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BASW responds to the Government national review launched following the tragic death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes

We welcome a review that will allow for learning and meaningful action from such a tragedy.

BASW England expresses its heartfelt condolences to the family, friends, and those affected by the horrific murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.

We shared a briefing (6 December 2021) with MPs ahead of the ministerial statement by Nadhim Zahawi on the death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and the launch of the review.  The briefing was used by several MPs to call for properly resourced children’s social care.  We welcome a review that will allow for learning and meaningful action from such a tragedy. 

BASW is also reaching out to colleagues directly affected by the tragedy.

Whilst we await the outcome of essential reviews, we cannot ignore that social work is under enormous pressure. Despite the hard work and dedication of social work practitioners and those that work with children’s services, child protection is a complex issue that requires appropriate funding, resources, and time to form meaningful relationships.

Referral rates to children’s services have risen nearly every year. There have also been cuts in community services, such as Sure Start centres, which can erode the ability to appropriately balance our preventative work and support alongside necessary child protection interventions.

We must also be mindful of the impact of poverty and austerity policies.

Overall, we must be reflective not only as professionals but also as a society. Effective safeguarding is not about one social worker or one individual.

The protection and care of our children are best done in partnership with agencies across health, social care and the police, as well as the families, the children, and the community as a whole.

Safeguarding our children is everybody’s responsibility, and we must all get better at listening to each other with the appropriate time and resources to do so.

We must also reflect on the impact of the pandemic and lockdowns. They provided unique challenges for many social workers, specifically regarding the increased invisibility of vulnerable children.

Social workers were complying with national measures, still knocking on doors and making doorstep visits to keep an eye on vulnerable children. However, it is a simple fact that children became less visible with schools closed.

BASW surveyed over 2000 members, and 77.7% strongly agreed that their experience of working under lockdown restrictions had increased their concerns about the capacity to safeguard/protect adults and children.

It is evident that social work and child protection needed to be in the national thinking and consulted about dealing with coronavirus a lot earlier and at the highest levels.

Lastly, we must be mindful of the ongoing issues regarding the recruitment and retention of social workers. Current vacancy rates remain high, and this needs to be urgently addressed in the context of rising demand.

As a society, we need to ensure that we encourage more routes into social work, especially those that work in collaboration with the local communities and local authorities.

Many of our members also report unreasonably high complex caseloads, even in their first year of work. This results in poor working conditions and burnout.

For these reasons, BASW has repeatedly called on Government and local authorities to urgently address our concerns because far too much experience, especially in child protection, is going out the door.

We hope this review explores the increasing challenges facing a dedicated but increasingly challenged workforce.

We need to urgently address the recruitment problems in social work, encourage more people into social work from a diverse range of backgrounds, and improve working conditions, so that good, experienced social workers stay in post.

This will take extra resources, more training, time for reflective supervision, emotional and practical support for social workers, and increased long-term and short-term funding.

We are hopeful that the review does not repeat the mistakes from the past where we narrow the scope to blaming individuals and fan the flames of public vilification.

That approach does not protect children. It only leads to more social workers, who are already under significant pressure that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, leaving the profession.

This will ultimately cause further harm to families and children that have a right to and deserve protection and care.