Tag Archives: social worker

The Troubling Role of Trauma in Social Work – a parent’s view.

I am grateful for this guest post from contributor [email protected]. She asks how do social workers perceive ‘trauma’ and what impact does that perception have on their decision making? Are social workers being tempted to make ‘diagnosis’ of conditions that are outside their expertise?

When we see pictures of puppies or kittens we may have a strong impulse to go ‘Aaaah’. When we hear of ‘traumatised/abused/neglected children’ we should feel a visceral sense of revulsion. Social workers working with children will see it as their professional role to make things better for the ‘traumatised/neglected child’ but what does a traumatised/neglected child look like? That can be very hard to assess. At one end of the spectrum the child may be very quiet and at the other end a child may be beyond control and have any number of difficulties from extreme anxiety to violence. Are the problems of such children a result of abuse/trauma or could there be other reasons for their difficulties?

What if a social worker takes it upon themselves to assess the problem and becomes so fixed in his/her views that he/she fails to robustly assess all possible reasons for a child’s difficulties and take any steps he or she can to pinpoint exactly where the problems are? I believe many social workers have reached the point where they are now in danger of making these calls based on their own ‘hyper-vigilance’ around trauma/neglect.

What is trauma?

I must confess I never paid too much attention to ‘trauma’ before social workers entered my life and I began to hear this word again and again. I suppose my idea of trauma would have been a natural childbirth – the most natural thing in the world even if it is challenging when you are going through it.

Social workers seemed to use trauma as shorthand to explain why someone might be having a difficulty. This version of trauma seemed to me to be closer to a therapist’s version of trauma, an emotional wound or rupture that needed to be addressed before the person could move on with their life.

I’ve since had the benefit of hours of support from therapists around the ‘fall-out’ around our family situation so I think I really do now understand trauma – the life-changing, perspective-altering, ‘no-going back, get used to it’ type of trauma but I still have serious reservations about how social worker perceive trauma and the role it plays in people’s lives. The idea of a social worker fixing emotional wounds may help social workers get through a very challenging day but it seems to me to bring with it a number of really quite serious problems.

The danger of scapegoating

I believe that social workers often deal with parents in distress/despair including the ‘just about managing’ who have tipped over into crisis. They may, for example, be caring for disabled children, in poor health, living with violence, carrying debt they have no chance of paying off or in poor/insecure housing and employment. They may also not speak English very well or be dyslexic or have learning disabilities. They may have a whole range of vulnerabilities that they need help with including help parenting a child with unexplained emotional and behavioural difficulties.

I don’t want to make this an article about the destructive effects on families of policies that are ‘rebalancing’ our society so that we all become ‘economically productive units’ but it is a fact that these policies are really hurting many of the ‘just about managing’. Social workers may feel powerless when faced with the effects of these policies and may not have the resources to meaningfully address the difficulties of those affected but it is an undeniable fact these policies are having a hugely detrimental effect on the mental health of many of our children. (See http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/news-and-blogs/press-releases/nine-homes-by-the-age-of-nine-–-housing-instability-marks-lives-of#163961_20170330102705)

When supporting families in dire circumstances, it is tempting for the social worker to take on the role of ‘expert’, stick a label of ‘incompetent’ on the parent without acknowledging the role of factors beyond the control of social worker or parent on the child’s difficulties. Parenting classes are a rite of passage for parents in this situation. Having being on an excellent but wildly inappropriate Troubled Families Programme this is emotive territory for me. There may be no money for anything else but in my view it is unethical to send parents on parenting courses without a very clear idea of the child’s/families difficulties and how the course will help in all spheres including around personalised health support.

The ‘nature vs nurture’ debate.

Where to start…
Trying to find answers for a child’s difficulties is such a highly contested area and moves well beyond the social work world. This contest is fought out for example in the arenas of genome sequencing and brain scanning and there are also a small number of clinical trials challenging myths that have informed whole policies including policies on social work training. (See http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10803-015-2680-6 ) There are ‘dirty tricks’ including presenting brain scans of children brought up in environments where they have been extremely mistreated,used to evidence harm caused by parental incompetence.

This battle is also fought by people based on their own difficult experiences of childhood or of parenting a child with unexplained and profound difficulties for whom they have been unable to get help. Few players do not have strongly held beliefs or professional reputations at stake.
Clinicians are grappling with the implications of this in terms of clinical practice. Policy makers have identified a tsunami of demand and know there are very limited clinical resources with the expertise to make these calls for individual children.

As an example of the difficulties clinicians face there are two diagnoses for virtually the same set of symptoms. Attachment disorder for the children of the disorganized, unresponsive parent living in poverty that is unable to parent their child successfully (cause – parental neglect) and late diagnosis Autism/Asperger Syndrome possibly with a demand avoidance profile for the children of ‘competent’ parents. (cause – as with all the Autisms largely genetic with a possible in-vitro environmental element).

Fraudsters abound with ‘bleach cures’ and dubious ‘therapies’ and families are desperate for answers. There are virtually no diagnostic paths for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. No matter what the circumstances of their parents, it is, in my view, likely that the low priority given to mental health services for children has all-but failed a generation of self-harming, anxiety immobilised adolescents and their families, many with unidentified disabilities and difficulties such as sensory and sleep disorders,. (https://epi.org.uk/report/time_to_deliver/) It is also likely that low self-esteem is a major contributing factor for many children/young people with ‘behavioural’ difficulties. Somewhere in the mix comes trauma – the ‘emotional wound’ type and the ‘neglect’ type and the type you ‘recover from’ and the type you ‘learn to live with but never recover from’. The good news where trauma is concerned is that recovery is often possible with the right support unlike disability which is life-long.

Imagine what is like for a parent really struggling to get help for their child to be told the child’s difficulties are ‘on your head’, caused by ‘trauma’ and by a social worker to boot and yet many social workers believe this is their call.

What is the Social Workers role?

It may or may not be true that there is widespread mis-diagnosis of ADHD, ASD, Attachment and anxiety and similar disorders but it takes another clinician to make this call for an individual child and to generalise you need evidence of widespread mis-diagnosis via randomised clinical studies or equivalent.

I believe when trying to help a young person with profound emotional, behavioural difficulties social workers should be alert, question, look for guidance from clinical colleagues, raise concerns where you have them, provide personalised support to the best of your ability, fight for their clients rights for good support including good clinical support but you should always stick to your area of competency. The ability to make clinical diagnoses as a result of trauma just does not fall within it.

Why don’t social workers have a sense of humour?

I had a very interesting conversation with a young parent recently and she was happy for me to tell you what she said.

We were talking about why relationships between parents and social workers can get so bad so quickly. Just what is going wrong? Obviously it is often a difficult and tense time for parents and social workers to try and talk about really important things involving people’s children and lifestyles, particularly if there are court proceedings looming and on going.

But at the end of the day we are all human. And we should be able to talk to one another as humans.

Is this another consequence of the ‘child rescue narrative’ that seems to be driving so much of current care proceedings? Sally’s experiences seem very common; a lot of parents complain that their behaviour and reactions are consistently seen in a negative light, whereas similar behaviour from professionals (such as being late to contact) is excused or explained by external events (such as traffic jams).

‘Sally’ speaks

Why don’t social workers have a sense of humour? Has it been removed from them? My partner and I coped with difficult situations by making light of it. I will give you an example

We were asked some intrusive questions about our sex lives and we tried to make a joke about it. It would have really helped if the social worker could have reacted in a more relaxed way, rather than making it obvious that she was shocked and upset by what we said.

It goes beyond ‘having a sense of humour’ . I really noticed that everything we said or did was seen in the most negative light possible.  So making lighthearted comments or jokes was used against us.

I know this is a serious situation and it isn’t always the right thing to try and joke about. But sometimes if we were scared or nervous we would try and lighten the mood. But anything we said that we thought was obviously a joke was taken seriously.

My partner jokingly kissed my neck and scooped me into his arms during an assessment. The assessor wrote that she thought we were intending to have sex in the office! and that we probably indulged in ‘inappropriate sexual activity’ in front of our child.

Sticks and Stones….

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

I have been thinking a lot in the aftermath of the EU Referendum, about how we speak to and about each other and the impact that has on our willingness to listen and try to understand. Most people, it seems to me, will ‘mirror’ the attitude and responses of the other in conversation – if you go in fighting, you will encourage a combative response. But what is the impact of this on the subject matter under discussion, on the prospects of shared understanding? Particularly in an arena such as a family court in care proceedings where the issues under discussion are going to impact on adults and children for the rest of their lives, or even into the next generations.  Cross examination should never be perceived as a ‘game’ – if it is, it’s a game that no one wins. 


The impact of the adversarial system of cross examination on social workers giving evidence.

I had an interesting chat with a social worker when I represented a LA last week. She had been in her post seven years so I simply assumed she had lots of experience in giving evidence in court and being cross examined. I was very surprised when she told me that my assumption was way off – in that 7 years she had given evidence on just two occasions, and the last one was 3 years ago. She had never received any training in how to present evidence in court or deal with cross examination and felt that the necessary support from managers at court was sometimes lacking.

She said that she felt that a lot of lawyers treated it as a game or a piece of theatre and a brutal cross examination was very difficult for social workers to cope with. Of course, for those of us who conduct contested hearings day in, day out we do become habituated to our work and probably de-sensitised. As lawyers we probably need to be more aware of this and more aware of the consequences for those we cross examine. The SW explained that she felt very nervous about the prospect of giving evidence in what we both agreed was a finely balanced case and it was giving her real pause for thought about whether she wanted to carry on with her job.

She, like many other SW was juggling a case load well in excess of what could be sensibly managed. It is little wonder that SW get apprehensive about how to defend their statements in court if they don’t have sufficient time or proper supervision to get their case in order. Is our current system really the best way we can devise to protect parents’ rights to a fair trial but without losing focus on the needs of the child?

What is the current training offered to social workers about how to cope with giving evidence in court? This social worker had none. Is it different for the newly qualified social worker today? Or should the focus rather be, not to train social workers to better withstand aggressive cross examination, but rather moving more explicitly to an inquisitorial system to try to determine what is best for children.

EDIT July 13th

Thanks for this comment from a reader who wished to remain anonymous. I am surprised again to hear that the police also get no formal training!  This does appear to be another example of the dangers of ‘silo working’ – when we have little or no appreciation about how other organisations work.

One reader commented that he suspected that social workers got no formal training about giving evidence, in the same way that most police officers get no training – which again, came as a surprise to me. There are some local schemes where magistrates go to talk to social work students about the court system and decision making but it seems clear that this is a fairly ad hoc arrangement and dependent on the availability and good will of the magistrates.

Happy Edit July 20th

As a result of Twitter conversations prompted by this post, hopefully I will be visiting Huddersfield next year with some other barrister colleagues, to take  part in some training for social workers in a mock trial. Useful evidence that Twitter is not just a playground for the bored and mad.

Why don’t Social Workers Feel Safe About Speaking Out?


And what can we do to help?

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

The post arises out of an interesting Twitter discussion between lawyers and social workers on Sunday 20th February 2016.

In essence, we were discussing the forthcoming Child Protection Conference, organised by the Transparency Project on 3rd June 2016 in Birmingham ‘ Where Do We Go From Here?’ following on from last year’s successful event: ‘Is the Child Protection System Fit for Purpose?’

What was sobering and worrying for me, is that one of the social workers who came last year discussed how she had not felt safe to reveal that she was a social worker, given what she perceived as an atmosphere at the conference which was very negative and hostile towards her profession. This was alarming as I had naively thought we had successfully worked hard to create a safe and respectful environment to allow people to speak .

During our Twitter discussions the social worker elaborated further about just how draining it is to feel constantly blamed and discredited for the failings of an entire system and how those attacks quickly become personal. She spoke of being ‘hated’ on line and discussed how she had been attacked and vilified to extent that she had to disengage from debate on many occasions.

She raised a further very troubling point; that policies on use of social media set down by local authority employers are extremely strict and in effect prohibit social workers from engaging in even general discussion. This view was confirmed by a number of other social workers on Twitter who pointed out that they were posting anonymously.

This raises for me some very troubling issues; both general and particular.

The general issue – Why can’t social workers speak out?

I clearly have a rosy tinted view about the freedom of speech for social workers as those I have been exposed to recently have been feisty, engaged and very outspoken; see this post on my attendance at the Promoting Humane Social Work Conference in February.

However, I can understand the position is very different for a social worker employed by a local authority who is subject to a strict policy about engagement on social media. No one wants to risk their job or their reputation for a Twitter conversation.

I have not conducted any detailed research into local authority social media policies but my cursory investigations suggest the following:

Superficially social media and the use of it,  is seen as a ‘good thing’: for example, this policy from the Local Government Association says:

The LGA is committed to supporting local government colleagues to help realise the full potential of social media. We believe that, used correctly, social media is a powerful tool helping to drive cultural, political, economic and social engagement. It is also a key communications tool for local authorities and highlights their commitment to openness and transparency.

But it’s not clear that this support is translating into general practice. It is also likely that any existing policies are not a result of long gestation: research in 2013 showed that 43%  of local authorities had no policy about use of social media.

And regardless of the policies themselves, certainly the interpretation of those policies by the social workers on Twitter on Sunday night, was to find them either prohibiting outright, or inhibiting significantly engagement on social media for employees of a local authority.

It was a sobering wake up call for me; I have often complained that social workers won’t speak out and I was disappointed at how few engaged with the first Child Protection Conference. I had not appreciated what forces may have marshalled against them to prevent their engagement. The issues of cost, getting time off work AND perceiving that you cannot speak out and keep your job are pretty powerful forces against your engagement.

The specific point – what can we do to encourage social workers to come to the conference?

I think we need to look at the conference ground rules again with care and make sure the message is going out that everyone who comes is entitled to speak freely and to feel safe while doing so.

We ought to be able to disagree with each other and yet still recognise and respect our essential humanity. No one should feel that a disagreement is a personal attack. We need to experience constructive criticism as an opportunity for change and improvement, not as an excuse to sink further into the culture of blame and shame, which already casts a long and toxic shadow over debate in this area. 

But probably the most important thing is to engage directly with the professional bodies that represent social workers  – what support are social workers getting from their professional bodies? What’s the message they are getting about how and when they can engage?

Because this is vital. We can’t make changes if some of the people crucial to the debate feel scared to talk.

I will see what responses I get and hope to update this post.


The Children Act 1989 – deeply flawed legislation?

We are grateful for this post from Patrick Philips, a retired child protection social worker of many years experience who was prompted to write this response to our post  – A system in continual crisis. He is concerned that the Children Act 1989 has created poorly evidenced definitions of ‘abuse’ which can lead to children being removed from their parents when they should not have been. 

It’s enough to make one ask what is driving the maintenance of such a system in the absence of evidence that it makes matters better for children rather than worse.


The 1989 Children Act and decision making – do we need to protect children from the child protection system?

I worked in Social / Children’s services, particularly in Child Protection, between 1971 and 2013 and  I suggest that the approach of the 1989 Children Act is deeply flawed.

I do not dispute that children should be protected: the question is how, given that many well meaning efforts make matters worse for children, not better. Crucially, how are abused children to be discovered and how are decisions to be made for their protection?

Whilst I have extensive first hand experience of the system and do not accept that decisions are made according to a conspiracy, I can well see why some people might resort to such an explanation.

Some of the most important research, in my view, in social work decision making has largely been ignored, as well as changes which have taken place since that research was done. Dingwall R, Eekelaar J and Murray T of the Oxford Centre for Socio-Legal studies found that the only member of the child protection network who actually focussed on evidence (by which I mean forensic evidence, not research ‘evidence’) was the Local Authority Solicitor.

Her/His filtering of cases / insistence on hard evidence constituted an important barrier so that a large proportion of cases never made it to court. A great deal of pressure had to build up in the inter-agency network before action was likely to be taken (‘The Fruit Machine’). This involved the development of a good deal of consensus (though this could involve ‘dominant ideas’ rather than proper appraisal of evidence, as Stevenson and Hallett later identified).

The Dingwall research was first published in 1983 (‘The Protection of Children’). The 1969 Children and Young Persons Act was then the principal act governing child protection (with other acts).


The 1989 Children Act; the end of reliance on ‘forensic’ evidence

The Oxford studies noted that there seemed to be little difference between the circumstances of abused and neglected children remaining with their families and that of children who were removed. So long as decision making processes are erratic, one would expect this to be the case. The extent to which Child Protection authorities are prepared to remove children should affect the number of children left in abuse and neglect with their families. However, if it is not based on effective decision making processes it may have increase the number of children removed from their ‘natural’ families who were not being neglected or abused, or whose neglect and abuse will be even worse once removed than it was at ‘home’ instead of increasing protective removal.

In my experience, Local Authority Solicitors now, operating under the 1989 Children Act, hardly question the extent of evidence available to show that a child is being abused or neglected. This is understandable: the 1989 Act is drawn so widely that the mere opinion of a social worker (or their manager, more likely), that action is required is sufficient to meet it’s requirements. After all, if the professional social work manager’s opinion is that the child is being emotionally abused, the local authority Solicitor is hardly in a position to dispute that opinion, and may be instructed to take it as so anyway? I have presented cases to Local Authority legal representatives thinking the evidence to be questionable, only to find that the legal representative is pressing action even more than I was.

When the 1989 Act was in the process of enactment and implementation, I think the general view in social work was, in effect, that it was promising heaven on earth, and would never really be implemented. At the time I was responsible for policy and policy implementation, with others, in a very large Social Services Department. I was surprised that suggestions I made for the systematic identification of children “in need”, for whom the department now had formal legal duties, were completely ignored. However, after the death of ‘Baby P’ in 2007 a serious expectation that the 1989 Act could and should be literally implemented seemed to take hold. From then on the status of social work decision making also seemed to take a dive. Instead, managers increasingly made snap decisions on minimal and second hand information, instructing social workers accordingly.



I very much support the views expressed in Child Protection Resource that conspiracy theories in regard to adoption and child removal are wrong. However, the dynamics of the current system is bound to give the impression that there is a conspiracy, particularly as decision making today is just as erratic as in the Oxford research. The difference is that there is no back pressure from local authority solicitors as there used to be: cases are taken according to social work availability to take cases, and results are even more quirky, because there does not have to be the same build up of multi-agency pressure on Children’s Services as there used to have to be to produce action. Besides, there is a wider variety of people who may drive cases forward, usually (as Dingwall identified) because they regard the parents or family as discredited in some way.

I have experienced individual Judges, Children’s Guardians,Local Authority Solicitors, Doctors, Nurses as well as Social Work managers as driving cases forward for child removal on the basis of their own particular point of view rather than of collective assessment or evidence. Others involved are unable or unwilling to resist and to risk being discredited along with the parent if they do, however unjustified that discredit may be. Management domination of practice Social Workers are bound by a code of practice; breaching that code can lose them their job. However, that code of practice is only advisory on Social Work managers. Social Workers believing they are being instructed to take action which breaches their code of practice are advised that they may present the fact that they have been instructed to take that action in their defence, but action can still be taken against them.

Departments have to be very concerned with their own reputation, particularly considering the risk presented by government inspection. Workers may be instructed, for example, to make positive comment, or non at all, to inspectors. Whistle blowers are usually ‘discredited’ and dismissed. Another feature which is bound to enhance the belief in conspiracy theory is the way in which Social Workers etc are bound by gagging agreements during and following disputes with their employers. I have heard rumours that Local Authorities are spending very large sums of money in paying suspended workers and in settlements in disputed dismissal proceedings. I am not personally aware of any Freedom of Information requests in this area, nor what might the results indicate.

Consider the concerns raised by the Appeal Judges in re B-S , about the extent to which case presentation lacks proper evidence and exploration of options. I gathered from legal colleagues in court that they were surprised to encounter well researched and hard evidenced social work presentation in court. I suppose this indicates that the Appeal Judges’ concerns in re B-S were no surprise to lawyers operating in the system. However, a system in which the social worker’s first hand assessment and evidence is over-ruled by snap managerial decisions and in which social workers risk all in presenting any objection their instructions hardly encourages conscientious reflective working and organisation.


Social Work Training and the abuse of children by wrongful removal

This is ironic, given the extent of attention ostensibly given to ‘reflective working’ in social work training. However, my recent experience of social work training is that it is actually based on a narrow set of precepts and power relations.

There have been some hopeful signs; guidance issued about research to be regarded in Care Proceedings just before I left my department emphasises recent neuro-social approaches. These, and other newer ways of considering child development etc seem to me to have been of almost no attention in training taking place within only the last few years.

The extent to which social work can pretend to have an established basis for its practice remains debatable. Challenges to orthodox ways of seeing child development, for example, were not welcome. Ethical considerations and the impact on the child of ‘child observation’ by social workers in training were regarded as eccentricity on my part rather than as any appreciation of the child’s experience and perspective. To me, it is no wonder that social workers trained in that way can regard it as more satisfactory to remove children by the use of strangers in the middle of the night on suspicion of danger rather than to manage anxiety, assess properly and manage necessary removals with regard to the impact of the removal on the child as well as the need for safeguarding.

Attention to the negative impact of social work action on children has been shortlived in the past. In the late 1990’s it became commonplace in my experience to identify families in trouble because parents no longer felt they could set any kind of limits on their children’s behaviour as a result of their experience of child protection investigations. The ‘re-focussing’ exercise of the period attempted to reduce the extent to which almost all investigations began and ended as investigations without any family service or protective processes following. Within 5 years the emphasis had swung right back the other way and the re-focussing exercise seemed forgotten. It’s enough to make one ask what is driving the maintenance of such a system in the absence of evidence that it makes matters better for children rather than worse.

As I was leaving the job in 2013 the training pendulum had once again swung against University involvement in social work training, due to widespread dissatisfaction with their success in providing appropriate social work training. Employer domination of training processes must be equally suspect in light of the current system of employment and social work decision making. Social Work clients often find it astonishing that social workers and their managers make rapid judgements about matters as hard to define as ’emotional abuse,’ when they have no personal experience of child care or even family life.

In my earliest days as a Social Work Manager I was intrigued to try to identify the proportion of young social workers who thought that they had had any idea about what being a parent was really like before they had children. I only ever found one. This does not prevent most people, social workers and others, having very decided ideas other people not being good parents, views which are often mutual! Give such people the power, and other people loose their children.


Protecting children from the child protection system

I congratulate Child Protection Resource for the work it is doing, and I am impressed by the extent to which views are changing, even if that is no comfort to the latest generation of rescued children. In the UK we have, after all, a long and continuing history of ‘rescuing’ children from their parents to every variety of often abysmal future, from Barnardo, through other efforts at mass shipping of children to Australia, Canada, and to the specious identification of children to be removed in to care or placed in non-consensual adoption. Following re B -S, there must at least be less people now saying, as they were in 2013, that children from poor families not placed for adoption were being denied a great opportunity in their lives!

I am not suggesting that children should never be removed, and I see the ever swinging pendulum in the process of swinging away from child removal again. However, in my view the 1989 Children Act is pie in the sky and needs to be replaced with legal standards which more nearly reflect those expressed in re B-S, that is to set realistically measurable standards to govern the protection of children, rather than to push the law into ever less measurable levels of ‘abuse’ as Robert Buckland, QC, MP, Solicitor General curiously seems to advocate (The Times, 15 January 2015). Any reliable system also needs to recognise the impossibility of predicting abuse, a lesson one may draw from Eileen Munro’s early works in which she draws attention to the mathematics of risk assessment, false positives and negatives etc, but which she proceeds to ignore in her own advocacy of its use in social work (reference needed). The mathematics of ‘false positive’ identification would indicate even higher levels of mistaken removal than some of the conspiracy theorists in the field would have us believe, but not in the least due to ‘conspiracy’.

Knowing the fear that permeates the family lives of ordinary and especially materially poorer people of ‘Social Services’, I have been surprised at the extent to which that daily reality is hidden from view now that I am following an ‘ordinary’ life outside social work. Effectively this field of practice is shrouded in secrecy, occasionally breached by items such as BBC South East ‘Inside Out’on 2.2.2015 . In that piece Andrew Webb, Immediate Past President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said “the criticisms of our adoption system isn’t based on any evidence I can see that relates to children and their outcomes, it’s more a concern about whether parents should be given more chances”.

How can one explain such a statement from such a person? Is it possible he is really unaware of the harmful impact of wrongful removal from families of children, for the children? Has he never seen adoption and fostering breakdown statistics, nor heard of the Cleveland Enquiry Report or the consequences for children of the shipping children abroad? His approach in that interview demonstrates that some social work managers are prepared to say whatever they think will justify their position, sometimes in direct contravention of contrary evidence. I say this from direct experience over many years and in several situations. Under pressure, social workers also make up information to fill the gaps in their knowledge; a perfectly human thing to do, but which may have something to do with why parents so often think that their social workers are lying. Andrew Webb is facing neither the understandable pain of parents when children are removed, rightly and wrongly, nor the problem of making decisions at the right time and in the right way.

Andrew Webb’s approach gives the impression that his interest is in maintaining the Child Protection Industry and his own status within it. This may not be a feature of conspiracy, but social workers and their managers need jobs (and empires) in order to earn their living. They don’t get paid bonuses for removing children, but they do have to demonstrate that they are ‘protecting children’. Very often that simply means that if the child is thought to be ‘at risk’ at home that they have to be removed, without regard to whether this will make the child’s life better or worse. The long term suffering of a wrongly removed child is much less tangible than the immediate risk of yet another case in which ‘social workers did nothing’. In my experience, the requirement that the child must be removed because of risk, without considering whether this will make life any better for them has been quite explicit. On other occasions, I have been able to present the pros and cons so as to achieve the best solution, or at least the ‘least worst solution’.

In the same broadcast Peter Dale, who has long influenced my approach to Child Protection, says that he believes the British Government will have to apologise in future for the damage that is being done to children in England. Another scandalous era in British child protection practice is happening right now, ready to be exposed in future years. I hope that childprotectionresource.org.uk will contribute to the development of ideas about how that system might be replaced with one which is more likely to protect indubitably abused children without perpetrating terrible abuse on children whose circumstances may be less than ideal, but whose very real abuse is created by the very system which is supposed to protect them.

Patrick W Phillips, MA, LRCC

What’s it like to be a fostering social worker?

The social worker in the Family Placement Team

We are grateful to M. Bosch-Nevado for this insight into the challenges and frustrations of working as social worker supervising foster carers. 


What do I do?

There is a misconception among children’s social workers that fostering social workers don’t work that hard and just drink tea all day; I find that very annoying.

As a supervising social worker for fostering, we must build relationships with foster families; we get to know their household and their own children. We are there to support them all, although we may deal with the female foster carer more than with the male carer. We know the family well and we are in a position to comment on how a child/ren described in a referral may or may not, fit into that specific family.

We work out by the information that we are given from the duty and community teams, who the child may settle with the family, whether the carer can manage transport to school, contact for that child with their birth family and siblings and, most importantly, whether this family can meet their needs, in relation to the needs of other children placed there, ethnicity, transport, eating habits, bedroom space, etc. Sometimes colleagues will be stuck for a placement on duty, but they won’t be aware of the layout of a carer’s home. This can make the difference as to whether a child is placed with in-house carers or an independent agency.

Due to the lack of carers in the local authority, we have to place this children with private agencies at a huge costs for the local authority. I feel frustrated that agencies make money out of child protection issues. The government have a duty of care to all children and these companies should not exist. These private foster carers are motivated by money and not because they want to care and look after the most vulnerable children.


How do foster carers feel?

I also get to understand the frustrations that foster carers have, when working with local authorities, like when their views about a child aren’t taken on board. Some feel that they are not treated as professionals and some others complain about the multiple changes in social workers for both them and the children. One of my carers was concerned that, when she spoke to a social worker about her foster child’s wishes not to attend contact with his birth family because of the distress that it was causing him, she was told to encourage him to go and not to be silly. She explained she had done this, but the boy was adamant he didn’t want to go. The relationship between the adults became strained as the foster carers felt that the social worker was suggesting they had influenced the boy’s decision. This was a difficult for them, and for me supporting them through it.

Foster carers often feel angry that, despite being told they are professionals and part of a wider team, they are not treated as such. They feel that some social workers view foster carers as ‘glorified babysitters’ and don’t share all the appropriate information with them. How can they care for the child appropriately if they have not got all the information about the child? How can they protect, manage and support a child through the difficult times? After unsuccessful attempts to reach social workers, foster carers will often speak to the social worker’s manager or, if they feel they are being dismissed, will ask me to deal with it.

Many carers I’ve supervised become disillusioned with the system and social workers who state, during meetings and visits, that they will do things or make referrals to CAMHS, Counselling or any other agency, but then do not do it. One child had to miss a holiday due to a passport application not being completed on time, despite assurances from the social worker that it had been ‘sent off’. What is this message give to the child and the Foster Carer?


The pressures of the role

A colleague who joined the team recently from the duty team told me, “they think that the fostering and adoption teams do not do much, have endless cups of tea and have the perception that the social workers who enter these teams are winding down their careers”. Indeed, there weren’t many younger members of staff on that team. Thankfully, things are different in my team there is a range of workers – different ages, experiences and backgrounds.

She said that she used to think that too, but not anymore. She said that “I’ve done more weekends and late nights on this team and taken more work home with me than I had on duty”. Children’s social workers seem to lack awareness about our role; there have been many occasions where they’ve been confused by my presence at meetings.

Due to the high numbers of children coming into care, we feel pressure to complete assessments of foster carers as quickly as possible. This is difficult to manage, because of the in-depth nature of assessments and the other demands of our role: running ‘skills to foster’ training sessions, completing CWDC workbooks with carers, running support groups, duty tasks, completing initial visits and managing our own training and development, attending team meetings, event days to try to recruit more carers, often working evenings and weekends. There aren’t enough hours in the day, especially if you’re part time, like me. I wonder if there really is such a thing as a part time social worker!

It is still common to encounter incredulity from children’s social workers when you say you are very busy. I feel children’s social workers should receive more training about fostering and our role. Many will have children placed with foster carers and if they received helpful advice about what they should avoid doing and what information they should share, and with whom, there would be better relationships all around.


A day in in my work life looks like this

8.30am – I arrive at the office and look at my drop, to see if I have been left with any new initial visit files. I print off all the relevant paperwork for the day’s visits and a placement planning meeting. I also check and respond to any urgent emails and messages.

9:30am – I visit the home of someone who is acting as a referee for one of the foster carers I’m currently assessing.

11am – Placement planning meeting for a one year old child at the home of the foster carers. Both foster carers and a social worker from the child safeguarding team are present. No paperwork has yet been provided to the carers. As a priority, I informed the social worker that she needs to provide the foster carers with medical consent for any routine health checks or appointments the child may need.

12.45pm – I no time for lunch because I have to do all the recording in the computer about the visit to the referee, the planning meeting, and some recording that I left to do last week. I create a placement information record on the local social care system, then return calls to foster carers and social workers. I also have a chat to my manager about our upcoming disruption meeting. On a good day I make a point of trying to take a fifteen minute lunch hour, but this is a rare event.

2pm – Disruption meeting. This is a difficult process for foster carers and occurs when placements end abruptly without prior planning. In this instance, the carers asked for their foster child to be moved on. The placement had worked for several years but the carers were struggling to manage the child’s increasingly difficult offending behaviour.

4pm – I speak to the carers following the meeting to give them reassurance and support. I collect the child’s belongings they have brought to pass on to the new carers.

4.15pm – I set off to a supervisory visit with another of my foster carers. I’d have liked to catch up with my manager after the disruption meeting but I was running late.

4.45pm – Supervision visit. The carer is worried about a foster child with complex needs who has been with the family for the past seven years. The girl is now a teenager and issues around online safety, vulnerability and sexual activity are causing concern. I suggest strategies to help keep the young person safe and assure the carer that a social worker has made a referral to a family support worker who can undertake direct work with her. The young person also has ADHD and the carer is concerned about her level of concentration. I suggest speaking to a CAMHS nurse about the dosage of medication and arrange an appointment to discuss emotional health.

6.00pm – I set off home. My first appointment might be visiting a family where a child has recently moved in – most of my visits involve just a short drive When a child is first placed with an adoptive family, the support they receive is fairly intense, but as the family gel together we gradually reduce our involvement if things are going well.

7.30p – I have to go out to do an initial visit to a family that are interested in becoming foster carers. I get back home at 9.15pm, absolutely exhausted and not looking forward to tomorrow.

Social Work over the last 60 years

There is an excellent article from September 2012 in the British Journal of Social Workers  by Dr Ray Jones of Kingston University – ‘The Best of Times, The Worst of Times: Social Work and its Moment’

You can read the full article here.

The summary says:

Social work in the UK has had a torrid time, castigated for not protecting children from risk and cornered as the rationer of scarce resources for adults. Over the past sixty years, it has struggled to create a strong and appropriate professional space and its identity and role have remained contested. This paper recounts the debates and dilemmas which have encompassed and engrossed social work, but also recognises that there is now a stronger platform in the UK for social work as a profession. The paper notes what is special about social work and how it might be promoted.

So you want to be a Social Worker?

An interesting perspective on the job of social worker can be found in Hilary Searing’s blog The Barefoot Social Worker, written from a radical and libertarian perspective.

She comments in her post So You Want to be a Social Worker?

Politicians, policy-makers and many middle class professionals are confused about the social work role. They seem ambivalent about the social worker’s use of authority and presume that all social work is simply ‘social care’, which is misleading. They choose to depict social work as a helping profession and as the answer to many social problems – including those that are an inherent part of the socio-economic system and require political action. Working class people, on the other hand, know that the provision of social services is closely linked with systems for monitoring, surveillance and control and are in no doubt about the social control function of social work.

Social work is not an easy job but there are many rewards for those who never lose touch with what is important – to understand and respect the life experience of clients and never forget the social and political context in which their problems arise. At the heart of social work is the task of alleviating the stress of clients living in poverty and in impoverished communities, where divisions arising out of class, ethnicity and religion are sometimes entrenched. Poverty and inequality are often at the root of many social problems and social work must recognise the part that class plays in perpetuating these problems.

She also poses the question – what has gone wrong with Child Protection?

Read the post here

She concludes:

My argument is that there needs to be a clearer focus on the acute end of the spectrum of children’s services. There is plenty of positive work going on but it does not get the support it deserves. The work is both challenging and rewarding and the existence of stable and supportive teams is crucial to the development of good practice. We desperately need strong, imaginative and constructive social work if Children’s Services are to improve their reliability in making the best possible decisions about seemingly intractable situations. 

Establishing Good Relationships

Establishing a good working relationship with your social worker is, of course, a two way street. It is the responsibility of both of you to try to make it  work, for the good of your child. If either of you is rude, dismissive or doesn’t seem to be listening, the relationship will struggle.

This doesn’t mean that either the parent or the social worker has to be 100% well behaved 100% of the time; this probably isn’t possible. We are all human and the parent/social work relationship has the potential to be difficult even at the best of times.

But if either person is aware that they haven’t behaved well then they need to apologise sincerely and take action to make things better.

Here is a helpful short video explaining the 3 necessary things to establish a good relationship of ANY kind.

Those 3 things are:


you have to commit to any relationship for it to grow


don’t be insincere, people will notice and it harms the relationship


if you are not talking opening and listening carefully to one another, the relationship can’t work.

Edit  – the point of this post was NOT to suggest that we ought to expect social workers to behave badly to the point that they fail to adhere to professional standards and ethical codes. The point being made was that the social work/parent relationship is one between two humans, working in often stressful and difficult situations. But if anyone feels their social worker has acted unprofessionally then they must complain about this kind of behaviour, it is not acceptable.

To read more about making a complaint about a professional, see our post here.


The danger of polarised positions

A failure to grasp the complex realities of child protection work.

Here is an interesting article from Ray Jones of Community Care who points out that the debate about child protection needs much more nuance than can be obtained from ‘headline grabbing simplicity’ about what social workers should be doing.

Read the article here.