The Socialist 19 November 2008 |
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Social workers say: investment needed
In the aftermath of the horrific death of 'Baby P' the media has been casting around for people on whom to pile the blame. Here Alison Hill of The Socialist interviews a social worker and union shop steward from the south east of England on the conditions facing social workers and the consequences of cuts.
What was your reaction when you heard about the case of 'baby P'?
I was not surprised, although deeply frustrated and distraught. I have been a social worker for a year and a half in a team that deals with children who have been brought into care. I believe many of the children that my team deals with should have been brought into care years earlier to avoid situations like Baby P.
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt finances determined choices rather than need?
I am not directly involved in the decision making processes for assessing whether children should come into care, but even when they are in care the support and resources for children are not available. Senior managers are only interested in cost implications, regardless of the risk to the child.
What would you say about social workers to those who are upset about Baby P's death?
It is totally understandable that people are upset and, believe me, the vast majority of social workers are too. I have 14 children on my case load and others have similar numbers. Nearly all my cases are teenagers who are prone to continuous placement breakdowns. This is endemic with children that have been neglected and/or abused.
We are short of around 12-14 social workers, which is totally unsustainable and leaves children at serious risk. There are newly qualified social workers, such as myself, who are given some seriously difficult cases.
In the assessment teams, some social workers have up to 100 cases, sometimes more. This is extremely dangerous and must not continue. The majority of social workers work extremely hard in very difficult circumstances. Senior management do not support staff with the necessary resources, thus leaving children at serious risk.
Do you have to deal with privatised bodies now - and does that cause problems?
At the moment the only private bodies I deal with are the private agency foster carers and private residential placements. We use them when we have exhausted all other placement options within our own resources. Although the foster carers in general are good, the agencies are there to make profit. Their own supervising social workers play a limited role in safeguarding children.
The cost is ridiculous. For example, I have a sibling group of four placed with foster carers in a different county and the projected cost until the youngest is 18 runs into seven figures! It is £700 a week, with £350 going to the agency and £350 to the foster cover for each child. If these children were looked after by our own foster carers it would be around £300 a week per child.
Similarly, with the residential units, we could be charged up to £5,000 a week for each child. Our own resources were sold off and the council will not build any more, which would save us more money in the long run and only cost around £900 a week. If we did not have any private resources, we would not have enough placements.
However, if the council had more resources, then in the long run we would save considerable amounts of money. The free market, pro-privatisation approach cannot provide sufficient support for young people and costs huge sums to the detriment of other children who desperately need help.
What demands do you think socialists should be fighting for in terms of protecting the welfare of children?
We must demand a huge influx of cash to build up public resources to support and protect children from harm. This must include spending on employing more social workers on decent wages to make sure that children have enough social workers to be effective.
Investment is needed in early intervention services to spot and ultimately prevent the situation with Baby P from happening again. We must demand an end to the budget cuts being imposed by councils across the country.
We must definitely say no to the privatisation of any public services, especially fostering agencies and residential placements for young people.