaths of babies in cots fell dramatically. But in the last 15 years there has been a five fold increase of babies dying on sofas or beds where a parent or parents fell asleep with those kids, matching the decrease of babies dying in cots. 60% of cot deaths are now boys. There are no cacogenics in the sofas or beds believed to be contributing factors but there are consistencies in the type of parents who suffer a cot death. They are usually from socially deprivds areas or families and single or unmarried moms, likely to drink and smoke and be on anti-depressants, smokers nine times as likely to suffer a cot death to non smoking middle-class moms, those telling statistics why middle-class mums often end up in court accused of infanticide because the odds are so stacked up against them to lose two kids through cot death. How does a social worker tackle that one?
No one is saying the vast majority of cot deaths are infanticide but cot death classification could be made over infanticide when the evidence is legally ambiguous, the benefit of the doubt, because it makes the problem look not as bad as it maybe. I dont doubt being a mum is a tough tough job and there's no instruction what you do when it goes wrong and the pressures mount as feckless men walk out on you. I don't envy any mom or indeed dad in that position. My mums great but she once told me that I had a hell of a set of lungs on me to go with my big mouth when I was a baby and some nights it got too much and she was at the end of her tether (like dooyoo are when I write these honest reviews!). But if we don't address the real issues in life, however controversial, we never make it better. People today just don't want to take responsibility for anything because they can be sued - or able to sue - and so the buck is passed around. In Edlington there were nine agencies found to be at fault with these lads, a cynic would say the best way for the government to dilute the blame to avoid huge legal claims. The social services blamed the cops and the cops blamed them, and so on and so on, the kids having 31 interventions leading up to the macabre beatings. It was the same with the guardians of Baby P. All parents are told they mustn't belt their kids to get them in line and the school teaches get sacked when they want to apply much needed discipline. It's no coincidence that my generation are better behaved because we were bought up with the constant threat of corporal punishment a school. Some teachers were sadist back then (especially music and sports ones!) and if you mucked around they would whack you with something. And if you were out of school and naughty the copper would whack you instead. And when you got home your mum and dad would whack you. It's the way it should be done. If we have to live in fear as adults to maintain order then we should as kids. My dad perhaps beat me to much as he worked shifts and we kept him awake from getting any sleep between those shifts with our messing about, as kids do, but I didn't want to go and take it out on some other boys in the woods when I was ten. Those kids did that because no one is challenging their violence they got from their parents. Kids are no naughtier today but authority is certainly less powerful because of the lawyer's and health & safety. Can you imagine the chaos of the animal kingdom if they got soft on their young uns!
Teen pregnancy is at the heart of this chaos in Britain for me and in some places in Wales and the North there are five generations of families that have been bought up in the same sink estates. Pregnant 15-year-olds to 30-year-old mums have 55-year-old grans who have 80-year-old great grans in places like Swansea, Doncaster and Glasgow etc... Single parent's kids are responsible for a considerable chunk of delinquent crime in the U.K. and it's believed a hardcore of just 10,000 criminals are responsible for the bulk of crime here and many of those guys come from broken homes. Too many girls think the state will pick up the tab and so don't care how that affects society, and so does it really matter how good sex education and contraception is? The perception is if these young working-class girls don't want the kid they get it aborted and if they do want it they get a council flat. 75% of all social housing is for single moms now. Yes there's loads of cool single moms out there (and one particular one on dooyoo who cold make a good writer if she pushed it more!) but for the majority 'on the state' it's a tough life and going nowhere but a repeat cycle, why they should know that in the first place to put them off it as they were bought up on that state heroin of under achievement. Does the state want a certain chunk of people to fail for macro-economic reasons? Well that's another review for another day. But what we do know is social services clearly can't cope as this delinquent production line keeps churning away, the fact kids taken into care is up 40% since Baby P trial exposing just how many crappy parents there are out there.
I wanted to write a review about social work in general, however due to the subject matter of this review being linked to 'Children's social services, this review will discuss a bit about social work in general, and a bit about Children's services.
****Who would be a social worker?****
"Who in their right mind would actually chose to be a social worker in this day and age", I hear you ask?
Well believe it or not, most people who chose to train as social workers tend to be reasonably nice individuals, with humanistic principles. Ask any budding social worker why they got into the profession, and they will tell you the same thing: 'I want a job which I can use my skills to help other people.' Sounds fair enough, doesn't it?
However, nowaday's if you gave this answer at an interview to get onto a social work degree course, you would not even be allowed to park your vehicle in the university car park.
To me, whether wanting to help people or not is the correct answer to give, in essence this is the reason why most people want to become a social worker. However, I think that this reflects the fact that lecturers and trainers are cautiously ensuring that social workers today need to brace themselves for the fact that the job is going to be no minor feat.
It is no use allowing social workers to think that they will be leaving university, and entering a magical world whereby everyone will want help and be eternally grateful for the support that you, as a nice person will provide. This is not reality.
***So what exactly is it that social workers do?***
Maybe the question should be reversed to read ' what is it that social worker's don't do? I have at times struggled to pinpoint the core role of being a social worker. Social workers often do a bit of everything. They assist people by helping them cope with issues in their everyday lives, deal with their relationships, and solve personal and family problems. There are different types of social workers who work within different government legislation and practice frameworks. For instance there are many role differences between social workers who work primarily with children and their families, and social workers who work with adults. Some social workers help clients who live with a disability or a life-threatening disease or a social problem, such as inadequate housing, unemployment, or substance abuse. Some workers help families who face domestic conflicts, such as domestic violence, which can have a severe impact on families and the emotional wellbeing of children. Other social workers conduct research, advocate for improved services, engage in systems design or are involved in planning or policy development. Many social workers eventually specialise and over time work within a specific area of interest.
Child, family, and school social workers provide social services and assistance to improve the social and psychological functioning of children and their families and to maximize the well-being of families and the academic functioning of children. They may assist single parents, arrange adoptions, or help find foster homes for neglected, abandoned, or abused children (see careers.org for more info).
***What are the problems associated with being a social worker?***
1. Social work has historically found it difficult to establish itself as a credible profession. I think that this in part links to what I was saying before about it being difficult to define the core role of a social worker. For instance, a doctor or a nurse has a clear role to diagnose and assist with medical treatment. An occupational therapist has a clear role to ensure that a person's environment or home can meet their daily living needs. A teacher provides education and a psychologist looks at a person's state of mind and IQ. But a social worker's main role usually involves assessing and planning to meet a person's social needs which can be various. It involves co-ordinating and ensuring that everything runs smoothly. A social worker may be run of their feet with work but still not get the acknowledgement that some of the other involved professionals may get from their client. In fact, if something does go wrong, it is usually the social worker who has the finger pointed at them. This can often be disheartening.
Efforts have been made to 'professionalise' the social work profession. New social workers now have to have a degree rather than a diploma if they wish to practice. In addition all social workers have to register with the General Social Care Council (GSCC) and reguarly submit evidence of up to date training, practice and registration. In my opinion these steps have mainly been taken to improve the image of social workers to the public.
2. Lack of appreciation. This links to my first point. Whilst This can happen to some degree in all professions, social work can often be a thankless task. As a GP, a teacher or a nurse, you may be used to people saying thank you. As a social worker, all the valuable and essential hard work you put in often goes unthanked and unnoticed.
3. Most social workers are bound to the government and the organisations that they work for. This means an enormous amount of paperwork, bureaucratic structures which mean more time is spent in the office than with clients, and resource limitations which mean that not everyone will be eligable to receive services, support or resources. Unfortunately, most people and clients do not consider this and can become agitated that they do not always have as much contact with their social worker as they would like, or that they have not been provided with services that they feel they are entitled to. Most social workers WANT to spend more time doing direct work with families, or provide them with more services, but this is not always possible.
4. High caseloads. This relates to the above. Social workers are not afraid of hard work. However it is not possible to deliver a good service to every family if you need to be in two places at once. This links to a wider issue with funding and structures within the social work system. Unfortunately, having such high caseloads also means that mistakes are more likely to be made. This has been particuarly evident within cases reported in the media in relation to Children's Services recently.
5. Risk to personal safety. In no other profession would you find yourself so routinely being put in situations of such personal risk. Social workers frequently have to interact with clients on a crisis basis without security staff or basic safety precautions. In theory, social workers should not go out alone if there is a known risk. However, what happens if a situation turns nasty unexpectedly? I have heard of situations whereby a social worker has been locked in a cupboard. I myself have had my life threatened and had to have a panic alarm installed in my home. Yet still I was expected to case work that particular case despite the individual who threatened me living near my home until I made it clear I was not prepared to put other people in my family at risk too. By putting workers at risk like this it also sends a message out that social workers are less worthy than other professions and it makes them feel unappreciated.
6. Burn Out. This can occur in all social work professions. However, it is particuarly the case in Children's Services. Where child protection is concerned, high caseloads are combined with court deadlines, report deadlines and required statutory visits. When crisis hits a family, planned work goes out of the window, leading to a back log of work. When this happens, unless you have very good management to support you, which is not always the case, you end up taking work home to complete. It is not uncommon for many social workers to work long hours dealing with crisis, then spend a large portion of their personal home time, completing work tasks. This seems to be an expectation in many Children's Team. After all, it takes guts to tell a court that you have not completed a report on time even if you have a good excuse! I suspect that this is one of the reasons why Children's services struggle to recruit and most importantly, retain staff.
7. Poor image. Social workers make mistakes, of course they do. However, whenever I hear of a social worker being singled out and subjected to severe critisicm within the media I always feel disapointed. Social workers do not work in isolation - they are not allowed to. They
co-ordinate a care team of other professionals who are all supposed to be working together with the client and families. For instance - take the absolutely tragic case of Baby P.
Baby P lived a horrible existence and died a shockingly painful death. I don't doubt that the social worker made mistakes. She should have paid closer attention during her home visit to ensure that the baby was being looked after. She probably should have been a little suspicious about a baby covered in chocolate considering the history of the case and in hindsight should have asked the mother to wipe the baby's face.
However, the social worker was part of a care team of professionals who were all responsible for safeguarding Baby P. The police had just dropped charges against the mother relating to possible abuse of Baby P. A peadiatric consultant had seen Baby P and not noticed that the baby had significant injuries. Where was the health visitor in all of this mess? All children under 5, particuarly those on a child protection register would have a health visitor who should undertake regular home visits.
The 'Care Team' and not the simply the social worker had obviously agreed that it was in their opinion, safe for the child to remain at home with the mother. A social worker never works in isolation - Care Teams of professionals work together to make decisions, particuarly in Children's Services where children may be at risk.
I suspect that what has happened in this case, is that the social worker has believed that the child was not at significant risk at the time of her home visit. Mother had been cleared of charges by police, the medical consultant had not picked up on any serious injuries. The social worker did not realise that mother was in a relationship with the man who would later kill Baby P. Should the social worker have been more vigilant? Yes I believe she should have been. However, I also understand that considering all of the above factors, combined with the fact that she was probably meant to be in another 3 places at the time of the home visit, meant that errors occured.
And this is one of the problems of social work - trying to prioritise and remain vigilant when you have such a high caseload that you don't have time. In this case, the signs were not obvious to the social worker and so she missed them, probably because she didn't have time to investigate the situation further.
The other issue is that social workers are trained to look at families holistically, and to promote strength based approaches. What does this actually mean? It means that social workers look deeper than at the problem. They look at why the problem may have occured - social functioning, family dynamics, family background, parenting skills. Social workers look to see how they can work preventatively with families to promote longer term change. A good social worker will try to help a client (such as a parent) see what their strengths are as well as their weaknesses. Their role is to try and empower the client to do things for themself and improve their own life. The goverment tells social workers that the best outcome for a child occurs if social workers can work in partnership with parents, rather than just telling them what to do.
This can sometimes conflict with child protection procedures and cause an internal struggle for social workers. It can be difficult to work fully in partnership with parents, when you clearly have to prioritise the child and often make decisions which the parents do not agree with. It can be difficult to get the balance right between taking control and working in partnership. This can lead to mistakes being made.
***Is social work all bad??***
No of course not, there are many different areas of social work, and all are different. Many social workers love their job and find it rewarding.
But there are fundamental problems with some areas of social work, particuarly Children's Services. Having worked for 4 years with Children in Need and within a Child Protection Team, I can honestly say that there were many times where I loved my job and felt like I helped some families to make a difference to their lives. However, these tended to be families who wanted to make changes and eventually realised that social services were here to help them and not hinder them. There were also times when difficult decisions had to be made.
For me personally, I decided to change to another area of social work mainly because of the impact the work was having on my personal life. Working all week sometimes day and night just to keep up began to grind on me, particuarly because it was often such a thankless task.
***What needs to happen??***
I would work again in Children's Services but I would probably not see it as a long term career move unless substantial changes were made. I, like many social workers, would probably burn out after a few years.
There are no easy solutions, and I am sceptical that such changes will happen. But in an ideal world the following should be considered:
* Smaller protected caseloads - to allow reasonable time for more direct work and meaningful home visits.
*More protection for social workers professionally. Better standards of management and supervision, which happens reguarly as it is supposed to. It is not uncommon for some social workers to go months without supervision.
* Government work with the media to promote the good work that social work does. Why do we only hear about things that have gone wrong?
*Better safety measures for social workers - perhaps all visits should be in two's? Unless the visit is office based. This may have resource implications but so be it.
* Better Pay - social workers should be paid more, in my opinion, for the huge amount of challenging and demanding workloads they have to deal with.
* Better, realistic training relevant for the job. In depth and up to date training should be given around how to work effectively with families and how to balance partnership versus managing risk. Some authorities are better than others at this.
* More resources for social work. Always a challenge this one. But if there were more social workers there may be fewer caseloads and more time for social workers to do their jobs properly.
Social work is a valuable and essential profession that has taken a lot of stick and needs more government support. Politicians such as Ed Balls have rightly taken the opportunity to highlight the Baby P. However in doing so they have also given the impression that such tragedies are widespread and that social services are guilty of terible neglect. As is pointed out by Hilary Searing, the reality is that a recent study into the rate of 'child abuse-related deaths' in England and Wales from 1974 to 2006 found that such deaths 'have never been lower since records began' and that significantly greater progress has been made here than in the majority of the other major developed countries.
What we need is for the government to start by responding to the constant negative, media headlines in order to show their appreciation whilst raising awareness of the difficult job and hard work carried out by the majority of frontline social workers.