There is a very interesting article in Community Care today about a survey that was recently done to highlight the violence social workers sometimes face when dealing with parents and other members of the public.
Notwithstanding self defense, violence is never excusable, that much all of us know, but what is shocking about this piece is that it fails completely to understand why parents react in a hostile way in the first place. So whilst Unison and Community Care join forces to protect social workers from abuse, the real issues are being ignored and their efforts to protect their workforce will, we would modestly suggest, fail.
Because, the root cause of the hostility does not lie in any unreasonable or un-explainable phenomena. The world has not gone wild. What has happened, is that government organisations have simply lost the trust of the people. They have taken advantage of the public, whether through charging too much for terrible services or not putting enough money into services that are needed; they have forgotten they are there to assist the public, rather than to dictate. And perhaps most importantly, government culture has become all about passing the buck, so when something goes wrong, there is effectively, noone to turn to, to take responsibility.
Whether social services blame the courts for the delays inside the system or the courts blame family breakdown for the delays, all we seem to see are government bodies failing to man-up and do the right thing.
If we were head of Social Services for a day, the first thing we would do, after discovering that our workforce was being put in dangerous situations, is carry out extensive research on why: why do parents feel so angry? We have a feeling the answers would not be that hard to come by.
Take a look at some of the accounts of social workers in the article, where they explain how they came to be either verbally or physically attacked. One social worker cut a man diagnosed with HIV’s care package down. He had effectively discovered he had AIDS and then along comes a social worker who says “Sorry mate, you’re very sick but we’re going to give you less help”. The individual in question was terribly angry and threatened to hurt her physically and even to give her his AIDS virus. It was a very unpleasant reaction. And perhaps the social worker who delivered the message was compassionate, but the message from the state is still the same. The message is still, “Fuck you”.
And what of compassion? How many social workers really have the training to deal with complex emotion elegantly, and of those, once they are overworked and exhausted, how many can keep that kind of diplomatic and instinctive communication going? The answer may be, very few. Here, the training is at fault and who is going to admit that better training is needed? No one from inside the sector, unless they’re very brave.
Or, take the account of the social worker who advised a mother she could not have her travel expenses to have contact with her child because she had not attended contact for three months – we do not know the reasons why she didn’t. Perhaps the mother was ill. Or perhaps she hadn’t been the greatest mother, but she was trying very hard to be, now. The social worker, quite understandably, was upset when the mother spat in her face. That is not a nice thing to do. But there is another side to the story and no-one ever tells the side of the parents’.
We are not trying to play down the incidence of violence. One social worker lost her baby after being pushed down a flight of stairs. These things are not right, but we have to be very careful not to create a Them and Us Society, where government officials are protected and members of the public are treated automatically with suspicion and contempt.The slogan for this campaign is, rather unoriginally, “No To Violence Against Social Care Workers”. How about a tandem slogan which reads and “Yes To Dignified Care in The Community”.
These are delicate times. It will take strong people with a gentle touch to get it right. We hope very much that Unison and Community Care will do some soul-searching and not just attempt a skin deep solution for what is, at its heart, a very deep and delicate problem.