Category Archives: Social Work

Children’s Rights are paramount

One of the most disconcerting experiences I have ever had was of walking in to a roomful of about 30 ordinary- looking, apparently respectable, rather articulate men who proceeded to tell me how they were learning to control their own feelings of wanting to sexually abuse children.
I had gone to a special unit in southern England as the prospective trustee of the Lucy Faithfull charity which seeks to protect children by working with those who perpetrate harm. I went in trepidation; while I thought it important to face one of the big issues of child protection I was frankly concerned for myself, as well as what I might find and keen to question whether the organisation actually did any good.
I came away with enormous respect for a team of dedicated social workers and psychologists; feeling rather inspired about the work they were doing to challenge abusive behaviour, help people to change and over the long term support and monitor them in the community.
This is vital work, but our natural revulsion may undermine efforts to tackle sexual abuse effectively. We resort to wishful thinking; unrealistic ideas about ‘locking up paedophiles and throwing away the key’. We cosset children at home fearing the stranger who would snatch them off the street when abuse is actually far more common from relatives and their friends, other children and those in respected, trusted authority. This is horrible stuff and it’s natural to want to turn away but if we are not sufficiently aware of sexual abuse, if we don’t enable children to protect themselves that’s precisely when clever, wicked people can do greatest damage. Conversely, if we raise a hue and cry over every suspicion we can break up families unnecessarily and perhaps prevent some people seeking help with worrying thoughts and feelings before they actually do harm.
I was reminded of all this last week with the shocking report of the National Crime Agency that 50,000 people from the UK regularly download images of child abuse from the internet. Clearly this is a fairly recent phenomenon but it must relate to about one in every thousand people who actually have internet access. It indicates that in every community there are people who are actively viewing images and thereby making themselves complicit in sexual abuse; in children being hurt, humiliated, degraded, frightened and used for gratification; their lives destroyed.
This is a foul insight into our society. Given that the very large majority of these people are men it also raises serious questions about the way that we men see ourselves. Furthermore, if watching abuse online is likely to escalate abusive behaviour what effect might this have on future crime rates when the NSPCC estimate that 10% of children already experience some form of sexual abuse ?
The police say that ‘ we are not going to arrest our way’ out of a problem on this scale, however a competent police investigation is a fundamental part of effective child protection.
Of course ‘Child Protection is everyone’s business’ therefore it is particularly worrying that a single organisation has felt it necessary to raise public concern when all the child protection guidance recommends a multi-agency approach to achieve effective solutions.
This sounds to me uncomfortably like desperation. At a regional level we have police and crime commissioners but I wonder who is listening to the National Crime Agency ? I haven’t heard anyone from Government or Opposition demanding effective action to address this apparently vast escalation of an old problem.
Nor do I see anyone standing up to the all- powerful ( tax-evading), multi- national internet companies to insist on concerted action to remove images of child abuse and to prevent people searching for horrific and illegal material. Look at the ways that Google, Facebook and their ilk infiltrate our lives, making themselves indispensable. Who really believes that they are unable to help protect children from abuse broadcast online ?
Children are children are children whether they live on Tyneside or in Timbuktu. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child signed by almost every country declares that their well- being is paramount, a fundamental priority for us all. There is no evading our responsibility to tackle this urgently and well.
The good news is that child protection systems can work well; there are dedicated professionals in all agencies, some adults take responsibility for their abusive behaviour and are helped to stop and that volunteers and communities can build ‘circles of support’ to help prevent re-offending. However children require urgent priority; global problems demand not just global but local solutions and a creaking public sector full of old boundaries and outdated ways needs to be revitalised with a dynamic new partnership of public, private, voluntary and community bodies fit for an interconnected, ever – changing world.
Don’t just leave it to someone else though; everyone can help build the future as well as protecting bairns.
More particularly if you are concerned about your own or someone else’s online behaviour please contact the Lucy Faithfull ‘Stop it Now’ advice line 08081000900. Help is at hand.

North East Local Authorities must support their looked after children well

Oh bliss !
Spring Bank Holiday, Whit Monday, the beginning of half term.
Whatever you call it, whatever you’re doing I hope you’ll have a grand time.
As for me I’ll be helping look after number two.
Our eldest granddaughter, our second oldest grandchild, 5 – ‘and a half next week’ is travelling 160 miles with her Dad and staying for ‘2 sleeps – all by myself.’
It’s funny how family traditions start to emerge so early. Her cousin ‘number one’ by all of 6 months has already surmounted this hurdle with some aplomb, one slight teary episode resolved with a quick call to his Mam’s mobile. Apparently number 2’s bags have been packed for a week; Granny and even Grandad are all ready and eager to go and I’m sure that despite such anticipation we’ll all, in the end be fine.
20 years ago when the mothers of numbers one and two were still in their teens I managed fostering, adoption and residential care services. I therefore had a big say about the circumstances in which other people’s children left their homes to live with other people. Sometimes such episodes might last for little more than ‘2 sleeps’. However it could be longer; some of those children would never go home.
Those days seem long ago but it’s often a Bank Holiday which brings them to mind. While I groaned and resisted the bureaucratic demands of a huge local authority I recall that the ‘out of hours’ moments were some of the loneliest in my life.
A big decision to take. The hard –pressed duty social worker waiting for a call and only yourself to rely on. Weighing a child’s well- being with the resources and circumstances immediately at your disposal.
Others will be doing much the same job today in a local authority near you.
On the whole those were good times. Very difficult situations were eased by working with some of the best, most dedicated people in the world – social workers, residential workers, foster carers, adoptive parents – and the children and young people themselves.
Please don’t imagine that this inclusion of children and young people is either sentimental or a sop. Half their lives ago those young people ‘in care’ made a huge contribution to improving the services which looked after them. Intelligent, challenging, knowledgeable, honest and concerned for others not just themselves. They were helped to be like that because of those other people I’ve mentioned and because senior officers and Councillors were prepared to listen and empower them.
Lately, the papers have been full of extremely disempowered young people. In Oxfordshire, as in Rochdale we have heard of the grotesque abuse and sexual exploitation, over years, of young people. Most of them were in what passed for ‘Care’ with some ‘professionals’ haplessly standing by.
Some of this is too difficult to read. Unfortunately I think there’s probably more to come. I don’t believe that attempts to exploit vulnerable young people are confined to ’gangs of Asian men’ operating conveniently where bodies charged with protecting children just happen to be failing in their job.
There are very many children and young people made needy by life’s circumstances, many utterly vile adults of all skin colours ready to prey upon them, however good the local authority. Furthermore, every local authority is struggling to provide services with the resources at their disposal.
The demands on every Council are enormous. However children in Care require particular attention because of the duty of every local authority with responsibilities to children to be their ‘corporate parent.’
Newcastle City Council’s webpage explains this odd -sounding concept succinctly :
‘Every member & employee of the City Council has the statutory responsibility to act for and on behalf of that child in the same way that a good parent would act for and on behalf of that child.’
All those Councillors newly elected in Northumberland and Durham, every Councillor everywhere else in the North East have all sorts of responsibilities. However their duty to be a ‘good parent’ to 2000 or so children across the region, in Care on this Bank Holiday Monday morning is the weightiest one of all. Just as, whoever we are, the responsibilities of parent – or grandparent outstrip all the other important things we all do.
Would this be good enough for my own child ?
It’s a simple question for our elected representatives to ask..
They could help us answer it for them by providing good public information about how they look after children whom Courts and parents have entrusted to them. By showing that they are proud of their achievements – and of those who look after them. They could demonstrate that children are being protected as far as possible by showing us that unlike Rochdale and Oxfordshire they listen.
Above all – listen. Value what young people say, help them participate in running and developing services themselves and give them lots of opportunities to speak out.
By listening – empower them.
Do it tomorrow when you’re back at work.
Let young people tell us that you’re doing it well.

(This article first appeared in The Journal Monday May 27th 2013)

Failing Democracy – Failing Social Work

Demanding Democracy believes that the creation of effective policy must depend on the extent to which people of good will working directly in a particular field are involved and engaged in particular policy development.
That doesn’t of course mean that the ‘professionals‘ or the ‘experts by experience’ should always have their viewpoints upheld .Nevertheless, surely people at the front line of services with qualifications, commitment and experience should at least be listened to and their points openly addressed ? Continue reading

‘A very political social worker’

‘As a social worker I was always acutely aware not only that many of the problems we see are founded in bigger social issues but that these would be better addressed if the people experiencing them and those trying to help them actually used the political power they – and we have ‘ – from ‘A very political social worker’ in Becoming a social worker’ ed Prof V. Cree (Routledge 2013)