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When social services get involved

Sad girl sitting on floor

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How many of us have been bawling at the kids to behave and wondered whether the neighbours are dialling social services? Or looked at our child’s bruised shins of many colours at the side of the pool and imagined that Esther Rantzen is going to come knocking? For most of us, it’s probably a fleeting ‘what if…?’ but for some families, social services’ intervention is a daily reality – and a necessary one.

Families may need – and can ask for – support with a particular issue, from a child’s challenging behaviour to substance dependency. Parents with mental health problems or a disability might benefit from extra support from social services. And of course if there is a problem such as domestic violence within a family, then children may be at risk of harm. In the current economic climate too, more families are facing serious money worries and the risk of them being unable to provide for their children is increased – in fact experts expect to see more children suffering neglect due to the recession. So there are clearly valid reasons for social services to become involved with a family, and clear benefits for all involved.

What do we feel about social services?

Consider for a moment what child protection teams, and their individual social workers, are there for – to protect children from harm and abuse. Anything there you don’t like? So far, so good, yet social workers get a bad press. They’re invariably portrayed in the soaps as interfering, condescending and out of touch with reality; and in the media demonised either for taking action – ‘social services stole my kids’ – or failing to do so – ‘how did social workers miss this?’

So how far from reality are our perceptions of social services? Does a knock at the door from a social worker really mean your kids are going to be taken away? Or do we distrust them because we’re lured by the media’s sensationalism into thinking they ‘want’ to split our families up? Are we so afraid of our children being removed that we don’t seek the help we need? And if you are genuinely concerned about the safety of another family’s child, how can you be sure that calling for help is actually going to help not hinder?

sad child

The reality is, of course, that children are only taken into care as a last resort – when there is clear evidence of risk to the child’s safety, and only by court order. Ask a child protection social worker and they’ll tell you that they would rather work with families to improve the children’s safety and wellbeing – in fact 92% of children who are subject to a child protection plan live at home, and their family remain responsible for their day to day care.

And even when a parent is deemed unable to care for their child, ‘kinship care’ is often a better option for everyone than state care. It’s estimated that between 200,000 and 300,000 children in the United Kingdom, who cannot live with their parents, are being brought up by grandparents, older siblings or other wider family members or friends.

Child protection is your business

The NSPCC and others’ view is that protecting children from harm is everybody’s business. They encourage us to speak out if we suspect a child is at risk, rather than keep it to ourselves and wait for someone else to take responsibility. Which, on the face of it, is a no-brainer – would any of us really choose to sit back and allow a child to be hurt? But what if you’re wrong? What if your actions lead to a family being undeservedly split apart?

But look at it from the other side – if you were struggling to cope, shouting more than usual and feeling like you were losing control, wouldn’t you rather get some help than harm your child? And when you’re working all day and leaving your child with someone you trust, what if your judgement proves wrong? If someone was concerned about your child, wouldn’t you want them to make that call?

So put aside all the urban myths and put yourself into a social worker’s shoes. Many families benefit from their day-to-day involvement and support. But in the more serious cases, how do they sleep easy wondering if they’ve made the right decision to leave a child in the family home where they could be at risk of harm? Or if they were right to split up a family to keep the child safe? As one social worker says, ‘when we have a success that’s never out there splattered across the papers.

“Social services save a child” – you’ll never see that headline’.

It’s a tough job, for all the right reasons.




One Response to “When social services get involved”

  1. Stacey w

    Hello my names Stacey.
    I’m 24 years old and I live with my mum and my two children aged 3 & 5 years old.
    I suffered domestic violence with the children’s father & as a result suffer with really low self esteem.
    I’ve been diagnosed with depression and have in the past self harmed. I’ve just currently went back on antidepressant tablets and my mood is much better.
    I’ve had social services involvement on and off since I got pregnant with my son now aged 5. My son has had previous involvement with cams.
    I have had no contact with there father for over a year now but because of my low moods in the recent past (I wasn’t on medication) my children are now on the child protection list and I’m currently in pre court proceedings. I was smoking cannibis for a long time but have stopped now and have been off of it for 3 weeks now which has bettered my mood as well as a higher dose of anti-depressants ,which i feel didn’t work before due to it conflicting with my cannibis use.
    I really love my children and I know I have really messed up but I am doing absolutely everything social services are telling me because I’m terrified of losing my children. I’m nothing without my children and I really need help and support to get on the right path so that I stand a better chance of keeping my children as well as getting support for myself.
    Just wondered if your service was able to help me


About Alison McKay

About Alison McKay

Alison McKay is a charity PR professional with over 15 years' experience in full-time, part-time and jobshare roles. Since being made redundant while on maternity leave, she has divided her time between working for a local museum, freelance and volunteer writing, and being chief wrangler to a two-year-old mud-magnet and an almost-seven-year-old wannabe dog-care worker with a penchant for hair accessories. Alison's hobbies include yoga, reading cookery books and putting away just enough clean laundry to keep the pile below 3ft tall.

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