Grim up North? grimmer down South

“It’s grim up North” I am not sure of the origin of this phrase but on a frosty Wednesday morning I know what it means. I also know that in the Social Work world it is grimmer in the South. I think that it is important not to become cocooned in your own place and space and that it is affirming to look around and see what is going on in other places and spaces. Over the last week or so I have been drawn to what is going on in England and most importantly the impact this has on Social Work.


Looking at it from the outside I feel for those people who use social work services and for those who provide social work services. The never ending debate on social works public persona rumbles on and almost everyone I have spoken to on the subject has an opinion, but that opinion is undoubtedly shaped by two (or more) influential forces, namely the media and the government. When both seem to line up in opposition to social work it is an uncomfortable place for professionals and service users to be.


Let us consider Michael Gove’s recent speech on Child Protection reform. It is disingenuous to suggest that his speech was about Child Protection reform; from my reading of it it seemed more to be about Gove locating social work in the cross hairs and gently squeezing the trigger. Make no mistake his speech was about a root and branch reform of the social work profession, from training and education to direct practice. The focus on social justice and ethical approaches in the provision on support to the vulnerable has long been anathema to politicians such as Gove.


Astonishingly he managed not to mention Eileen Munro’s work on Child Protection or the work of the Social Work reform board. To me this is a clear indication that Gove and his government colleagues have a direction of travel and are not going to be put off, especially not by rigorous academic evidence or the expert knowledge and experience of professionals in the field. Gove did however provide some evidence, from a Times journalist, which reminds me, I must set the Sky to record the outcome of the Levenson inquiry, now who owns the Times??? Who is being investigated for press standards and ethics???


Most worrying seems to be a simplistic linear view that there are a certain number of “problem families” and that social work should become more ready to remove children from these families and that the adoption process should be simplified to allow for a speedier transition from these problem families into the arms of nice middle class adopters. Social Workers need to become more sensitive to squalor and concentrate less on asking intimate personal questions of adopters, after all anything is better than where these kids were, right?


It is packaged up in simple language and simpler terms of reference. Social work is failing the most disadvantaged children. Blame is attributed to the professional and the most vulnerable in our society are played into a political game that seems to have at its heart a desire to erode a fundamental function of social work; asking difficult questions, either of prospective adopters or the systems that people interact with that can, if not checked, disadvantage people who are already vulnerable.


If social workers are not allowed to be reflective, analytical and critical and if students are not encouraged to learn about the complexities of peoples lived experience then that amounts to a reform of the profession on an unprecedented scale. For me it would fundamentally change the nature and scope of what we do. Social Workers operate at the very margins of society, it is vital they have an understanding of why people find themselves there and if social workers find it unpalatable that people are living in such extremes and are willing to challenge it then so much the better. Not just for the profession and for those who use the services but also for those who believe that in a truly democratic country the importance of a unified professional voice that seeks to support the most vulnerable and disadvantaged is vital.


Rotherham is a case in point, you may or may not agree with a decision to remove Eastern European children from a family who are members of UKIP but it seems to me that this was a tragic example of a situation that should have been played out in a confidential manner being played out in public for political gain. I question the morality and the ethics of anyone who would seek political advantage from the experiences of children in foster care. These are the very vulnerable children that Gove wants us to believe he can protect more fully, it seems hypocrisy then to conflate their situation to prove his point. And for those in the press who rushed to get this story out there willingness to see the “story” before the children is indicative of a section of our society that has lost some sense of proportionality.


Gove does his best to ignore some stark facts, we live in terribly austere times, his government has cut jobs and services, his government has a fundamental belief that public service should be reducing, his government also believe that reducing the support provided by the welfare state is desirable as it offsets the economic crisis, particularly if we reduce the availability of welfare benefits through the aggressive use of means testing, his government believe that privatisation of the NHS is something to aspire to. All of this is an unprecedented attack on the safety net that we have always known to be inadequate even in the most financially secure of times.


An active, voluble social work profession is not so much desirable as necessary attacking it and those who use it for political advantage is tragic. It might be grim up North but I fear it is even grimmer in the South

15 thoughts on “Grim up North? grimmer down South

  1. Bonklesoul typically calls for secrecy.I suppose he feels that if nobody knew about banning members of UKIP from fostering the practice could have carried on quietly and secretly .
    Perhaps it could have been extended to members of the BNP,the Tories,and the Lib Dems !
    You want to foster? First tell us how you vote and which political party you belong to.
    Extend this to what you believe and if it’s not multiculturism you are out !Thought police….
    Orwell would have loved it !

  2. Sorry Bonklesoul, your over simplistic view of social workers working at the margins of society do not cut the mustard any more.

    I am not at the margins of society. There are now so many others increasingly educated people like me who experience / have experienced the same inept / seriously bad social work and similar others who well realise the same problems too. We do not accept the wholesale secrecy on publicity as the UK social work system keeps to hide its poor work from scrutiny, in the name of ‘protection/ confidentiality’.

    As to children, most who are fostered / adopted will be noticed, as families will loose children they had – one day with the next without. The children will talk in school when placed with a ‘new family’ if they are old enough to know. Babies / toddlers are the exception. I cannot see the reason for secrecy at all costs and do not accept harm will arise in many cases if the care judgements are valid. In other countries this does not appear to be an issue. In the real world others get to know, even if not the media.

    I await with great interest the root and branch review of social work. But I doubt it will be the end as far as joe public is concerned – because many things like the bad use of the MCA are also now causing disquiet for adults. Someone will have to realise that social workers ( and others) cover a wider remit where they can cause harm from poor skills/ judgements.

  3. Forced adoption; I called for confidentiality. I made no comment at all on the political opinions of adopters. Confidentiality and secrecy are two different things. Edna, Social Work is not secret it is subject to inspection from a variety of government bodies and Social Workers in Britain are subject professional and personal regulation, in England this is via the HCPC
    Both, I would argue that regulation and inspection encourages transparency. I am unsure why you would think Social Work is secret.

    • The GSCC was the regulator until recently and not I note well thought of by social workers. The HPC is a new regulator for social work- cuts costs as it deals with other health workers.

      Registration was a more recent development compared to nursing say, as it was earlier not a regulated role.

      I like many do not see the the course of study involved for / or social work itself as a profession in the term commonly accepted. It has nothing like the capacity needed for the development of a strong evidence base such as with the sciences or the analytic / complex thinking skills of law for example.

      Social work was being undertaken long before social workers in paid jobs decided it might be set up as a ‘profession’ with status. It has a history of people who wanted to help or administer their own notion of ‘help’ / assistance to the poor in need or in difficulties. Such people ranged from truly philanthropic to less savoury persons. Dicken’s portrayal of this is no less accurate today- just the superficial covering is the cloak of ‘profession’ which hides what lies underneath.

      I know that social services / work is not transparent and they do hide and lie and are more arrogant than their lowly public status would countence. There is nothing like personal experience- with evidence. In time people will avoid social workers and services- many have started to do so. Unfortunately, because there is so little positive experience anyone who is decent as a human is going to be lumped with the majority whom I would not wish to have cross my path.

  4. Bonlesoul:- Secrecy and confidentiality are the SAME THINGS and shameful when babies are being confiscated at birth !If mothers treated in this way dare to protest publicly they are threatened with jail;Confidentiality my eye ! Harriet Harman when home secretary gave figures of over 200 per year jailed in secret. In a democracy any citizen feeling oppressed by the State can protest publicly but in the UK parents whose children have been taken face jail if they do.Shame on the UK?and Shame on the SS…..

  5. @Edna Fletcher;

    If there’s any over-simplification going on here Edna, then it’s by your blinkered self. I am agog at the hysterical nonsense that you have managed to post and yet, you profess to an education. That you have experienced inept social working and because you do not see yourself as marginalised is not ‘proof’ that most social workers are inept. Did your education not teach you that anecdotal evidence does not a case make?
    Here is something else that your education should have taught you; never make claims unless you have a credible source to back it up. What is your source for making the assertion that there is ‘wholesale secrecy on publicity’ regards social work? Poor work in ANY profession should never be hidden from scrutiny and social work is NO exception with its raft of regulatory bodies in place (as already mentioned by bonklesoul) to counter any such failings. So then how is this profession hiding behind the veil of ‘protection/confidentiality’ as you state?

    You then go on to say that families losing children, as well as children that are old enough to talk will natter to their new classmates thereby negating the need for ‘protection/confidentiality’. Your stance being that it’s impossible to keep things a secret so why does social work try. That ‘you’ cannot see the need for protection/confidentiality’ does not mean that it’s not needed – and your next statement is almost as breath-taking in its stupidity as your previous statement! HOW do you know other countries do not have this problem? So far I have found your posts to be sweeping generalisations so you will forgive me if I question the veracity of your assertions.

    In your ideal world, the abusers and rapists and mental torturers will have full access to data that tells them where their victims have gone!

    And just because you only hear of the failures does NOT mean there are not thousands of social workers doing their jobs, and doing it WELL, and doing it QUIETLY because after all, it doesn’t serve a purpose or sell papers if the public get to hear of all the good stuff that social work does.

    I’d agree that bad social working can have ugly consequences as we have seen from the past but, that’s not ALL there is to social work. This is not to say that I too haven’t had a bad experience regards a social worker btw, but, I have also had a good one. It’s just too easy to remember the bad ones and focus on the bad press because, we all need a scapegoat. It’s also LAZY! Know your facts!

    Oh and your source for the assertion that the GSCC was not well thought of by social workers please? You may find that the HCPC proves less popular btw, so watch this space if I were you.

    And then we come to the heart of the matter. You cannot see why a degree is required for social work, because there has always been philanthropy, and critical thinking and analysis is hardly a necessary skill for the charitable worker…ah but wait…social workers shouldn’t really be a ‘profession’ with ‘status’ and despite public perception of social workers having a ‘lowly public status’ really they are ‘arrogant’ and they ‘hide and lie’ …oh and you know this because you have ‘personal experience – with evidence’.

    Not forgetting that people will start to see the truth and in time will avoid social workers and services, as they have already started to do…again, your source?

    Do you know something? Your words drip with resentment and envy. You appear to resent the power of the social worker and it sounds as though, you challenged and lost.
    If that’s what happened then genuinely, I am sorry to hear that. I felt much as you after my initial bad experience but the replacement social worker knew his job and it really helped to change my view of them. We talk regularly now and I can honestly say I did not know half of what they have to do! And no money to do it with. Don’t blame social workers, Edna. Blame government policies that don’t let social workers do their jobs and blame the media for misrepresenting a profession. The bad ones should ALWAYS be held to account but, not the whole profession!
    It really grates when the odd few manage to rubbish an entire profession, and Edna? It IS a profession. Without doubt. You just happened to come across an unprofessional.

    No matter how much people try and belittle social workers, you can always tell how important a profession is by the impact of its mistakes. Think about that. And ask yourself why it is that we as ‘joe bloggs’ never get to hear the good stuff.

  6. @forcedadoption

    Would it help you to differentiate between confidentiality and secrecy if I said – confidentiality in this context could also be taken to mean ‘classified information’.

  7. Whether or not Rotherham Council made the right or wrong decision in removing those kids, I must confess to feeling somewhat concerned at the speed at which the foster carers seem to have gone to the media.

    The kids were removed on the Thursday and Friday, and it was all over the news by Saturday? Doesn’t sound like a lot of time to discuss a grievance with the professionals involved.

    As I’ve said, I’m not an expert on the fostering system by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know what would happen in my own job if I had a disagreement with my employer and then a few days later I was in the media accusing them of making politically-motivated decisions against me.

  8. No in this case the “SS” use secrecy/confidentiality to cover up the cruelty,the injustices, and the utter lack of compassion of social workers who snatch babies at birth from mothers for “risk” of emotional abuse and later with the aid of compliant judges give them for adoption by strangers so that most of the bereft mothers never see or hear from their children for the rest of their lives,and Oh ,I forgot to mention,JAIL if these mothers dare to complain publicly !

  9. Yes Zarathrusta ,I am not surprised at your outrage that an employee dismissed for belonging to a political party should dare to complain publicly because that party is UKIP !
    If however a social worker or anyone else was dismissed for being a member of the Labour party you would have been the first to howl in protest !

  10. Following a further comment in a similar vein from forcedadoption, I’ve now switched his commenting into moderation.

    I have no problem with people expressing honest disagreements about the Rotherham UKIP case, but I am really starting to get tired of this “Social Services = Child-Stealing SS” drivel that seems to be turning up in the comments on an increasingly regular basis.

    Also in the last couple of days, I’ve had to remove a comment where the author posted a YouTube video of him interviewing his wife about the ongoing child protection proceedings against them.

    I think it might be time to clearly state some rules for the comment threads. I’ll do that in a bit, but first I need to get ready for the Common Purpose meeting, and I need time to shape-shift back into lizard form.

  11. Zarathustra, I deliberately stopped answering the comments from two people on the thread as it was clear that reasoned debate was not working. I too welcome debate but the tone of some of these comments made me uncomfortable enough to stop replying.

    • Yes, I learned from bitter experience from my old blog Mental Nurse that a loud and shouty segment of commenters can wind up scaring off more moderate voices.

      I’ve no doubt I’ll get accused of censoring free speech (in fact there’s already a couple of comments in the deleted folder accusing me of just that) but (a) such voices actually impede the free speech of others and (b) I don’t think having a comments section on a blog obligates people to necessarily accept all comments for publication.

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