This is a post from a social worker who wishes to remain anonymous. She discusses her frustration about the constraints on social workers speaking out about who they are and what they do and her particular concerns at the way ‘Social Work Tutor’ recently chose to frame the narrative, in terms of ‘monster parents’.
Over the last couple of years I have been involved in various real world and online discussions about social workers speaking out, mainly why they don’t as individuals. As a general rule, if you are independent or in academia you can talk about social work, in an LA you can’t without representation or approval from the directorate (and usually under the auspices of the comms team). As far as social networking is concerned, most employment policies are restrictive enough for social workers to be anonymous if they work for an LA. I’ve felt my share of frustration with the barriers to communicating about social work as well as with the voices who claim to represent me at times. There are several aspects to this for me. On a personal level I feel silenced, and in a field active with anti oppressive practice, that feels a bit oppressive. For families who encounter social workers, not knowing about social work limits their understanding of what we do and creates a barrier of fear, barriers can be ameliorated, but it’s a shame there is one there in the first place. More widely it contributes to the air of secrecy that surrounds social work and the family justice system and I would like more transparency.
It won’t be a surprise to know that I was therefore interested to the Facebook page of a social worker who has a large “fanbase” (their words) and who also contributes to Community Care. I haven’t read all of the Community Care articles but this is someone with who I agreed completely when they wrote recently about feeling like social worker’s voices have been heard for the first time since Munro. There were almost 20,000 followers on the Facebook page and, from what I read, SWT appeared proud of their high profile. Reading further, some of the posts gave me pause for thought. I really didn’t like the way social work was ramped up, I didn’t like the notions expressed that social workers are heroes, or working on a frontline. I also didn’t like some of the memes, because although they might be funny in another context, they read as being jokes made at the expense of the people we work with. I also strongly objected to a very emotive post about the Ellie Butler case. Others have written very fluently about the case and I don’t intend to repeat that here, I will though tell you why I minded about it so much and thought you might wish to read the original post first. It has now been taken down, this was copied before it was, and screen shots were taken.
“Social Work Tutor
21 June at 19:38 ·
Ben Butler is the kind of violent monster that Social Workers fight to protect children from on a daily basis…
Ben Butler is a man who used violence, control, intimidation and fear to rule those around him. He has a history of robbery, intimidation, assaults, carrying offensive weapons and domestic violence.
He admitted that he “hoped situations might present themselves where he could engage in violence” and believed that “violence used to help him improve his mood when he was upset”.
When his daughter Ellie was just seven weeks old, she suffered a “triad” of brain and retinal injuries associated with shaken baby syndrome. Ben Butler was convicted of grevious bodily harm and child cruelty, and sentenced to prison as a result.
Using his controlling and dominant personality, he used a legal technicality to quash that conviction then proceeded to engage in a media tour to campaign for the return of Ellie to his care. Supported by the convicted sex offender Max Clifford, Ben Butler did the media rounds and portrayed himself as the doting father who simply wanted to care for his daughter.
He convinced The Sun, he convinced The Daily Mail, he convinced This Morning. Most sadly of all he managed to convince Mrs Justice Hogg who commented of her ‘joy’ at seeing a ‘happy end’ when she returned Ellie to the care of the man who would go on to murder her.
Justice Hogg dismissed his violent past.
Justice Hogg dismissed the doctor who raised concerns about aggression and bullying.
Justice Hogg dismissed the burns Ellie experienced to her head and hand at only seven weeks old.
Justice Hogg dismissed the concerns of the Local Authority who did everything they could to prevent Ellie’s murder and fought all the way to save her from her father.
Justice Hogg dismissed the heart-felt plea from Ellie’s grandfather, who warned her she would have “blood on her hands” if Ben Butler regained custody.
Eleven months later, Ellie was murdered in a fit of violent rage.
This vile creature subjected his six-year old daughter to a fit of murderous rage and then attempted a cover up with his partner and Ellie’s younger sibling; staging a scene so that the sibling would find Ellie’s limp and lifeless body.
Those last eleven months of Ellie’s life must have been hell.
She was blocked from having the support of her local Social Workers.
The independent service brought in stopped engaging seven months before she was killed.
She was living with a man she told her Grandfather she was terrified of.
She was referred to as a c**t by her own father.
Neighbours reported her as being so scared of him she wet herself.
In the weeks before her death she experienced a broken shoulder.
I could go on but even writing these words brings tears to my eyes; I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for Ellie to be subjected to such a life.
And yet these are the monsters that Social Workers save children from on a daily basis. These are the vile creatures we fight to protect these vulnerable little souls from.
People so dangerous that they will kill their own children.
People so controlling they can convince the media and judges to bend to their will.
People so evil they will attempt to portray death and injury as accidental; using their other children to hide their heinous deeds.
We will keep fighting to save children from harm, just as the unheralded heroes of Sutton tried to do for Ellie.
We will be there for children who have nobody else.
The sad truth is that Ben Butler is not an isolated figure. There are parents like this up and down our country that Social Workers are having to deal with every day.
These are the terrors that we are trying to save the world from.
These are the parents who will tell the media that Social Workers are ‘stealing their children’ at the same time as living with the awful harm they have caused.
These are the monsters that we keep from children’s doors at night.
So, I minded all that because I am horrified that anyone in my profession can imply that the people we work with on a daily basis are monsters or that Ben Butler is the face of social work. I would always say that most of the people I work with are sad rather than bad, their stories are often ‘there but for the grace of God’ and the Ben Butlers of this world exist but are thankfully few and far between. I minded that a view was being expressed that social workers work daily to save children from monsters, as a child protection social worker I think I’m working with families because they need help to look after their children safely and with the need to ensure those children live elsewhere when that isn’t possible. The rescue narrative which can describe vile creatures and protecting vulnerable little souls is not mine, neither is the battle motif. I am not saving the world from terrors or keeping monsters from anyone’s door. If there really is anyone who could be described as a monster who might be in need of restraint, that’s a job for law enforcement not me.
So, then I minded the legal stuff because social workers work within the law. Ben Butler didn’t use a legal technicality to quash his conviction. The court considered evidence and, however terrible anything might now seem, there was no other decision that could be made based on that evidence. It is also wrong to say that Mr Butler convinced a judge, the evidence was used by the judge to do what judges do, make a judgment. This was no act of control or anyone bending anyone else to anyone’s will. It is indeed true that this returned Ellie to the care of the man who murdered her and this is very sad indeed, nobody can think otherwise. The Judge also did not exonerate Ben Butler of all of the issues, she exonerated him of the crime the evidence supported he did not commit, if you read the SCR, the LA seem to have taken this further. I suspect this is not the only time that a judge has been warned they will have blood on their hands, I have no evidence to support this but cries from the public gallery are not unheard of.
So why does this matter? It matters because this person is representing social workers, not just in a publication that only social workers read, but also on a public Facebook page and they are crowdsourcing £15k to publish a book that will tell people about social work much more widely. My view is that any narrative including monsters and rescuing children demonizes the people with whom social workers work, and that narrative marginalizes social justice in the context of a time of austerity and savage cuts and with a government in power whose rhetoric about adoption is akin to social engineering. I am not the only social worker who thinks this and I would always want families to know that a large following on Facebook is not representative of any social worker I have encountered in real life or online. In the meantime, having spoken for myself, I am going to have a bit of a rethink about who represents social workers, I’ve been quite critical of BASW at times, but they are doing sterling work at the moment.