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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October, 2003, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Social work: The pariah profession
Jenny Cuffe reports on the day-to-day problems facing the social workers who are trying to protect children in one of Britain's most demanding boroughs.

Victoria Climbie
The Climbie case highlighted failings
The image of Victoria Climbie, a small girl tied up in a bin-bag, beaten and forced to eat like a dog, will haunt Haringey social workers for years to come.

"We're the pariahs," I was told on the first day of my visit to the child protection team in North London.

Yet nine months after Lord Laming's scathing report on the murder, there has been a complete overhaul of procedures and a transfusion of new staff, attracted by the challenge of inner-city work and above-average rates of pay (34,600 for someone with three years' experience).

Those I met were highly motivated, competent individuals, making tough decisions that I sometimes disagreed with - but would hate to have to make myself.

Seeing your children

In social work you're damned if you do and damned if you don't
Annie Walker
A young mother arrives for 90 minutes "contact" time with her two small children.

It is the first time she has seen them since social workers came and took them away late one evening.

Hugging and kissing them, she asks over and over again: "Have you missed me?"

Her partner has a criminal record for violence and she was told to keep him away from the home but has broken the agreement.

She says: "It's not fair on me having to choose between my children's dad and my children. I just feel I've been betrayed."

Edwina Gilbert, the senior social worker in charge of her case, tells her it might be six months before the courts decide whether she can have the children back home.

Asylum seekers

On the far side of London, three Roma children whose parents are seeking asylum from eastern Europe, are in foster care, at 800 a week per child.

Jenny Wilson says this is one of the most difficult cases she can remember.

When the parents first arrived in Haringey they had four children but the eldest, a six year old, has since disappeared.

Although they say they have sent her back home to her grandmother, there is no proof that this is the case.

When social workers found the other three children unaccompanied in the street, they decided to put them in care.

The parents have since been refused asylum and it is possible they will be deported while their children stay in Britain.

Increased problems

In the last year, the number of children in Haringey who are the subject of care proceedings has doubled.

Before Victoria Climbie's death, most children who came into care were teenagers out of their parents' control but now social workers are intervening far earlier. It does not make them any more popular.

Edwina's colleague, Annie Walker, sums up the frustration of many when she says: "In social work you're damned if you do and damned if you don't; you either do too much or not enough. Nobody's happy".

  • The Pariah Profession is broadcast at 8 pm on Radio 4 on 23 and 30 October and 6 November.




  • SEE ALSO:
    Victoria's parents welcome 'progress'
    08 Sep 03  |  Education
    Climbie tragedy 'not the last'
    27 Mar 03  |  England


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