Page last updated at 15:48 GMT, Thursday, 13 November 2008

'I'm proud to be a social worker'

Nick Frost
Nick Frost says social workers face widespread hostility
The horrific case of Baby P - who suffered months of abuse before his murder - has led to fierce criticism of local social services in Haringey, north London.

But one highly experienced social worker says many of the attacks on his profession are misplaced and counter-productive.

Nick Frost, 54, has worked in the field for 30 years. He is now Professor of Social Work at Leeds Metropolitan University and works with Leeds City Council on issues such as child protection.

As a social worker, you never know what you're going to find when you knock on a door - an angry parent threatening you with a big dog, or someone crying and pleading with you to help them.

You encounter a lot of hostility. I remember once having a brick thrown at my car. Fortunately it missed.

It comes from the media too. In Haringey, the profession is attacked for failing to protect children. But in Cleveland, social workers were accused of destroying families.

However, I believe we do a vital job, protecting society's most vulnerable members.

And I don't think people understand the difficult balancing act that social workers have to perform - between protecting children and protecting the rights of the family.

Held to account

Taking a child away is something you'll always want to avoid. But sometimes it's essential. It's not something you do lightly.

Bruises might be visible enough. But neglect and sexual abuse can be harder to spot.

The parents might try to influence you. Some will be intimidating, while others will draw you in by involving you in their problems. But it's always the interests of the child that have to be paramount.

Social workers never act alone. Before you take a child into care police and medical services will be closely involved.

Baby P's clothes
Baby P's bloodstained clothes were shown to the jury

Of course, it's right that we are held to account when mistakes are made.

But blanket media condemnation can be counter-productive. In such a climate - the wake of child deaths - social workers become more cautious. That means more children in care.

And there are thousands of success stories every day that we can't shout about because of confidentiality.

I've had parents extremely angry with me because their children had been removed from their homes - but six months later they'd thank me for stepping in and helping resolve whatever issues they faced.

Bad practice

Not all social work departments are the same, either. In Leeds, we're performing well.

And I don't think it's a coincidence that you've seen several high-profile child deaths in London, where there are many vacant social worker positions, a lot of authorities in a small geographic area - which can create a lot of problems - and many different cultures living closely together.

Ultimately, social workers succeed when we work well with other agencies like the NHS and the police.

For all the negative publicity the profession attracts, we get five applications for every place on our courses at Leeds Metropolitan University.

I've seen people from all walks of life, miners and police officers alike, retraining in social work because they want to make a difference.

My brother has a well-paid job in the City. But he always tells me that he chose the wrong job - he'd rather be helping the vulnerable and working with people.

We need to learn from our mistakes and root out bad practice. But at the end of the day, I'm very proud of what I do.

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