On Social Workers

Sarah Lancashire  as Miriam Grayson in TV drama series  Kiri written by jack Thorne.  Her Dog represented her own needs.  

Shouldn’t our government and the well being of society be assessed above all by how it treats its child, the child in its care?  If the answer is yes then it stands to reason  that social workers should be the highest paid workers  in local government. 

He/she/they   are looking after the greatest asset of society – the next generation –   at their greatest time of need.  This may be difficult to read for those like me who have had hard experiences in care but it’s  possible to change the narrative and to see more clearly.  

Social workers walk into burning homes to save traumatised children. Social workers come face toface with adults whom they know are lying. Social Workers are on the frontline of  the emotionally distraught. Social workers are here to protect the family and that includes its children.  

Sarah Lancashire starring in Kiri written by Jack Thorne a tv series based on the drama of a social worker pushed to her limits. 

Social workers  are detectives charged with protecting families from self harming.  The weakest is harmed first. Social workers know more than they can tell. They see unspeakable things and hear untellable horrors.  They are guardians.  They are a force for good. They are healers.  And they are hated because they see us at our worst.

And so it stands to reason that social workers get  the same prejudice from society as young people in care. They need our support.  They need our compassioante critique.   I uderstand they have to carry policies they may not agree with. I understand most of all that I couldn’t do what they do. And, for all our well being,  someone has to. 

Sarah Lancashire in Kiri written by Jack Thorne. Kiri is  the first TV Drama Series (in the history of British Television)  starring a social worker.  

It is a noble profession. I know.  I see the students in my university and universities throughout the country. I  meet the social workers throughout the UK. When I speak about my experiences it is often not the social workers fault. it is the system they are in.  They are doing the best they can regardless of the pressure they are under.  This is heroic! 

And if we don’t support them with respect and compassionate critique how can the system change.  It is an exciting time to be a social worker.  Changes are afoot.  It has taken a lot for me to do what I do.  But I know it would take more strength, more inner resolve, more emotinal intelligence, to be a social worker.  I salute them.

56 thoughts on “On Social Workers

  1. On Question Time today, R4: a question regarding whether or not police should be armed. It brought up the problem of how best to deal with youth violence on estates and inner city areas. The politicians had their say, for and against, mostly informed as to the issues. Then the questioner, who happened to be a social worker, gave her response. She spoke such good sound sense. You knew she knew. Yes, Lemn, agree; social workers deserve our respect and should be listened to.

  2. Yes, just like nurses, social workers are constrained by policies. For those, of us, that enter such ‘professions’, with compassion and understanding, in our hearts, we live to regret working within such systems. Social workers and children are broken, nurses and patients are broken… the system needs to look, and listen to both parties involved. There are no winners, just losers to the leviathan!

  3. And they are just people like you and me mostly they are trying to do the best with what they have. What they have often isn’t much. I’m so glad you wrote this in their support.

  4. Such kind words after the shit you have been through ,( Norman ) , however I worked closely with S/ W and yes most do the best they can ,some don’t understand or care but yes I agree give credit to the one’s that have a heart ,
    Fail play you amazing human being x

  5. Thanks (a social worker who cares and who was privileged to see the young people of coventry express themselves with you).

    We also need to recognise the system is now one of cuts so brutal that of course it is broken, it brutalises its inhabitants, expecting their own resilience to see them through. Mine has so far. One day it might not.

    I know politics isn’t the whole answer, but it is parliament which frames the legislation which social work inhabits, everyone should vote for a party which shows some compassion for public services because, let’s face it, any one of us could need any one of them.

    • The system you speak of is the one I was speaking of too. That’s what I meant. You just said it better. You hit the nail on the head. I spoke to the children and families minister just a couple of days ago. And I have to say… if it wasn’t for John Gregg the director of childrens services at Coventry.. if it wasn’t for him and his team the television program would not have happened.

  6. I came out of care 40 years ago after 18 years and it breaks my heart as well as incredibly angry that so little has changed but am grateful to some inspirational social workers who gave me some faith – have been a social worker for 18 years and whilst not very good with complying with all the rules/red tape am truly grateful that I have supported some change with the families and children I have worked with – still so bloody far to go – but the anger still rages

  7. I worked with children and young people in care for most of my working life, and each time I became involved with a child my first thought was always- ‘how would I want someone to treat this child if they were mine.’ I carried this thought with me through Core Group Meetings, Case Conferences and Court proceedings, and I always ensured I was heard, and that the wishes of the young person themselves was heard, even if they didn’t feel able to express their views in person. Over the years I worked with several social workers who also shared this view. However, it is crucial to be honest and explain to a young person that even though they have expressed their feelings, it may not always be possible for them to have the positive outcome they would like, if this is not deemed to be in their best interest. Young people appreciate honesty, and honesty builds trust which is essential for any social worker’s relationship with a child in care. The young person also needs to know the social worker will be there to support them when things don’t go as they hoped. At present the expectation is for the child to fit the system, as a matter of urgency this situations needs to be reviewed and changed so that the system fits the individual needs of every child and young person. Only then will we be able to say we have a care system that really does care.

  8. Thank you so so much for this. I remember at university (12 years ago) being told…’you’re all going to be hated more then traffic wardens’. Actually, I never felt hate from the families I worked with and I loved every child
    on my caseload (translating that in my work with them), yet frequently dispaired at the system I was expected to work in. I also noticed you’d tagged Norman in your Facebook post and I’m assuming it’s THE Norman?! You’re a superhuman.

  9. Thank you, it’s stuff like this that makes me go back out and do it all again. We don’t always get it right and at times are constrained by the policies procedures and red tape. I’ve been in the job fo a long time. The thing That made the most sense was 25 years ago a young person in care said to me. Actively listen, don’t just wait for an opportunity to speak.

  10. The thing is the complexity of relationships and the human being: social work has always had the problem of its background: charity, patronage and very dubious and exploitative relationships between the classes. We’ve always had the knowledge of what makes humans thrive but we’ve chosen to market it as superior genes or whatever. You’re right: the fact that we have so many interest groups in city centres every weekend: the Sally Army, the fight ignorance about Islam people who are so pressured that they just become ‘end of times’ interest groups in the same way that the Hare Krishnas, Jehovahs Witnesses, Mormons and even some evangelical christians working in social work or the health service subscribe to the idea that things are rotten (but rather than use political structures and processes to increase representation and ameliorate things now, they don’t move, they’re petrified by dogma and don’t ‘do’ anything except observe and describe and this isn’t a proper use of knowledge, skills and education. Until we change this frozen world of the ‘superstition’ that Stevie Wonder realised was so toxic, while it isn’t challenged democratically, politically, we are all in the wrong, while one homeless person is ‘observed’ and not reintegrated into our potentially wonderful society, then we just allow the ‘gamers and gamblers’ on our lives and futures to blindly take us into oblivion. When you think about gambling, gaming and losing the plot at home at work in leisure, it’s all because we’re now too literal, too practical and yet fundamentally disorientated and distracted in everything we do. We think it’s cool to be half in and half out but really we’ve just accepted a move back in time to a feudal notion of society where assets are locked down, we think the rentier, gig and gang labour economy is a good base to build a future and it isn’t.

    Consider the woman who set up Bet 365…she came from a background of betting shop owners and when she went to Sheffield university and got a first class econometrics degree. That woman has a wonderful, brilliant potential…but….. why was noone able to teach her beyond the notion of gambling, betting and the next level of her ‘family heritage and inheritance’ to do something much better with her econometrics degree and online, it knowledge?

    Like looking at the inner cities, looking at the hope (as well as the ‘prey’) to see the little businesses, the markets, the ideas in the poorest as well as the more affluent and to say to herself ‘well local authorities aren’t supporting these great potentially valuable businesses with economic development, this isn’t just privilege and underprivilege really it’s all potential but it’s not being in any way supported any more because local authorities have been virtually privatised.

    What’s a good model of retailing in the city centre in the 21st century that will connect the disconnected, bring people together? I\t’s surely not the smash and grab view of society that I’ve been socialised to think explains success and failure replay it’s about distributing knowledge so everyone gets to become a contributor and the quality of everyone’s life (and gap) increases.

    She might have thought instead of how can I succeed, how can we all succeed?

    And then she might have gone on to consider the John Lewis model (I know they’re suffering now but that’s for the same reasons: greed and warehouse capitalism given too much respect) where each little business could become a 21st century viable business with an online and a face to face connection in a shop. Best of both creating something really new for more people, more of the time.

    We should be coming to gather and creating a really fertile ground that could be fantastically beautiful because it’s local, regional, national and international but we need accountability.

    The Bet 365 woman is essentially under the shadow of her family in the same way as the most underprivileged children are under the shadow of ‘family’. we’re obsessed with family in an unhealthy and ambivalent way.

    The Bet 365 inherited wealth principle is at the heart of what many politicians think is a ‘healthy economy’ but really they’re conning good people who are successful as much as they’re conning and exploiting the least able and excluded. It’s a kind of Made in Chelsea or Essex immortality instead of being able to become more than marketing segments throughout our lives.

    Everyone needs to evolve, not through marketed ‘experiences’ however soft or extreme but through learning about who we all really are and the responsibility we have to become individuals who can evolve and mature without embarrassment, shame or too much fear.

    We need a more mature society so we can value each other better.

    The one we have is shortening the lives and the life chances of everyone. Even the so-called ‘successful’ themselves because they’re as much in a hive as everyone else. Let’s have society for everyone where everyone can grow and we can benefit from a much better quality of life and making a living.

  11. Social workers have ruined many lives with their incompetence, lies and wickedness. Elsie Scully Hicks was a victim, as Baby P, Victoria Climbie and countless others. Their actions disgust me on many levels and this blog is offensive to the memory of all those children who have died, been disabled, mentally abused or lost their real families as a result of what they attempt to call social work. The sooner they look themselves in the eye and admit to their failures and the consequences of their inexcusable actions the better. If they are so great then send them to poor countries that actually need these alleged services, don’t let them run amok destroying families just to feed their monstrous egos.

    • Whilst we can abhor it when things go wrong, & they do in all kinds of spheres, it wasn’t a social worker who killed Peter Connolly or Victoria Climbie, they were murdered by the people who were supposed to love and care fo them.

      It also wasn’t a social worker who suggested Elsie Scully Hicks return to the care of the person who killed her, it was a judge, who could do nothing other than order that action, because the law said so.

      It’s fine to call out the profession, but whilst Sharon Shoesmith was vilified for it, she was right to say that social workers can’t stop people killing their children.

      • Are you confusing Ellie Butler with Elsie
        Scully -Hicks (birth name Shayla) Helen? Ellie Butler’s grandparents pleaded with the courts and the LA not to return Ellie to her father (he had a frightening known history of violence) and spent their life savings in legal fees trying to protect her and get PR. The grandmother has since died (probably from a broken heart after losing her little angel Ellie). As to Shayla, her grandmother was told by a Social Worker that she wouldn’t cope with three grandchildren (she already had two girls). Wouldn’t a caring society have implemented support for grandma, if given the chance to raise Shayla with her siblings, she then found she struggled to cope with three children? This is a very cruel country to live in where families of the working classes are concerned. Education, healthcare and social care seem to be slipping into oblivion. Crime, illegal drug dealing and use, arguing over Brexit, street murders etc, etc.. all seem to have taken over our once fairly pleasant society. To be caring and kind is seen as a weakness. Moral and ethical options to aid/improve society and humankind are pushed aside by the profiteers. Common decency is almost lost in some areas of Britain..

        • Thanks, you are right. I did confuse the Ellie Butler case, apologies. The law let Ellie Butler go home and it could not do otherwise.

          I think lots of things about kinship care, including that there should be more support sometimes, but I also acknowledge that looking after 3 children is a challenge for anyone.

          Your view of the country is bleak, as is mine at times, but I still think that most people are trying hard to do their best, including being kind to others.

      • Then can you tell me the reason SS exists if not to monitor children at risk and remove when they receive strong complaints of abuse or possible harm? There have been enough cases here in Sheffield where a grandmother has turned to SS, knowing a child is at risk of being harmed or is being harmed only for sws to tell them they are monitoring the situation while leaving the child in the home to be killed by the mother’s violent boyfriend or drink his single mother’s methadone despite pleas to remove from the father. They have the power to remove, it’s not difficult, and doesn’t take much in the way of common sense to realise the safety of a very young child is being compromised. Too easy to lie about good parents who simply might need help in difficult situations and take their children. I know there are some good sws but there are too many bad ones.

  12. I find it very sad when we are so disrespected by those we are trying to help . It’s very emotionally draining , I always ask people to work ‘with ‘ me but more often than not they scream , shout at us and even threaten us – and I’m not talking about the children and young people, the adults. Social workers often leave a house go off in their car appearing resilient and strong , then pull into a lay-by and cry . Respect and recognition from you is so helpful Thanks .

    • I won’t dispute that it is emotionally draining, but it is also a privilege to be a social worker, and to be invited into peoples lives, often at a time of crisis.

      The screaming, shouting and threats are fear.

      Once upon a time I thought people would be able to see that I wanted to work with them. I’ve started spelling it out.

      Every time I meet someone new (adult) I say that they don’t know me yet, but I will always work with them in a way that is kind and respectful, and I will be honest so there are no surprises. The proof will be in the pudding of course, but it helps to start knocking down the barriers early.

      I tend to find that children and young people will gauge whether I am authentic and trustworthy in their own time, after all, families with a lot of involvement will have their own perception of those professionals. I will though tell them that I will do what I say I will do, and if I don’t, they can call me out on it.

      I think my reluctance to be explicit earlier on in my career was a general distrust of people with a manifesto of themselves – I always found the people who told me “what you see is what you get” were more complicated than anyone!

      The people I work with (in child protection) are the most vulnerable in our society, there are very few people who deliberately harm their children, and the rate of patricide hasn’t increased over the last 100 years if I am correct. Most parents who come to the attention of services have had their own childhood interventions. We know what works, early intervention, and from universal services. We just don’t have it, instead we have years of cuts and austerity whilst we bailed out bankers. BUT social workers are (or should be) activists and that is more and more necessary in a world where yonks of neoliberalism has returned us to the concept of the undeserving poor of Victorian times and food banks are some kind of normal that politicians uses as photo ops.

      It is hard to be a verbal punch bag, & I have no problem telling people that, it isn’t what I come to work for. We have to tell people what our boundaries are. More social workers should practice without being defensive but that needs supportive managers. I completely accept that some people hate social workers, and some have good reason too, others will tell me they don’t like social workers but I’m ok. That’s the key isn’t it, this is all about relationships, & I hope there is somewhere in this slightly tangental comment that tells anyone reading this that wherever we come from, we need to work together, to reform a system that is far from perfect and which does it’s own damage.

    • I am not going to respect any sw (or other ‘professional’) who lies about me for example in court to remove my children and then put them at risk by other lies. I am not going to respect these people when they cover up an incident in which my 11 year old son is pinned to the floor by a male care worker and receives bruising to his upper arms – bruising seen by a police officer. Imagine if I’d done it. I am not going to respect a local authority that denies their sws have lied when a complaint has been made and conclusive evidence presented aware I am unable due to a lack of funds to take them to court. I am afraid such situations cloud my judgement.

      • I completely understand that.

        I am always curious about a whole profession being written off, when for example doctors, lawyers, police officers are not, even tho’ there have been issues for all of those professions which have had a dire impact upon the lives of families.

        It is a genuine query/curiosity because all of those professionals have power & intervene in the lives of families.

  13. I found this difficult to read and I understand why you’ve written it – it’s true. In amongst the policies are some amazing people who really care what happens to the child. The really brilliant thing now that is happening and creating change is that more and more care experienced people are in there working on the inside and often some don’t even or ever share that they are #CEP; they are like the undercover spies in WW2. They are learning about the other side and they are weaving magic.

  14. Loved the programme this week, kids in care so rarely have a true voice – the system thinks it gives them a voice through the looked after child reviews but they know what to say and what ‘professionals’ don’t want to hear, which is the truth about how the system fails them, how their ‘corporate parent’ is often more damaging than their own birth family was. I work with kids every day who have had multiple moves, often suddenly, just as the kids said in the programme. It’s inexcusable. And the blame on the child for placements failing, the focus on sanctions and rewards for ‘behaving’. It depresses the hell out of me how little understanding of attachment and the emotional impact most workers and carers have. I loved how you helped those kids say it as it really is. And how much your own history still hurts, we like to say ‘haven’t they got past that yet?’ I will show your programme to students and social workers as it was raw emotion right there, so powerful to see, impossible to read and understand from a book. Thank you for doing the programme.

  15. Yes, all praise to John Gregg, and Team, at Coventry! They showed true grit, and gained a lot of respect, for allowing the documentary to air. This is the exact way to improve any public service.
    Being transparent should become the deciding criteria underlying any, and every service policy, or guidelines that purport to be beneficial to vulnerable people.

    Unless the public are aware, of what goes on behind closed doors, we are not living democratically.

    I REMEMBER WHEN, as an adult, I was asked by a doctor, “Why do you refer to, (yourself) acute illness, as a Case. I guess old habits die hard!

    Please note, all medical practitioners;







  16. Dear Wendy
    I agree with your view that the grandmother should have been offered support if found to be struggling with 3 children. In my opinion, it was never the right of social services to make such a decision about refusing grandparent involvement. However, I’m not surprised by their decision. I have already contacted an eminent social worker (a few years ago), saying that social workers and children, are missing out on fantastic family support of some grandparents.
    When I tried to offer support for my grandson (my son previous partner suffered mental health difficulties; was a compulsive liar), I was told that “Mom did not want my involvement”. This, was her right. Meanwhile, we witnessed our grandson suffering very badly through a dozen house moves, (she didn’t pay rents and had many evictions), and so much more, all before he was 5yr old. I would not condone removing a child from a mother whereby mother/child support can help enormously.

    Unfortunately, I cannot agree with your view that we used to live in a society that sounds so wonderful.

    As a child that spent 3 months in residential care, (and I lived in a very abusive household), my experience was of a very unfair society, whereby vulnerable people have no voice and are subject to further abuse. My parents were not bad people. They were lower working class. They had 6 children; no benefit handouts in those days, thus they worked both full-time and part time jobs each!!! Alas, being so darned exhausted, drinking and smoking to cope, as ever, we children also suffered horrendously.

    Not a lot has changed in society. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. Education is passed down by the richer, brighter teachers who most often have no idea of what goes on behind closed doors.

    We perpetuate the working classes, and under classes as having less opportunities, more low self esteem trying to get by in a very unfair society.

    I do feel technology is bringing about some changes for the better. It will take time. However, opening debates, allowing all to have a voice, is a very good start. It is also very democratic!

  17. I will not apologise for saying this is as far from the truth as anything I have ever read. There is no excuse for misrepresenting good parents by making false claims, lying and twisting the truth, and that goes for all ‘professionals’ involved in such as care proceedings as well as treating parents like the proverbial and then the local authority denying this despite being presented with absolute proof knowing the parent does not have the funding to take the matter to court and sue the local authority while the local authority has endless funds to turn to. When it is denied sws lied but just gave incorrect information to the court, doesn’t that mean to say that they are incompetent if so much information was given to the court especially when these ‘professionals’ are referring to historical records held by SS? I would laugh at this if not so serious. I saw the programme on TV last week, very good, but a lot was held back, only showing children it was right to take into care, not those taken by sws making those false claims against parents. I doubt this comment will be published.

  18. What Wigan Council put me and my 2 grieving sons after their dad died by suicide in January 2015 was dangerous and unlawful. My sister knew Simon was going to end his life over Christmas 2014 but instead of Evelyn getting my sons’ dad the support he was obviously asking for, my sister contact wigan council and a locum GP and lied I was part of Simon’s suicide plan. After Simon died, my sister asked Dr Martin Kavanagh for tablets to put into my food, so it looked like a failed suicide bid and I would be sectioned. The GP did not know me and my sister lives in Scotland, so I am unsure how my sister was able to contact a new GP from Greater Manchester. The Social Worker and GP advised my sister to get me into a coma, so procedures could be followed as if I was a risk, then get me sectioned and made homeless. Somehow, the social worker convinced my daughter that she had been given parental rights to put my 2 grieving sons into care and I was stopped from having any contact with my 2 sons because of lies about my mental health from my own sister. The Family Law Solicitor from Stephensons Solicitors lied to me that I had to attend court to pick my 2 sons up from my daughter’s home after having mental health assessments and I was misdirected to attending Manchester family court, where the social worker lied in her opinion I was mentally ill and too dangerous to go near my 2 sons unsupervised. Lies about my mental health was written within my records at Claire House in Ince, after my MH Assessments proved that I do not suffer from any mental health issues because of a suicide. The Greater Manchester social worker was allowed to write a false MH Diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia within my records one day after Scotland Council confirmed in an email to wigan council that The Special Guardianship Order made at Manchester family court is not lawful in Scotland under Scottish law. This lead to my sister colluding with Wigan Friends and Family Assessment teams and my new GP, to lie about my mental health at wigan contact centres, in an attempt to get my contact sessions suspended and New Orders made through a Scotland Family Court, so wigan council could supervise me in Scotland! What an horrific and dangerous 4 years of my life, that I had stolen off me by social care teams after a suicide! I was misdirected to mental health services after family court ended and this is how a false MH Issue was allowed to be written within my records at false MH Assessments for family court.

      • It is also defamatory, since it names people & professionals involved in family law case, & makes potentially slanderous allegations. The story can still be told but I would counsel some redaction/anonymisation.

  19. Social workers are a bunch of self absorbed liars with an overinflated opinion of themselves . They don’t offer support and help they take children wherever possible even when there are better options. They don’t go into burning buildings and certainly do not deserve to be ranked alongside police officers and nursing staff .

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