Social Services – some questions and comments.

Social services engage with many families where domestic violence is prevalent or occasionally involved. Most social worker training involves the law and processes and very little, from what we can judge, about underlying theories involving couples and couple dynamics.

Very frequently one reads in reports that children are “emotionally damaged” or “emotionally abused” this catch-all phrase does not specify which emotions are abused and how they are abused and so, rather like “Mental health” problems, because there was no definition of mental health before Daniel Siegel in 1992, there was no positive way of understanding what constituted positive mental health, or what to do to achieve that. Much light has now been thrown into that dark place. A similar problem exists with emotions, too, although of course Prof Dan Siegel has now provided us with a working definition of emotions. Many Social Service teams merely “state” there has been emotional abuse without being able to define that. Many teams focus only on “male abusers” and totally ignore the roles of female abusers. The Daniel Pelka case and Victoria Climbie and Baby P were particularly notorious cases in this respect.

The main focus for social services is and has been and is the safety of the children of the family.

People arriving in the UK from different cultures and backgrounds: Just how are these people expected to learn about what is required of them regarding child rearing in the UK? Just how sensible and damaging and cost ineffective is it to take their children into foster care while they learn what they need to know?

My generation ago children were still to be “seen and not heard”. A child stepped out of line the child was smacked or beaten. As a young teacher in the early 70 s that was still the most severe punishment in schools – “6 of the best”. All of that practice has rightly changed. We used to hear quite often from clients ” it didn’t do me any harm” – to which we replied – “but did it do you any good?” ” It taught me RESPECT.” “No, it taught you fear!” We haven’t heard this now for probably about 10 years as one generation mainly becomes replaced by the next generation. However, there are still a significant number of children who are still punished in this and other ways and from other cultures they can still be punished in other ways. Pepper in the eyes was the first we heard of and then the “Chicken position” or the “cockerel position” or the “burns”.

Coming from very different cultures and arriving in the UK how are parents to learn about the acceptable ways about bringing up children in the UK and the unacceptable? If you’ve lived all your life outside the Uk how would you know? Where would you learn?

A very significant set of problems is caused by involvement with social services whereby the children are quickly taken into temporary foster care. The “risk assessments” are done on the parents – but the potential damage to the children, thus separated from their parents, seems to be ignored. Payments of £330 plus per week per child to a carer would probably more than cover the costs of a mentor or several mentors, mentoring in the family home!

Some parents are taken into assessment centres. Costs? Why not train “mentors” ? Support people with their children in their own homes. That way parents would learn first hand from other, capable parents. Currently Social Services has a much greater appearance of a police force – and paradoxically the police seem much more like we imagine social workers should be. Do we need a new breed of mentoring social workers? Do we also need to recognise that most mothers are not going to be told what to do by an inexperienced, very young social worker? Another issue is the employment of “temps”. Where do families which are desperately in need of some stability find that amongst the floating body of social workers that are here today and gone tomorrow?

As Cressida Dick , Head of the Met police said: “the duty of the police is to investigate!”