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Prof Nick Frost - Focus on failure rather than successes is unfair

Social workers must challenge the “discourse of failure” upon which the profession is judged and instead celebrate the “heroic professionals” trying to change lives, a child protection head said.

Addressing delegates at BASW's England conference and AGM in Bristol, Nick Frost, Chair of both Bradford and North Yorkshire’s safeguarding children boards, criticised government ministers, journalists and Ofsted for assuming social workers were to blame.

The actual reality, he said, was that social workers were the people working hard in challenging circumstances to prevent children from coming to harm.

Frost faced a hostile media last year when Bradford’s Safeguarding Children Board’s serious case review into the death of tragic-four-year-old Hamzah Khan was criticised by children’s minister Edward Timpson.

He said comments by Mr Timpson and Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, who claimed the state was “failing in its duty to keep our children safe”, were unhelpful.

Frost, who is Professor of Social Work at Leeds Metropolitan University, said: “This is a deficit view of the work we do. There are about 60 deaths of children a year in England and Wales at the hand of their parents.

“Each one is a tragedy, but that doesn’t mean the system is failing. Where is the weighing up against the thousands of children that are safeguarded?

“The journalist’s assumption tends to be ‘we are all evil trying to do the worst for children’.

“Why would you go into a career of working with vulnerable children if you want to do everything badly? Why does everyone have a discourse of failure around social work? It is very strange.”

Prof Frost said the professionals he worked with were passionate and committed to dealing with the complexity of child protection and made a difference.

He highlighted statistics showing child homicide had declined in the UK from an average of 7.1 per million in 1981 to five per million in 2012/13.

“The rate of child abuse has declined in England and Wales and most developing countries. Child protection services are having an impact,” said Mr Frost. “There is real evidence here that the work we are doing is having positive impact. So let’s move away from the Gove Timpson discourse. Lets support and develop our heroic professionals rather than this constant discourse of failure. That would free social work to focus on people rather than systems and processes.”