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Date: Thurs 12 November 2009


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 work.

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 departments.

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 anxiety.

"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."