Former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton MP has pledged to do everything he can do in Parliament to raise the profile of social workers in a bid to end the unfair portrayal of the profession in the media and in society.
Speaking at a WillisPalmer online Social Work event to celebrate one year since the launch of the campaign #Respect4SocialWork , Tim Loughton said that since Victoria Climbie tragically died at the hands of her great-aunt and her partner, with any subsequent child tragedies, the media has acted “as though it was the social worker who had killed the child”.
“Speaking today I have a very real sense of déja-vu as we talk about the way that social workers are portrayed in the media as it is 15 years ago that I launched ‘No more blame game’ into how we can change the perception that social workers are only there to take children away and to look at the negative image of social work among the public,” said Tim Loughton.
“Yet we still have a problem with the image of social work and that is why I back the #Respect4SocialWork campaign to try and improve the understanding of what it is that social workers do,” he added.
Hailing social workers as the “fourth emergency service”, Mr Loughton highlighted that when he started out as Children’s Minister in 2010, one of the first pieces of work to be commissioned was Professor Eileen Munro’s report into child protection which was the first report produced as a standalone publication rather than being produced in response to a child’s death. The report outlined how social workers need to be freed up from spending time in front of a computer to do direct work with children and families.
Therefore, the problems in social work are “withstanding, so we don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” said Mr Loughton.
However, COVID has played a crucial role. “Everyone was out clapping for frontline workers yet behind the scenes social workers were trying to uncover complicated scenarios whereby children may be at risk where they were not always able to knock on the door, due to the restrictions in place.”
“The impact of lockdown meant cases of domestic violence were coming out of the woodwork, mental health pressures were immense and schools who usually act as a radar were closed. The pandemic reinforced how crucial social workers’ roles are and ignore that at your peril,” he added.
Josh MacAlister’s independent review of children’s social care, despite great intentions, was “not exactly rocket science”, Mr Loughton conceded that it was necessary to act as a platform.
“We are facing a crisis which is part funding, part morale and respect for the profession and we need to use the MacAlister report for change,” said Mr Loughton.
Yet Mr Loughton welcomed the Government’s commitment to the Best Start in Life campaign , led by Andrea Leadsom, which focuses on strong attachment at an early age to prevent children from being at a disadvantage once they start school.
He added that social workers needed to be a key part of Family Hubs to ensure they can put preventative work in place rather than “fire-fighting”. On a recent visit to an A&E department, Mr Loughton was informed about how much time was being taken up in A&E as a result of mental health crises which also required the assistance of police officers.
"Mental health crises are taking up huge amounts of police and A&E time when people should be in the mental health system and being supported before they get to crisis point.”
Tim Loughton MP also said that role of soap operas and celebrities were not to be underestimated when it came to educating people, as a storyline in ‘Eastenders’ about Child Sexual Exploitation had spread the message that CSE is happening in all areas of the country. “It can be used as a force for good,” he added.
Mr Loughton chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Conception to Age 2 (first 1001 days) which is undertaking work to improve government’s work in peri-natal mental health and strong attachment for young children. He sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee and Co-Chairs the APPGs for Mindfulness and Children.
He is Vice Chairman of the All-Party Groups on Youth and Care Leavers and a Vice President of the LGA (Local Government Association) and Chairman of the Conservative Human Rights Commission.
Mr Loughton concluded by saying he would continue campaigning in Parliament as he has done for many years to improve the public perception of social work, saying: “Social workers need the tools to do the job to the best of their abilities.”
For more about #Respect4SocialWork.