The latest report findings from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) will come as no surprise to UK Child Protection Social Workers. The report states that Child Protection services are struggling to act as little more than an emergency service due to cuts in resources and a rise in demand for intervention.
The report, How Safe Are Our Children 2014, details how the number of families needing support has grown due to families being unable to survive financially. Toxically, this is also combined with families feeling the impact of the drastic cuts to early intervention services, such as children’s centres, which could have previously prevented family problems from escalating.
As resources are continuously stretched, the NSPCC report suggests that many councils have been forced to raise the threshold at which they intervene to protect children. Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC, commented: “With record reporting of child abuse, hard-pressed children’s social service departments have little choice but to raise the threshold of where they act.” It is estimated that currently only one out of every nine UK children who are at risk of abuse or neglect are receiving statutory support.
The Government responded to the cuts by arguing that they were improving Child Protection by cutting red tape. This rhetoric fails to ring true in practice when only last week a poll from Coventry City Council revealed that workloads in children’s services have increased by almost 50% in the past two years. With higher caseloads comes less time to do meaningful work with a family and therefore that family’s problems and risk level are very unlikely to decrease. Subsequently the Social Worker’s stress level and amount of paperwork increases as they desperately attempt to “prove on paper” that they are trying their best to keep the child safe. It is a vicious circle and ultimately a disservice to the Social Worker, the child, the family, and society as a whole.
A colleague of mine working as a Social Worker in Child Protection recently told me how her average working day is 12 hours, equating to five hours unpaid over-time each day. Even then, she is not able to meet all of her targets and do everything she needs to do. “That’s the hardest thing about it”, she told me, “when you find yourself breaking promises to families, that you really, genuinely intended to keep, because you know they need that support. But, at the end of the day, I have so many cases and so little time, that all I can do is constantly respond to the most urgent problem. There’s no real prevention work. We’re just constantly fire fighting. This isn’t what I signed up for.”
There is nothing more heartbreaking as a Social Worker to know that nothing you ever do will be enough to help a child, because really, they needed someone to be there for them years before you met them. It never stops hurting when you research the case history of a troubled teenager you work with and read all the abuse and neglect they experienced as a toddler which went unnoticed.
Peter Wanless states: “We know that small and simple interventions early on can and do stop abuse and neglect for a fraction of the cost of trying to tackle it later down the line.”
“Acting alone, children’s social services struggle to be more than an emergency service, getting involved when pain and suffering for children is already entrenched or risk is very high.”
“Successive governments have talked the talk on ‘early intervention’ and joined-up services but have failed to deliver lasting change.”
Let’s be very clear about this- resource shortages are the fault of the policy makers, not the Social Worker’s who regularly work 12 hour days to keep other people’s children safe. The cuts to children services have a devastating impact on multiple levels. They deny parents the resources and opportunities to improve their parenting skills and prevent their children from being taken in to care; they destroy the morale and mental health of the Social Worker’s who know firsthand what is needed to keep children safe and yet are ignored by the decision-makers; and ultimately, as we know all too well, these cuts will lead to more horrific child deaths.