Social workers leave due to ‘Baby P effect’

In possibly one of the least surprising social work stories of the year, statistics from the Local Government Association  have emerged that 6 in 10 councils are finding it difficult to recruit and retain children’s social workers.

This is an increase of 50% on the previous year, and the LGA blames the national media vilification of those involved directly in the Baby P case – and a more general damning of children’s social work as well – for scaring potential social workers away. The coverage also served to dampen morale in most social work departments.

While there have been moves to improve the image of children’s social work in the media – last week’s Panorama, for example – the vast majority of stories are still negative, which only serve to reinforce already well-entrenched anti-social work views.

Well, who would want to be a children’s social worker when you are viewed as either a child snatcher or so clueless that you can’t spot when a child is being severely abused? Not many of us.

The LGA’s figures, though unsurprising, are worrying. Many children’s services departments already complain of being overworked and understaffed, and it seems the problem is being exacerbated by the media vilification.

Of course, the more overstretched children’s departments become, the greater the chance of another Baby P happening, which would start up the media witch-hunt again and put even more off social work, and so on. 

This vicious circle needs to be stopped quickly, and it needs good communication from social work departments. For instance, while there are some local schemes that are successfully stemming the tide of departures, often neighbouring councils know nothing of it, because no-one tells them about it.

Councils need to shout about successful recruitment and retention projects from the rooftops, not just to other councils – although that is crucial – but the media too; newspapers won’t publish positive stories unless they know about them.

This way, things can change and the image of social work can – gradually – be restored.

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