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What's it all about?

I can’t have been the only Director of Children’s Services who was saddened and disappointed at the targeting of social workers and colleague directors following the recent tragic deaths of children at the hands of their parents who should love and care for them. This led me to reflect on the challenges and expectations of the social worker role and the leadership required to support staff during these difficult times.

It is important to remind social work staff and other associated professionals like teachers, youth workers, early years staff and youth justice colleagues of their value and the impact of their work. Nobody tends to write about the workers who welcome children into school with a smile and piece of toast after experiencing domestic violence at home. No one recalls the social worker who takes a child in care out for tea or who turns up to watch them at a school event. Little credit is ever given to the countless visits made to children and families offering much needed support and sometimes challenge to prevent harm.

Safeguarding children can feel like a thankless task. Unfortunately, some policy makers and journalists often only remember the profession when tragedy strikes, and someone needs to be accountable. No link ever appears to be made to the year-on-year reductions to local authority budgets over the past decade and the secondary trauma of staff working with complex family dynamics in a resource starved system, which makes recruitment and retention a challenge for all of us.

It is rare that anyone reports on the daily acts of care and compassion that form part and parcel of social work engagement with children and families in our communities. Quietly and heroically they go about the business of keeping children safe as part of a complex range of multi-agency interventions. These success stories rarely make the news.

As a leader it leaves me questioning the value and purpose of why we do what we do and puts me in mind of a song I grew up listening to, “what’s it all about Alfie?” Made famous by another great scouse woman! If you take two of the lines from the lyrics of the Burt Bacharach song…

“Are we meant to be kind?” and

“Until you find the love you have missed, you’re nothing”

…you can start to realise exactly what it’s all about and why we continue to turn up. We just need to pay attention to what we see day in and day out – kindness and Love.

I was reminded during a visit only this week of the incremental, small step engagement that goes on across many of our partnerships to mitigate the impact of disadvantage. It is truly heroic work replacing the love missed by so many and being delivered and facilitated by truly humble social work practitioners and other multi-agency colleagues who don’t always understand the impact of their interactions and the quality of time spent with children and families in crisis.

It is this love and kindness that will sustain us all and make us system leaders of the change that is required. We will continue to be the voices in the system that demand a country that works for all children where they can know true love and compassion and where they can thrive irrespective of prior advantage or opportunities. Then we will know that our work has been truly impactful and our sector expertise has been listened to.

Colleagues you are making a difference every day for children in your part of the country, one step at a time.

Thank you.

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