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Social workers’ voices will be heard in Parliament

WillisPalmer has pledged to investigate the possibility of instigating the establishment of a cross-parliamentary select committee on children's social care or approach the health and social care committee in a bid to get social workers’ voices heard in Parliament, following a recommendation from Dr Sharon Shoesmith.

Dr Sharon Shoesmith

Dr Shoesmith was a key speaker at a Virtual #Respect4SocialWork Campaign Event held to coincide with Social Work Week.

Addressing the social workers attending the session, Dr Shoesmith started by congratulating such a worthy profession with a moral purpose. “We know that up and down the country there are social workers working with all sorts of people, changing lives for people, changing lives for children. What worries me is that the public don’t know it. We know the work that is going on up and down the country, but the public don’t know it.”

Acknowledging the forthcoming Serious Case Reviews into the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes  and Star Hobson, Dr Shoesmith said that the profession was likely to take “a negative hit” but suggested contacting MPs who have supported the campaign such as Tim Loughton, former children’s minister, who endorses #Respect4SocialWork, and try and either access an existing select committee or look at the possibility of holding discussions about a children's social care specific select committee and arrange for a group of around six social workers to raise issues around social work such as the fast approaching 100,000 children in care.

“It would be lovely to see half a dozen social workers making a presentation to a select committee.”

WillisPalmer Head of Practice Lucy Hopkins and Dave Wareham, Head of Services - both experienced social workers - pledged to work alongside Clare Jerrom to investigate the issue further, in a bid to further develop and grow the #Respect4SocialWork campaign.

Dr Shoesmith, author of ‘Learning from Baby P – The politics of blame, fear and denial’, said there is a strong evidence base so say it really was a cultural trope - that if things go wrong then social workers are to blame.

“Atrocious storylines in soap operas and TV dramas featuring social workers perpetuate the issue," she added.

“When something goes wrong, the immediate conclusion is social workers didn’t care, didn’t think, weren’t bothered and it gets worse. In the case of Peter Connelly, the social worker ‘knew about the torture and did nothing to stop it’. Some of those things are absolutely shocking and really disturb us all,” said Dr Shoesmith

“When you know that something has happened, that a child has been brutally murdered, it skews the public perception of how predictable it was, or how preventable it was. Predictable and preventable are very simplistic concepts. You listen in to the news and they reported on Arthur’s murder and they say the Serious Case Review will find out how predictable it was. I would say we must be aware of SCR’s which find out that with hindsight that a death was predictable,” she explained.

Dr Shoesmith added that there are 110,000 social workers in the UK and each one is potentially at the mercy of the next adult who commits familial child homicide, and that’s likely to be about 50 a year. “The fear it produces stalks the profession and inevitably drives policy and practice.”

“I would love to see social workers unite under one strong, independent, representative body to have access to litigation and a clear right to a fair hearing, rather than trial by the media. I was a in a union that got me into the High Courts but I had to pay a heck of a lot to get myself into the Appeal Court. But Peter’s social workers had nothing behind them, they hadn’t joined anything, they had so little behind them and they never did get a fair hearing, even though the GSCC (General Social Care Council and regulator of social work at the time of Baby Peter Connelly's death on 3 August 2007) supported the view that they were not at fault, but it was long after the case, long after they’d lost their jobs, so my main message is to join a union and get protected.”

Dr Shoesmith explained that she worked with a group of social workers in Wales to develop 20 ways of making change, some of which are small doable steps. “If we work together on a large scale we could all take those small steps to make a difference.”  

“Of course I support your campaign #Respect4SocialWork but I’ve long believed that only social workers themselves can change the public perception of social workers. How can we work together as a workforce, a profession to change this culture we’re in?” she concluded.

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