Should Social Workers be paid ‘danger money’? Bolton news reported yesterday that a Social Worker was held hostage by a teenager after learning that his sister had been taken into care. Whilst this matter has yet to be concluded, this coupled with the targeted shooting outside a Manchester Social Services Office back in April, is yet another demonstration of the extreme and sometimes very traumatic challenges Social Workers face on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, whilst these are extreme examples of the working environment of social work, I could report a number of similar experiences that happened either to myself or my staff. One incident that stands out for me in particular involved the completion of a section 47 investigation with a colleague on a family with links to a known terrorist organisation. I remember seeing an unmarked Police armed response unit waiting down the street ‘just in case’ – whilst all I had was my trusty pen (which was running low on ink) and a scrappy notepad. It is true that I believe the pen is mightier than the sword, but at that point in time I clearly remember thinking that this could get a bit ‘hairy’. However, thankfully it did not. But it did get me thinking as to the continued possibilities of danger that Social Workers walk in on unknowingly on a daily basis (sometimes several times a day). Because I can tell you that you never quite know what is behind the front door! What is more, Social Workers are expected to conduct a thorough investigation on others whilst in this often ‘hostile’ environment – whether dealing with vulnerable adults or children and young people.
Despite public misconception, unlike Police, Social Workers do not have enforcement powers and we cannot just ‘take’ vulnerable people. It often involves complex and numerous assessments with the ultimate decision being made via the courts. This process can be lengthy and often includes a number of home visits, which places Social Workers in a more vulnerable position. This continued misconception does not help when supporting bodies of the profession are being disbanded and a government proposal to enforce criminal charges on social workers if they fail to adequately report safeguarding concerns.
However, despite this Social Workers, working in conjunction with numerous professionals, continue to work in the face of adversity with one common goal – which is to promote better outcomes for societies most vulnerable. It is a profession that will be both challenging and rewarding on every level. It is a profession that continues to self-sacrifice for the sake of others within society. It is a profession that I am proud to be a part of. So, whilst my question about should Social Workers be paid ‘danger money’ is tongue and cheek, I am of the view that without improving public perception of what it is we actually do and highlight the dangers Social Workers face every day, then the services will not develop or improve for the better. Because, I remain of the view that if you support staff then they will look after the service users.