Overworked and under-resourced, child social work has never looked less desirable.
However, with Yorkshire and the Humber dealing with a record number of cases in the last year, the need to attract more people into the profession has never been greater.
With the public sector having been hit hard by the Government’s spending cuts, luring new recruits with the promise of top salaries and attractive bonuses is not an option. Instead councils across the county are hoping to boost numbers by tackling misconceptions of the role with the launch of a new campaign.
Most child social workers prefer to stay in the background and the nature of their job means they value their anonymity. However, a number have been persuaded to step out of the shadows to talk about the realities of life as a social worker.
There are those like Judy Prosser, a divorced mother-of-three who has been a children’s social worker at Hull City Council for the last 14 years. The 55-year-old left school without any qualifications, but in the early 1990s returned to college, eventually graduating with a social work degree.
“It really was a struggle at times. I was a single parent with a very small income from a few part-time jobs, but I was determined to do it. There are lots of disadvantaged people out there who need someone to fight their corner. Receiving a card from a family thanking you for your help makes you realise you’re making a big difference to the lives of vulnerable children.”
Social work has become a profession which generally only finds itself in the spotlight when it fails. Cases like that of Baby Peter Connelly, the 17-month-old who died after months of abuse despite being on the at-risk register raised serious questions about the current system, but, according to those behind the new Children’s Social Work Matters it has also increased demand.
“Across Yorkshire and the Humber, and for a huge variety of reasons, more children than ever need support,” says Alison O’Sullivan, director for children and young people at Kirklees Council, who is leading the project. “The increase is reflected nationally and is due to a growing awareness of child protection issues, especially after the Baby Peter case and in the last year 74,00 children in our region have received vital help.”
Fifteen councils are part of the campaign, a key element of which is a new website which features interviews with social workers explaining the challenges and complexities of the job. One of them is Becky Elliott, who works in the Looked After Children team at Wakefield Council.
“I think a lot of young graduates fear that they won’t be able to cope with the responsibility and they might not get enough support in the job, but I have to say that’s not my experience,” says the 25-year-old, who studied at Huddersfield University before returning to her home town to take up a full-time social work position. “Sometimes parents recognise the need to relinquish care of their children so you are working with them to find the best options, but it’s true that sometimes they don’t want to give consent and don’t want you there.
“That can be difficult, but on the flip side I have had cases where people have just said thank you for listening – it means a lot when people who are in difficult, stressful situations realise they can put their trust in you.”
For more details visit www.childrenssocialworkmatters.org