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The social work task – dealing with drug addicts, sex abuse and home makeovers

The final programme in the three-part Protecting our Children series on BBC2 gave further insight into some of the difficult cases that arise so often within children and families social work.

Dealing with drugs
The optimism and determination displayed by the social worker working with the drug taking mother, supporting and developing her ability to change and become a capable (drug free) carer, shone through, as did her emotional resilience in accepting change was not going to happen quickly enough for the baby. She worked hard to support this mother, challenging management to allow time for such change to occur. The social worker’s distress was apparent when the regular contact – weekly visits – she had fought for and obtained was received negatively by the mother who saw this as a punishment and not the (unusual) opportunity it was.

Such cases remind us of the recent release of national figures which suggested a huge amount of children were waiting to be adopted, a revelation that led to significant negative media coverage. This baby could have fallen into these statistics and be seen by the public as a baby waiting to be adopted rather than a child for whom there is a clear plan for permanence with its grandmother.

Sex abuse concerns
It was good to see a male social worker (there are far more women in the profession than men) doing the very difficult job of ensuring a child’s immediate safety following suggestions from another professional that this child may have experienced sexual abuse by a resident registered sex offender, the mother’s partner.

How good to hear the plausible and, dare I say, ordinary conversation between the social worker and this offender who clearly wanted to stress his innocence in front of the cameras. And how professional and brave was the social worker in challenging his statements.

It was stressed by the social worker and his manager that the sudden removal of children in such circumstances is rare. This was a relief as there was a little anxiousness about the public perception of removing children so suddenly. Overall, this highlighted the difficulties faced by social workers undertaking urgent assessments and dealing with parents/carers who are unwilling to work with social services. The child’s safety is paramount.

A home fit for a child
The case which perhaps stood out in this third part, however, featured a co-ordinated intervention of several agencies to help a struggling mother to make changes in her flat that would ensure it was habitable for her daughter.

The co-ordination and efforts of all agencies involved resulted in a successful outcome and offered, as a finale for the series, an example of the success of so many social work interventions. A picture of her sparkling flat, complete with a subtitle reporting the daughter’s return home from her aunt’s home, was the closing frame of an excellent series.

But will the public dwell on this and celebrate a social work success – an example of what happens on a daily basis across the country – or will they be talking today in pubs, offices and shops about the “terrible drug taking mother” or the “paedophile”?

This programme offers merely a start in the process of widening or possibly changing the public perception of social work but it does provides a platform for us to build on. BASW wants to hear your opinions of the series, of the cases chosen and the future for how the public perceives your work. It is all of our responsibilities to continue to tackle negative images of social work.

Finally, a very well done to Bristol for opening its doors to the BBC, to Annie Hudson, director of Children and Young People’s Services for Bristol City Council, and to the wonderful social workers who, for all our sakes, worked with a camera crew pursuing them for over a year!

And thank you to the BBC for making these documentaries. The level of interest, on Twitter and elsewhere, has been extremely high. Let’s keep the debate going.

Sue Kent, BASW England professional officer

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