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SWU blog: Concern for reduction in social work referrals

Social Workers Union discussions with social workers are worrying showing fewer referrals regarding concerns around child protection and domestic violence since the onset of lockdown.

Blog by John McGowan, General Secretary, Social Workers Union

SWU’s recent discussions with workplace union contact members are highlighting fewer referrals regarding concerns around child protection and domestic violence since the onset of lockdown. 

These issues certainly will not have diminished, indeed sadly they may have multiplied during these intensely difficult times, and as social workers we remain aware of an inevitable rise post-lockdown.  Support, help, and guidance will surely be required, and those not already in a union should consider the value of membership. 

Social work employers must also prepare for this and the impact it will have on staff, with consideration taken of already high and often complex caseloads.  As is the case for many key workers, social workers continue to work throughout the pandemic, and the fact that some referrals have slowed down brings to light the importance and value of multi-agency work.

Worryingly, COVID-19 will continue to impact family finances and increase stress at home, both in reducing income for many (such as parents on zero-hours contracts, with little job security or who work in particularly affected industries such as hospitality) and increased costs (of higher food and utility bills caused by family being at home more and the pressures on ).

To minimise the impact of COVID-19 on these children, young people, and adults, we recommend government undertakes adequate funding and support for social work as this will be needed as potential safeguarding and adult protection referrals start to come in.

The risks the nation faces if another round of government cuts comes are totally unacceptable and unnecessary.

As social workers we are not a stand-alone service, we work collectively and in conjunction with education, health, social care, law, therapy, youth services, advocacy … the list goes on and on, and it’s on these networks that we mutually rely. 

As lockdown has brought much interconnectedness to a halt, so too has it emphasised the importance of community, public and third sector agencies and our collective interactions. 

Schools are often the first establishments to react to issues of concern regarding children and young people, and the loss of this element of the network has led to much debate about their reopening. 

There are numerous agendas behind the reasons for demanding a hurried return.  For the government and those “in power” the focus is on The Economy and getting everyone back to (new) normal – virtually impossible without the opening of schools.  Right-wing commentators have placed their rhetoric firmly in the “lazy teachers refusing to go to work” camp, with an added splattering of The Economy, just in case we forget.  Newspaper headlines have earnestly pleaded that we “let teachers be heroes” with the inevitable suggestion that their unions are preventing them from being so.  Teachers and associated staff are historically, and are still, a strong unionised workforce which really is heroic in the post-Thatcher era of self-absorbed individuality, anti-collectivism, and anti-trade unionism. 

Collectivism includes valuing the needs of a community, working together, and supporting those who require help – a bit like Social Work - and the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised the importance of all of this. 

Joining, and becoming active in a trade union, will enable us to be part of this growing trend.


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