Social Services

Again, the UK seems to be falling under the spell of hysterical moral outrage. A few weeks ago it was Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand who had roused the ire of the public (not that they are in any way excused, but what on earth possessed thousands of people to add their complaints to the already lodged ones?)

Now it’s Baby ‘P’.

Some of my friends have joined the Facebook group ” Campaign to get justice for Baby P“. I’m not sure what the point of such a campaign is to be honest. The only reason we know about the case is that the mother and the two men involved have been tried in a court of law and found guilty. There are at the last rough count three enquiries into the situation, not to mention the whole media circus which has led to the calls for sackings and all-but lynching of anyone who was anywhere near the family.

There are some islands of sanity in this deluge – notably the eloquent Unity at Ministry of Truth, and Aaron at Tygerland – but I’m just glad that I’m working at home this week instead of having to put up with inane chatter about the whole thing from anyone I have to avoid shouting at.

I have never had to deal directly with Social Services myself, but I do know people who have. In one case that I know about (not in West Sussex), Social Services were overly cautious about taking a child into care. Two years after they backed the abusive parent in a custody hearing, they have removed her after incontrovertible evidence came to light. In another (also not in West Sussex), a child was taken into care and the parents spent a long hard battle to show that they were not guilty of abuse.

Social Workers are damned either way. If they are too cautious, then it only takes the odd case to make them look complacent. If they are too protective of children, then they are accused of ‘stealing’ kids in order to make up imaginary quotas for fostering or adoption. The main problem with their job is that it’s rarely black-and-white. A child can be accident prone. A seemingly respectable parent can be a sadist behind closed doors. Children can lie, and they can also be unbelievable when telling the truth. It’s all very subjective and there must be many marginal cases all of the time.

It’s not a job that I could deal with, as most of my day-to-day work involved precision and clear yes/no decision-making. Even politics as a profession often comes down to a more objective view than a lot of the tough situations that Social Work involves.

What makes the job harder, of course, is that it is unpopular and difficult to recruit for. Areas with known problems have an even harder time, and those with unfilled vacancies are going to end up with backlogs and high stress. The pay is hardly fantastic, and if you make a mistake either way you could end up on the cover of half-a-dozen tabloids. Unfortunately, of course, we need social workers because there are a large number of children and vulnerable adults who are at real risk and who need some kind of intervention.

However, let’s not get facts involved. Let’s not try to understand how the real world works, or even consider for one moment that hindsight is a lot clearer than prediction. Let’s just have a media-inspired national panic and collective howl. It’ll make us feel better, even if it solves nothing (apart from declining circulation figures, of course).


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