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One Stop Social is unashamedly passionate about social work, and therefore, we’re driven by an enthusiasm to show the rest of the world just how brilliant social work is. While we don’t look at the sector through rose tinted glasses, we know there are some fantastic examples of good practice and innovation across the country. Nevertheless, areas of social work like child protection make the headlines on a regular basis for less than positive reasons.
The press is filled with child abuse scandals, stories about neglected young people or examples of councils stretched too thin; but are these just the cases which catch the media’s eye? Sensationalised stories sell papers, so is it just that the countless admirable practitioners and examples of good practice are ignored in favour of the few cases that will make a catchy headline. On the other hand, do a limited number of cases imply that the whole system is in need of change? Are the issues with the current child protection really so serious that we should consider reform?
When you look at the key factors which can cause issues with child protection teams, there isn’t a need for revolution or a complete overhaul of the system. The foundations are not broken; however, they’re not being given the trust and support they need to thrive. We’d like to take a chance to examine some of these elements and make the case against reform, and in favour of implementing the correct structures to support social work in the UK.
Child protection is about ensuring the safety of at risk and vulnerable children across the UK. Each of the UK’s 4 nations have their own child protection system, as a result they utilise different techniques and laws to help protect children from abuse and neglect. But is this separation of powers and styles contributing to a fragmented system? We see on a regular basis how gangs utilise county lines to exploit young people, partly facilitated by a lack of communication and collaboration between different local authorities; so, is the same happening across nations? The UK is built on the idea of partnership between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; but if we’re not upholding this ethos across child protection services, then it could be easy for children to be missed.
In order to allow child protection to truly succeed, it’s essential that we recognise that we need to work together. Political differences, historical grudges or individuality should have no place in child protection. It’s about looking after a child deemed to be at risk or in need. So perhaps we need to train each other in the different approaches and systems, so that there is a universal understanding of how to safeguard those who are vulnerable. There should also be a policy of openness with regards to sharing information about vulnerable service users who could benefit from the support from teams in different regions and nations. Let’s trust in each other more and recognise the strength in working as 1 overall team for child protection.
While many areas of social work don’t require super-high-tech systems or the latest gadgets which put a strain on budgets, councils do need sufficient money to maintain social care avenues and to fund enough practitioners to effectively cover an area. However, councils across the UK are regularly commenting on the issues they face due to the lack of funding. The government has been recently criticised for having an “appalling” level of ignorance about the pressure child protection teams find themselves under – a large part of which is due to council budgets being cut 30% since 2010. Even when funding is announced, as it was in the latest Budget, there’s immense scepticism that the promise will be followed through, which impacts a council’s confidence to invest. So, we need to ensure that councils have the resources they need to succeed; and if the central government can’t guarantee it, a stable alternative should be developed. We’re seeing a rise of teaching partnerships across the country, like the Greater Manchester Social Work Academy, so is the future of social work pooling resources together? Yes, a more collaborative approach would definitely promote better outcomes for those deemed in need and we are seeing greater emphasis on supporting practitioner development.
Research over the past few years have shown us that the demand for child protection services is on the rise exponentially. Technology has made it easier for predators to exploit children from behind a screen. High rates of drug and alcohol abuse makes families more volatile, leaving more children needing to be taken into care. Insufficient support for those with mental health issues and the lack of protection for domestic abuse victims leaves thousands of children in need of safeguarding. However, what doesn’t make the headlines as regularly, is that the number of social workers is also on the rise too. With the correct funding to councils, training opportunities and practitioner support, we can band together to meet every challenge. One Stop Social are keen to aid councils where we can, which is why we’re developing high-quality, cost-effective training workshops which can be implemented nationally.
Recruitment & Retention Issues
Across almost every council in the UK there is an issue with recruitment and retention – leaving front-line services with insufficient practitioners for their caseloads. Social workers can pick and choose where they work due to the vast demand; making it harder for councils to retain staff. This regular turnover affects dynamics and gives inconsistency to child protection teams. Councils need to recognise that by making it more desirable to stay in a role, social workers can develop their skills more effectively and overall protect more vulnerable children. Leadership training and clear progression routes are important, but a key element is building a sense of enjoyment by being in a particular role. We offer corporate licences of our OSS Membership to help councils develop retention packages, and demonstrate that they’re willing to reward their teams as both practitioners and people. Employee engagement drives enthusiasm for a role and efficiency: the key to success is making professionals happier.
It’s not a “crisis”
Given that there are so many facets of child protection that need work, it can feel like we’re on the edge of the cliff, about to fall into chaos. And until we can be secure in the knowledge that every child is in a safe, healthy environment, we’ll always need to look for changes and improvements. However, on a national scale, the core foundation of child protection in the UK is sound. It’s on a local level that we need to build on it. Child protection should not be a postcode lottery system. We need to ensure councils everywhere can give practitioners the correct reimbursement, employment structures and rewards packages. By working on a local level, we can give child protection as a whole the room it needs to thrive.