All views shared in this article are mine. I do not represent any organisation or group. I started sharing this information after reading a number of comments from BME social networks groups. I just thought of sharing because I know every little bit of help is valuable. I was taught at my University that Social work is a helping profession and so wherever I am I will help by sharing basic information. Anyone is welcome to share related information so that parents can utilise social service in a positive way.
I worked with children and families as a girl child rights activist for over 20 years in the voluntary sector and gained experience on how to protect children from all forms of abuse. I also privately fostered over 16 children including one here in the UK. I recently studied MSc in Social Work degree and found the knowledge I acquired valuable in helping my community in safeguarding and protecting children from harm. I have taken the first step to sharing simple information on child development, challenging behaviours, children and mental health, child sexual exploitation and all forms of abuse. Sometimes a lot of what I did not know about laws protecting children will also be shared here as I know this can help someone.
These articles are written in simple language to make it easier for parents in our BME communities in the UK to understand some basics on safeguarding children and how to engage with social services for best outcomes for children. These are not lectures, assignments or essays. These are insights and views of someone who recently studied MSc in Social Work but feels strongly parents can benefit when information is simplified for them. Some cases escalate due to parents lacking information on how social services work. Safeguarding is not the responsibility of social workers only. Parents are expected to have information and knowledge on safeguarding as they are the primary carers of children.
Before I went to Royal Holloway University to study MSc in Social work in 2014, I heard so many stories in my Zimbabwe community in the UK about how terrible social services were. I read with pain some accounts some women shared on social media about their children being removed or just anxiety that a child would be removed. Mind you what caused me anxiety is what I heard and not what I saw. By sharing some basic information with my community about role of social worker in protecting and safeguarding children from significant harm which is not as easy to understand as that of GP, lawyer, teacher, nurse or engineer I am inviting our community and other BME communities to help share more accurate information about how social services is there to support children and families rather than cause pain. By sharing this information am not pointing to specific cases or individuals at all. I am just starting a general discussion for parents out in the community to gain insight on how social work is a helping profession and how you can engage and help bring out best outcomes for your child.
By the time I finished my MSc in Social work studies from Royal Holloway University, I gained knowledge and more insight into how the child protection system in the UK works. There is a time I went for placement in child protection and mental health and understood better how the Children’s Act 1989 which is very like Zimbabwe’s Children’s Act works. In its simplest form and for grassroots parents targeted by my articles and if I can simplify and then later explain in local languages, like in any other country and Zimbabwe included, the government has a duty to protect children through the local authority. In the likely event, they suspect a child is at significant risk of abuse, they have a duty to intervene or to chip in to make it easier to understand. The law to protect children is like any other law e.g. against robbery, murder, rape, assault, fraud, discrimination etc. If there were no laws to protect children and everyone was let to beat them to death or maim them or abandon disabled children, then by now, there could be no children. There is a time when a law saves lives. Therefore, first and foremost, social services are mandated by government to ensure laws to safeguard and protect children are used properly. No culture should allow anything that harms or deters the mental and physical development of a child. It is wrong to say culturally you discipline by beating a child when the law forbids assault on others due to the risk of physical and emotional harm. No culture supports violent disciplining. No culture promotes child neglect like when you send a child dirty to school. For a child to grow to their full potential, they need care and it is expected good parents provide this care. When social workers or professionals see a child with bruises or unkempt, they have a duty to report and help is given to the child and family.
As I finished my studies, I understood that social workers do not just knock on families’ doors to remove children willy nilly. Not at all. That is a total false information. If the local authority receives information that a child is at risk, they follow procedures and all they do is guided by ethics and values. There is no law that gives power to social workers to knock on the door and demand a child from a parent. Normally, if there is information that a child is at risk, a social worker conducts a professional investigation with parents, teachers and the child. And sometimes the abuse may not be so obvious and that is when later a child dies. In the past children like Baby P and Victoria Climbe were found with multiple wounds because the physical abuse they were subjected to was never detected. So, when social workers check with other professionals in the police and health sectors, they are not accusing you of wrong at all. What they are simply making sure is that a child may not open about the abuse and lose a life. Therefore, safeguarding and protecting children is not easy for social services as well as sometimes they may not detect the abuse and then learn the child has died. It has happened a lot that a social worker thinks a child is safe and then soon after a home visit it is announced a child has died.
In my next article, I write something simplified on tips on how parents can engage with social workers to ensure support is in place to prevent significant harm and how the law works to support families to stay together.