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Nov. 12th, 2008

It’s a perennial source of bother for liberal-minded people, an open-and-shut case for those less so: should breeding rights continue to be granted to the dysfunctional, the hopelessly dumb or even just the catastrophically misguided? My own feeling is that any answer other than “yes” leads inevitably to experiments in vileness that we would do better to avoid—but that such families need to be strictly policed. Certainly at the first sign of the parents being ill enough to harm their child there should be no qualms about stepping in. We may never be able to stop parents bestowing the gift of neurosis, but we could probably do a better job of making sure they don’t, for example, kill their own children.

I’ll understand if you don’t want to read those stories. In truth, even if you don’t know these particular cases, you’ve pretty much already read them. The formula doesn’t change. Crucial signs overlooked, legitimate concerns dismissed, agencies not sharing information, we must learn lessons from the review, this must never happen again, that’s when I start promising the world to a brand new girl I don’t even know yet, next thing she’s wearing my… Sorry, I had my iPod on, what were you saying?

The real kicker in the more recent case is that it happened in Haringey. Haringey, where Victoria Climbié lived and died. You’d think someone there might have been taking notes. There’s a clue to the problem in that case, though, in this story regarding the social worker who failed to detect at the time that Victoria was being tortured. (Hint: she’s fucking insane.)

Now, I’m not suggesting that social services need to be encouraged to remove more children. I’m suggesting that, especially since under our system they cannot be contradicted, they need to show some sign of being able to spot cases where children are not at risk and where they are. That should, after all, be somewhere in the job description. I’m not going to go into all the horror stories I know for a fact—of dozy social workers who miss vital clues of abuse, of overzealous social workers who cry “abuse” where there is none, of malevolent idiot social workers who enjoy playing God and do immeasurable damage in the process—and those that have been reported elsewhere; I’ll leave it that the absolute best an old friend of mine who was allocated a social worker in her youth could say about her was a damning “She meant so well”.

Probably not every youth social worker is a danger to the kids whose welfare they are charged with overseeing. (Though I wouldn’t mind seeing the figures.)[1] But there is a big enough problem, no matter how many “lessons learned” reviews they seem to have, that a change is definitely required.

Whenever I rail about this, people always point out defensively that social workers have incredibly difficult judgments to make. I entirely agree. That’s why we need people who are measurably better at making incredibly difficult judgments. Retire the current crop apart from a few select exceptions, triple the wages to make what is quite a shitty job more attractive, hire twice as many of them, make the qualifications harder and make skill the overriding factor in the job, rather than meaning terribly well. (And don’t forget that the assumption that they mean terribly well is the best-case scenario.)

But at a time when it’s becoming ever easier to qualify as a social worker—and, incidentally, you can become a nurse with just an NVQ—my suggestion is pure science fiction. So if, say, you’ve got some demons to cast out of your wicked slutty two year-old, go ahead and do what you have to. No-one’s going to stop you.

[1] There’s always this report on CAFCASS, which should give some indication. “Serious failings”, records of interviews “illegible” where they existed at all—and this was the third report, from a different region each time, that said so.[2]

[2] I’d link to the report itself rather than the Times article but the Ofsted site is government-run and so, predictably, they can’t work the internet. The words “Read the report” aren’t a hyperlink, merely a peremptory instruction.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 12th, 2008 11:47 am (UTC)
Ok, while i agree with a lot of what you say and i would wager that i know at least as much as you do about all this having worked for the body that regulates social work in England for 7 and a half years, attempts at improvements are being made.

Someone now needs a degree if they were to study for the professional social work qualification available in England and not just something from a diploma mill but one that has been approved by the General Social Care Council (GSCC). It is also mandatory in England if someone wants to work as a social worker to be registered with the GSCC. Obviously part of the registration process is that adequate references are supplied. It is also a condition of maintaining registration that a minimum period of further training is undertaken while a registrant continues to practice. If anything social workers in England have to have had more training than at any other time. There is also an extensive Post-Qualifying framework for after registrants obtain their degree.

We now have a Conduct team who deal with investigating complaints and Conduct hearings where social workers can be admonished or kicked off the register, which means that they cannot work as social workers anymore.

If you are at all interested www.gscc.org.uk

Of course it is a shitty world full of scumbags and incompetents sent to monitor the scumbags, but an effort is being made to improve matters even if that does not tend to get reported much in the press.

Nov. 12th, 2008 12:01 pm (UTC)
> having worked for the body that regulates social work in England for 7 and a half years...

... you therefore know a whole lot more about this than I do. I only see the results “on the ground”, as people insist on saying, rather than the fumbling behind the scenes. I am glad to hear that attempts are at least being made to improve things, but I’m made almost more uncomfortable by the knowledge that there is acknowledgment within the system that there are serious failings within it, since it is still not allowed to contradict a social worker’s judgment.

I know of one case where local police—unofficially, obviously—advised a mother whose ex-partner had come round and hit her in front of their children, but was still being recommended for more custody by the case worker who claimed the mother was trying to “turn the kids against him”, that the only way to escape CAFCASS’s tender mercies was to flee the region and assume a false name. She did, successfully. Best interests of the what now?
Nov. 12th, 2008 01:53 pm (UTC)
There's an issue with web_of_evil's proposal. Social workers have one of the most thankless tasks in society - unless they are paid a very high salary or are motivated by saintlike levels of altruism (and see no other channel for this), why would these "better qualified" people want to do the job? What possible incentive could outweigh the huge responsibility, revulsion from the media, mistrust of your charges, rampant bureaucracy, refusal to allow human error etc. etc.
Nov. 12th, 2008 12:11 pm (UTC)
This is what I'm saying - let's abolish the whole concept of state-appointed "social workers" and get back to good old-fashioned Victorian values where children were provided for by the loving, invisible hand of the free market.
Nov. 12th, 2008 12:14 pm (UTC)
Hey, if the kid could've been bringing in a wage two years from now by being rammed up a chimney, I doubt they would've broken his back as casually as they did.
Nov. 12th, 2008 12:11 pm (UTC)
I realise I'm a simple reactionary, but my view on the topic of this most recent child's death is that every adult who came into contact with that child who was not directly attempting to torture or kill him, had a direct duty of care to prevent the ones who were. Every single one.

That goes doubly for the adults who were actually being paid to ensure his safety, having been substantially trained in order to have the skills considered necessary to do the job, and backed by the full might of the law.

Social work is a job that requires sensitivity, intelligence, and the ability to make and carry through life-changing executive decisions, often in the face of disapproval or threats, with no guarantee of having made the "right" decision. There needs to be mentorship and for there to be effective mentorship there needs to be excellence, found, acknowledged and rewarded.

But that is not the government way.

Targets, qualifications - what a load of balls ... it's as if they're taking the ingredients that make the most mediocre bits of the private sector work (because the genius bits of the private sector work on genius and have nothing whatsoever to do with qualifications, targets or measurable standards), dumping them all into a bowl, but expecting the cake to mix itself. It doesn't work without people, hungry people who want to be the best, driving the standards. And turning the oven on. And putting the cake in the oven. And eating the cake and deciding the next one could use a bit more salt.
Nov. 12th, 2008 12:40 pm (UTC)
You pay peanuts, you get Harlow's monkeys.
Nov. 12th, 2008 01:52 pm (UTC)
I know. *sigh*
Nov. 12th, 2008 01:08 pm (UTC)
I'm with Ben. Let the deficient kill their offspring.
Nov. 12th, 2008 02:13 pm (UTC)
I like your choice of icon there. I don't remember that being one of his rallying cries.
Nov. 12th, 2008 02:49 pm (UTC)
"These morons should be sterilised before they can breed". This is what I was reduced to thinking this morning. I don't think I'm a long lost relative of Mengele. I do know that we can't keep letting children be broken by monsters.
Nov. 12th, 2008 03:12 pm (UTC)
You don't need to be a eugenicist to believe that they should be sterilised. It's a means to reduce further suffering.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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