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WORK LIFE - FIGHTING FOR HIGH PRIORITIES

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A child protection worker tells Joe Gill why she decided to leave her highly-pressured post in the struggling socia...
A child protection worker tells Joe Gill why she decided to leave her highly-pressured post in the struggling social services sector

Social services departments in the south east are struggling to find and keep good staff. Child protection workers are finding it increasingly difficult to perform their jobs effectively and many are looking for a way out.

Bridget Costello started working in old people's and children's homes as a teenager and graduated with a diploma in social work in 1994. She is now at the top of the scale as a child protection worker in London but has decided to quit.

'Child protection is supposed to be the most skilled, well-resourced and dangerous part of social services,' she says. 'In fact it is massively high-pressured.'

Since Ms Costello became a

social worker the job has been split between care managers and service providers, with social workers increasingly taking advice and help

from other groups.

For some time, Ms Costello also did agency work and has experience in eight inner-London boroughs. Everywhere she has been she has witnessed staff shortages, lack of resources and the seen-it-all-before culture.

She explains: 'If you are continually bombarded with requests for resources you cannot provide, you push it up to management, but then you are the one who has to tell the family 'no'. A lot of social workers start blaming the families. The job can make people vicious and spiteful.'

Ms Costello says she has seen the gap between the poor and the poorest get bigger over seven years. Ordinary working-class families are not usually clients, middle-class people almost never. 'We are dealing with almost a sub-class of people who are so marginalised and brutalised, you don't even see them. People who live in high-rise blocks, whose kids do not have coats and hang out in parks. They are not in the formal job market, they are almost invisible.'

Ms Costello is unconvinced about the usefulness of new performance management structures, which she says keep managers in meetings all the time.

She is also scathing about the vogue for restructuring in the wake of poor social services inspections and the dangers of reorganisation to vulnerable children.

'Every time there is a child death in this country, it is in the middle of restructuring. There is a much higher chance of people getting lost when everyone is being moved around. Restructuring means lack of continuity and upheaval which is very dangerous when dealing with a skeleton system.'

So what would it take to get her back into social work?

'If they allowed you space to specialise properly, do more wide-ranging things - get the initial referral, do the assessment, then provide the resources, supervise specialist work, with your manager around for more than one day-a-week.'

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