Researching Reform were privileged to be able to witness and join in a conversation this evening on child protection and social work. As part of their Social Work Dilemmas series, the Community Care website invite social work professionals and members of the public to join in (and anyone can join in, without being invited, as we did). The site gives you a case study to read (short and easy to digest) and the panel of experts then lead the discussion.
The panel this evening were:
Kelly is child protection co-ordinator at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).
Lucy is the social work reform programme manager at Islington Council and a member of the College of Social Work.
Nushra is a professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW)
Joanna Nicolas is an independent social worker, child protection consultant and trainer.
As we are not qualified in social work, we observed most of the debate but were warmly welcomed as we joined in and shared some thoughts on parenting and possible impressions the professional response might leave on young people. What was most fascinating about this debate, was that being professionals much of the focus was on winding up the ‘child protection machine’ rather than in the first instance, taking an organic approach and finding out whether or not there is a child protection issue in the first place.
That said, some professionals also agreed with our view that families should, where possible, be empowered to communicate with their children and that children too should be empowered so that they can grow and become stronger themselves. The debate reminded us of this brilliant piece about kids and trauma and how research shows that children do best when ‘helped’ by adults who come from their natural environment.
But that isn’t to say there isn’t a place for social workers. We do believe that where parents need help caring for their children, professionals properly trained are invaluable, and knowing how to help is key. As one guest this evening noted at the debate, “I think social work is [about] supporting and enabling change and social policing. That’s why it’s so complex, the skillful use of authority is a constant tension for social workers to manage”. And that is the heart of it. If a job is really well done, the professional melts away into the background and leaves only the appearance of the family, invisible to all but the parents and children they helped. Authority then is no longer about strong-arming but inspiring families and that is no mean feat.
A truly interesting discussion, which highlighted some very sensitive approaches to social work. We would like to see that move to another level – to incorporate a phantom-like approach, where social workers are highly trained and kept up to date in real-time, with families empowered and children thriving.
Many thanks to Community Care’s panel for allowing us to join in.
PS. Have a look here, to see a useful guide on online child protection resources, which was mentioned on the debate this evening.