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'Social workers have saved lives and continue to save lives'

A message from England's Social Worker of the Year Vivian Okeze–Tirado in wake of the Arthur Labinjo-Hughes tragedy...

Vivian Okeze–Tirado

I thought I’d share my personal reflection on the tragic and painful death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, a very sad event that will continue to impact professionals and society for years to come.

I am aware that this very sad news came following the good news of the UK National Social Work Awards, a very positive event to honour the continued work that social workers do to promote social justice, social change and improve and save lives all over the country. 

I am mindful that I was the beneficiary of the Social Justice Awards and the Overall Social Worker of the Year 2021. An honour I received humbly but proudly on behalf of not just myself but for all social workers in the UK who continue to do the best that they can within the profession.

Arthur’s death was by his step mum and dad for which the court has sentenced them to prison. Sadly, we will see tragedies like this in our society and sometimes the best skills of the professionals involved may not mitigate against them.

We must, however, continuously strive to do the best that we can for vulnerable children like Arthur. We must continue to exercise our professional curiosity as best we can and strive to exhaust all possibilities.

Social workers must not be targeted every time such a tragedy happens. Although there will always be learning to take away, social workers have saved lives and continue to save lives.

They must not feel discouraged, they should continue to speak proudly of the work that they do, reflect on, and learn from this event as well as from the practice review which is underway.

We also must not forget that we live in a world where evil exists and there will be cases of extreme and unimaginable acts of this nature. As described by the secretary of state for education Nadhim Zahawi: “We, across the House and across this country, find it impossible to imagine how any adult could commit such evil acts against a child, in particular parents and carers, to whom children look for love and protection.”

A better knowledge of this case will be good for all social workers and partners to learn from and perhaps help stop future occurrences.

Social workers do not work in isolation, they work with other professionals and partners and the court. A social worker cannot physically remove any child from their family home unless there is agreement for this to happen and they must follow due processes, policies and procedures that are in place.

Social workers need the support of other professionals and the public because safeguarding the vulnerable is everybody's shared responsibility - individuals, professionals, our communities and the public. Our hope is that social work risk intervention tools are continuously sharpened to ensure that they are robust, compliant, and effective for safeguarding vulnerable children.

Dear Arthur, may your death not be in vain. May it serve to remind us all to continue to strive to be the best that we can be. Rest in peace.