Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Friday, 12 March 2010

Social workers 'took kicking' over Khyra death

Iffit Rehman Birmingham City Council senior social worker
Iffit Rehman: "Our goal is not to remove a child from his or her family"

Protecting families from guns and gang-related crime, child trafficking and prostitution, are issues that Birmingham social worker Iffit Rehman has to deal with - along with trying to get home on time for her son's birthday.

The senior social worker for Birmingham City Council said her role was "very draining, emotionally and physically".

Recently it felt like the whole service had received "a kicking" from an outraged public in the wake of the Khyra Ishaq case, Ms Rehman said.

And this, despite child protection workers being rebuffed on several occasions when they tried to visit Khyra at home, a High Court inquiry into the girl's death heard.

Inside the Aston social services offices, the chief executive's motto hangs on the wall, and reads: "A good day for me is when I get positive feedback on the service we provide."

It is hurtful when people say we are not doing a good job when you have members of staff who are committed and dedicated
Iffit Rahman, senior social worker

Its modest ambition is perhaps not surprising, bearing in mind Birmingham has the busiest social services offices in England and is currently trying to fill 150 vacancies.

Ms Rehman said: "You'll get doors slammed in your face, you'll get verbally abused.

"As yet I have not been physically threatened but I know a few colleagues who have come very close to being physically assaulted."

Seven-year-old Khyra was home-tutored and kept a virtual prisoner at home in Handsworth, Birmingham.

She was starved to death by her mother Angela Gordon and her partner Junaid Abuhamza. The pair have been jailed for manslaughter.

Khyra Ishaq

A High Court ruling into Khyra's care proceedings said she may have survived if there had been "an adequate initial assessment and proper adherence by the educational welfare services to its guidance".

Ms Rehman said: "Morale has been low and it has been difficult.

"It is hurtful when people say we are not doing a good job when you have members of staff who are committed and dedicated - and they are in this office."

"If they weren't I wouldn't be working here, but I like my job and I do appreciate the management and I appreciate my colleagues."

The service was repeatedly rebuffed when it tried to intervene in Khyra's case, the High Court inquiry in 2008 heard.

Social workers made numerous house calls to check on Khyra, but were denied access and Khyra's mother eventually rang social services to tell them not to attempt further home visits.

She was found emaciated at her home on 17 May, 2008 and was confirmed dead at hospital.

Iffit Rahman Birmingham City Council social worker
Work can feel like running around like a headless chicken, Ms Rahman said

The NSPCC has now called for social workers in child protection cases to be allowed to see children away from their parent or guardian.

Back in the office Ms Rehman said: "It can feel like running around like headless chickens.

"It is a fairly smooth day today. I haven't had my lunch break, it's my son's birthday and I am looking forward to going home on time.

"We have to do a specific job and yes there will be times we are unable to meet certain needs.

"There are positive changes being made by upper management and senior management."

Ms Rehman said child protection social workers were often "stigmatised" as people who only removed children from their families, without recognising the supportive role they played too.

"Our goal isn't to go in to remove the child from his or her family," she said.

'We are accountable'

"We always try other options, we try to build relations and we try to get them to realise how their behaviours are impacting on their children."

If that fails social services tries to enlist the support of the extended family, friends or neighbours to help support the child at home, she said.

"If all else fails that's when children's services have to resort to care," she added.

The decision to place children in care is not made by frontline social workers like Ms Rehman though.

"We go out and assess a situation, as a frontline worker that is our job," she said.

"Yes we are responsible for our assessment and we are accountable, however any decisions that have to be made are made by team managers and upper management.

"We don't sort of say OK, right this child is at significant risk of harm, therefore I am going to put him or her into care - we do not have the authority."

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