The last ten years have been sobering for the family justice system, and the social work sector. Fighting to stay afloat, government agencies for each have tried desperately to find ways to generate income, often through misplaced incentives and a heavy emphasis on fostering, as well as adoption. None of their efforts have worked. And now, courageous social workers are speaking up about the child welfare system and what really needs to be done to make things right.

Simon Haworth is a former social worker turned academic. He left frontline practice to become a Teaching Fellow at the University of Birmingham, and whilst he doesn’t give a reason for leaving the sector, we did wonder whether the limitations within it were partly to blame. Simon joins a growing number of social workers questioning whether the system is really catering to children’s best interests by pushing adoption and by implication other forms of social care like fostering.

In an article for Community Care, Simon looks at the current child protection policies in place and talks about why he feels these policies are harming children, and society as a whole.

Simon makes several important points. He notes that phenomena like poverty and inequality are often at the heart of vulnerable children’s narratives. He goes on to mention that social work does not address these important grass roots problems or at least incorporate a deeper understanding of them in every day practice and that this in turn leads to decisions which are often not in the best interests of the children involved.

He also questions the care proceedings timetable with its 26 week limit and makes this insightful observation:

“It is explicit in government policy that there has been a drive towards more and faster adoption. We must ask whether this is taking place to the detriment of a social work model that favours family support and interventions to keep families together. Can we expect parents to address chronic difficulties within the 26-week time limit?”

There is also an interesting section in the article about dominant approaches to child welfare practice in the UK. This is the idea that dominant demographics are able to dictate process, policy and legislation which in turn lead to disadvantage and inequality, often for the most vulnerable.

Another important point Simon makes relates to the way we address underlying issues within vulnerable families. He says:

“We should ask ourselves how many children would have their legal rights to private and family life better protected through supportive and anti-oppressive approaches that address the glaring inequalities in our unequal society.”

What Simon is effectively saying, is that we need to be focusing on keeping families together, finding ways to support families and address the core issues they are dealing with, in order to improve society and reduce the enormous cost of social care.

The article finishes with an invitation to the sector to consider anti oppressive approaches which really place children and families at the heart of every decision.

Researching Reform has been saying these things for a decade, and so we are excited to see professionals inside the sector, and those who were once a part of it, coming forward to invite positive change. We very much hope more of you will join the movement.