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England's chief social workers condemn abuse of profession

Chiefs join groundswell call for more holistic view in wake of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes tragedy

Isabelle Trowler (left) and Lyn Romeo

Published by Professional Social Work magazine, 7 December, 2021

England’s chief social workers have condemned abuse aimed at the profession in the wake of the tragic death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.

They join a groundswell of support for social workers as leading figures urge the public, and wider society, to look more holistically at the failings behind the case.

In a letter to all social workers sent on December 6, Isabelle Trowler, chief social worker for children and families, and Lyn Romeo, chief social worker for adults, state: “We condemn those targeting abuse towards individual social workers and the social work profession.”

The letter offers words of support: “We know you… will be deeply saddened by the death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and appreciate how this will have affected you. We also wanted to recognise the strength of feeling and collective shock from the public about the cruel treatment to which Arthur was subjected, and acknowledge that this creates a difficult context for your practice, as social workers.”

The letter flags up praise given to safeguarding professionals in a statement to the House of Commons by the Rt Hon Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi, who said: “Those already serving our country’s most vulnerable children deserve our thanks – and I want to be extremely clear that no safeguarding professional should be the victim of any abuse. The targeting of individuals is wrong, deplorable and helps nobody.”

On social media and mainstream news, there are growing calls for the abuse of social workers to stop.

Gerald Jones, Oldham Council’s managing director for children and young people told ITV news: "Social workers don't kill children" and urged people not to blame individuals after social workers faced criticism.

Andy Couldrick, chief executive of Birmingham Children’s Trust, close to neighbouring Solihull, told Birmingham Live: "It feels often like there is a gravitational pull to suggest it is the sole responsibility of the social worker in a case, when we are part of a wider multi agency service and approach, each with a part to play.”

The Magpie Project, a community project providing help to families at risk of homelessness tweeted: “ Sending love to those individual social workers who refuse to become jaded while trying to keep children safe in a deeply flawed, underfunded, overcapacity system that limits their ability to help.”

And SEA Inclusion and Safeguarding tweeted: “Our response must be more than to blame individuals and LAs. We need to re-examine systems & funding, including the importance of family histories, understanding of disguised compliance & coercive control.”

The chief social workers’ letter welcomes the independent review into Arthur’s death, and concludes with a strongly-felt message for social workers: “The part you play in supporting and protecting the country’s most vulnerable children, adults and families makes a positive difference each and every single day.”