With respect and in memory of Social Worker Belinda Rose

A colleague and close friend of mine wrote the following piece after hearing about the dreadfully sad murder of Social Worker Belinda Rose (63). Please do take a moment to read. Thank you.

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“I don’t ever really talk about my job on the internet. I’m proud to be a social worker. I am proud of the work I do. I am inspired by the people I meet, whether they are the people I work with, fellow social workers, or other public servants I work along side like doctors, police, mental health workers or teachers. However, I am very aware that there are people that have had bad experiences with social workers and that might include people on my Facebook. I would rather not open myself up to the potential abuse. Anyway, I’m going to now.

This week, a social worker was stabbed and killed whilst at work caring for the people she works with. She was stabbed by a person that she was working with. A quick Google will show that this has been reported by the Sun, Daily Mail and Mirror. This has not been picked up in a major way by the mainstream media in a way that deaths of soldiers or police officers would be. By contrast, a police officer was also tragically killed this week. There is currently rolling coverage of the incident, the trial and a statement from the Prime Minister.

Social workers put themselves at risk every day, working with violent offenders and desperate people. We don’t have stab proof vests. Or batons. Or mace. Our professional skill is our ability to build and maintain professional relationships. Walking into a house dressed like a soldier stops us from being able to do that. We go to houses that Police would take all of the above equipment armed with nothing more than a mobile phone to call someone if things go wrong. We go there to have challenging conversations about drug use, mental health and whether a child is being properly cared for. In doing so, we put ourselves at risk.

Please don’t misinterpret this as a complaint about attention other professionals get; it’s not. It’s is proper and right that anyone killed whilst serving their community goes properly reported. In this era of 24 hour rolling news coverage, it is possible and fair that any such incident receives attention. It is certainly better to pay tribute to the hard working people of this country than to continuously report on the behaviour and actions of minor celebrities or sportspeople.

Is there a reason that the death of a social worker gets less attention? It is almost certainly linked to the fact social workers are one of least popular of all professions. (I have even seen someone praise a traffic warden for giving a social worker a parking ticket.) This is particularly true for child protection social workers, but all social workers are tarred with the same brush. The reality is that most people that meet social workers do so for negative reasons. Whether that is due to concerns about a child’s wellbeing, difficulties with mental health or even being too physically unwell to manage in your home without support. No one ever wants a social worker because it is a sign that things aren’t going well. It has resulted in social work becoming a necessary evil that people rather not think about.

Can anyone think of a time that social services has been in the news for a reason other than criticism? Of course you can’t. There is nothing newsworthy about children being safe or old people remaining at home. However, unlike other services, there are no public cheerleaders pointing out when we are doing a good job. Results go up, politicians praise teachers. Crime goes down, the media congratulates the Police. Children living in safe and caring homes… Silence. Elderly people continue to live a quality of life they want… Nothing.

Part of this is because realistically measuring the impact of our services on people cannot be done through quantitative data like statistics or results, so it is impossible to ever measure how well social services are ever doing. However, there is also the fact that no one wants to imagine what lies behind our data. Take as an example the numbers of children looked after by Local Authorities in the UK. This continues to rise (because of austerity, but that’s for another day) which suggests social workers are doing a good job in keeping kids safe, right? Or have they failed promote positive change in families so that they can continue to care for their own children? Both cases are potentially true. Think about how that makes you feel. Are you really pleased that children have been removed from parents? I hope not. This is a job I’ve done for three years and I am never happy when that is the outcome, but sadly there are times it is the only option.

There is also a major class issue at play. You are more likely to meet a social worker if you come from a working class family from a deprived area than if you are middle or upper class from middle England. Whereas Police, teachers, doctors, nurse etc are universal services that everyone uses. Therefore, everyone cares about the health and wellbeing of the public servants that they need. People are less interested in professions that they don’t really know exist, or exist for negative reasons.

This then directly correlates into the amount of political attention these services get. There are lots of campaigns for more doctors, nurses, Police, teachers etc. Where are the campaigns for more social workers? God knows we need them. Which mainstream politician or celebrity is standing up on a daily basis saying “children’s services needs more money?” How many unions are picking up the fight for social workers to have better working conditions and shouting about the hard work we do? None. More social workers isn’t a vote winner. No one is bothered about the hours we work, the useless computer systems we use and the strain it puts on our physical or emotional health. They only care when we fail. Social service reform only comes when it is too late. If you really want to know about the popularity of social workers then search for some of the Facebook pages threatening us or read the comments below any news articles about social workers.

Surveys repeatedly show that social workers often have one of, if not the most, stressful job in the country. Add on top of that the dim view everyone takes of profession, thanks to a hostile media. Then remember the risks we place ourselves at regularly to try and keep people safe. Two social workers in the UK have been stabbed and killed in the UK this year that I am aware of. It is likely that there have been more that I am not aware of. It’s enough to make you think why anyone would do this job! Fact is, the average social worker only last 8 years before a career change. Social workers have one of the highest levels of time off work due to stress. Social workers are also among the most likely professionals to commit suicide. The worst case scenario is that some social workers take the most extreme routes to stop doing their job.

And yet, thousands of us across the country still show up to work every day and deal with this. We stand in solidarity with all other professionals in our quest to make the UK, and the World, a better place for us all to live. We will continue to do so, not out of loyalty to our bosses or the government. For the people we really work for, the people that need our help. It is this commitment that led to the tragic deaths of Belinda Rose and Andrew Harper. I hope they both rest in peace and that both of their sacrifices are paid tribute to.

The only thing I ask is that we get a little bit more love. Politicians and the media praise the positive work we do. People think about us when they speak about the problems with public services and what needs to improve. We stop being the forgotten profession, only there to blame when things go wrong.

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