New report offers insight into pressures faced by 'stressed and overloaded' social workers
Writing for ITV News, the chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers Bridget Robb says a report on social work in the UK offers an insight into how stressed, overloaded and under-resourced social workers have become.
MPs are today undertaking a public service by removing the lid from the pressure cooker that is social work in the UK.
Five years on from the convictions of a mother and two men for their parts in the death of 'Baby P', the Inquiry into the State of Social Work offers insight into just how stressed, overloaded, under-resourced and beyond breaking point social workers have become.
Baby Peter’s story is familiar to many close observers of our media – he had suffered more than 50 injuries over an eight-month period, during which time he was repeatedly seen by Haringey Children's Services and NHS health professionals.
Social workers save lives - sometimes literally - by working alongside people who much of society would rather forget. So they felt just as saddened, appalled or frustrated at the missed opportunities in Peter’s case as the public, media and political classes. They too wanted improvements to the service they offer.
What MPs have said in publishing this report, however, is that an apparent once in a generation opportunity has been missed.
In a chilling indication of the fine line social workers tread each day, one practitioner with a caseload of 60 told MPs about a particular case he was grappling with:
I have niggling concerns about the mum and her two children but I don’t have the time to go back frequently to tease out the situation.
That social worker doesn't know what he might be missing and nor did the social workers who worked with Tracey Connelly, Peter's mother who was hiding the fact two men were living with her and her son in that Haringey house in 2007.
Social workers told MPs about "the corners we have to cut" to try and cope, and about constantly increasing numbers of children entering the system – care applications are up 70% since 2007. “I’ve never known it like it is now – just impossible," said one.
This parliamentary report emerged from a survey undertaken by the British Association of Social Workers in 2012, in which 1,100 social work professionals revealed unmanageable caseloads and fears that service cuts would lead to avoidable deaths.
It is not that there hasn't been change since 2008, but that reforms focused on new organisations rather than better resourcing have had little impact – one described "a complete disconnect between what’s happening on the frontline and what’s going on elsewhere".
While Rome burned, people fiddled. Worse still, people fiddled during a recession and subsequent period of austerity, meaning that the rising numbers of kids coming into care as a consequence of council fears about 'another Baby P' coincided with huge cuts to council budgets.
Social workers don’t want to fail – and indeed most will point to real successes in their day-to-day work – but failure by the standards of political and public expectation are inevitable when the impossibility of their task goes unacknowledged and the extent of the solution is so manifestly inadequate.
Bridget Robb is the chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers.
Her views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News or Peterborough Tribune.
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