The BBC documentary, “Protecting our children”, has offered the best sense of what happens in social work I’ve seen for years. Sadly, the first episode will only be available on IPlayer for a week, but social work and social policy students will find it well worth viewing. The first part wasn’t perfect – it didn’t give the viewer a sense of the options the social workers explored, or how they settled on the methods that they chose to use in preference to others. For example, a ‘contract’ was made with the family, but that wasn’t explained. What it did give was a sense of the problems that are being addressed and how social workers have to negotiate with a family – a springboard for discussion, rather than a revelation.
There are several noteworthy issues, but let me point to two in particular. One is the use of power by the social work team, most obviously in a team meeting where the family was simply overwhelmed by formality and numbers. The other is the the reluctance of social workers to offer advice. The dominant professional ethic is still that service users have a “right to fail” – but not that they have a right to know what the consequences of alternative actions might be.