Date: Thurs 12 November 2009
TIME TO TEAR DOWN WALL OF SECRECY SURROUNDING SOCIAL WORK
UNISON, the UK's largest public sector union, has today (12
November) accused councils of fuelling suspicion and undermining
public confidence in social workers, by barring them from speaking
out in the media.
On the anniversary of the verdict of those involved in the tragic
death of Baby Peter, the union is calling on councils to get the
public to back social workers, by shining a light on their day-to-day
To restore confidence in social workers, the public needs to
be given the facts.
Social workers deal with around 568,000 child referrals in the
UK every year. Setting up a child protection plan requires intensive
investigation and work with the child, the family and other agencies,
including police and the health service. Since the Baby Peter
case, UNISON branches report a 25% to 50% increase in the number
of calls from the public and agencies, reporting suspicions about
child abuse or neglect. This creates severe pressures on understaffed
Helga Pile, UNISON National Officer for Social Workers, said:
"Social workers have nothing to hide. Of course they observe client
confidentiality, but they should be allowed to play their part
in helping the public understand wheat they do and the pressures
they work under. But they are gagged from doing so by many councils.
That drives a wedge of suspicion between them and the public.
They work with some of the most vulnerable and troubled people
in our society - people who don't have a voice, and it's sad that
the professionals who work with them are prevented from having
one too. "Councils could make a real difference by letting the
public see what front-line social workers achieve every day. "
Commenting on the impact of the Baby P case, Social worker A
-a UNISON steward and children's social worker, said: "Despite
the difficulties the profession faces I continue to call myself
a social worker with great pride. Why? - because I can see the
positive impact of my work on the lives of the people I work with,
many of whom are some of the most vulnerable members of society.
I also witness the commitment and skilfulness of my colleagues
as they go about their work implementing interventions that change
people's lives for the better.
"For me the biggest impact of the baby P case was the very public
devaluing of social work generally as a profession. This left
many social workers, including myself, feeling dispirited, vulnerable
and annoyed at the way the work of so many dedicated and skilled
practitioners was rendered invisible. This has created a less
than positive atmosphere to work in and has led to more children
being taken into care."
Social worker B, UNISON social work convenor in a county council
and a social worker said: "Child protection and family support
social workers were condemned nationally at the time, but had
no direct way to respond other than to remain committed and dedicated
to their jobs. There has been a significant increase in referrals,
the general public are more aware of their responsibilities and
partner agencies are sharing information at an earlier stage.
This in turn has an impact on caseloads, personal stress and professional
"As a workforce, social workers cannot publicise their successes
but as a profession they have remained dedicated and committed
in the face of the rising tide of referrals of an increasingly
serious and complex nature. As a workforce we need to be proud
of what we do achieve, recognise how much good work we are doing
and how important it is to work with other agencies to support
and protect vulnerable children."