Most of my clients don’t need a social worker, they just need more money

Finally, a social worker who recognises that poverty is not neglect and that what mothers need to look after our children is more money, but what we get is social workers’ monitoring and judgement. Section 17 of the Children Act is rarely implemented as it should be to give practical and/or financial help. Yet the same local authorities who refuse help to families are taking children into care and paying thousands of pounds a week to private companies who are making millions out of our misery.

Re-posted from Social Work News By Maisie Macdonald

Children living around debt are five times more likely to be unhappy than children from wealthier families.

When you’re doing a Common Assessment Framework (CAF) single assessment of a family, there’s a section towards the end called ‘finance.’

Most social workers tend to write something basic in this part like ‘the family are claiming all relevant benefits and have not disclosed any financial hardship’ and leave it there, with a tendency for the weightiest exploration and analysis to be found within the ‘family history and functioning’ or ‘parenting capacity’ aspects of these assessments.

However, this section should really be one of the key areas of focus in any assessment given the far reaching and pervasive impact that poverty has on families. The most recent statistics show that 14.5 million people are in relative low income (22% of the population). Within this figure, 4.3 million are children (31% of our childhood population).

These figures aren’t just about people who are unemployed though, with 17.4% of working households now in relative poverty too. So, despite Conservative claims to ‘make work pay’ by raising the minimum wage and creating a more punitive benefits system, you can still be working and living in poverty.

Growing up in poverty impacts every area of a child’s life. The Children’s Society show that:

  1. Children in poverty are less likely to achieve good grades in school.
  2. Children living around debt are five times more likely to be unhappy than children from wealthier families.
  3. More than a quarter of children from the poorest families said they had been bullied because their parents couldn’t afford costs associated with school.

We also know that children growing up in poverty are more likely to be involved in gangs, commit crime, use drugs, and become teenage parents. This often tends to see children continuing in the pattern of their own parents and a cycle of deprivation being in effect that passes generational trauma and neglect down from mothers and fathers to sons and daughters.

As a social worker it can be incredibly hard to engage families whose social norms are shaped by poverty and to make any meaningful difference when people have lived in financial hardship for generations.

When I’m working with families in poverty it often feels like my involvement is nothing more than a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. I can do all the assessments in the world, but what difference is another report going to make to a mother who has £28 a week to feed her family on?

And this is where I struggle the most with being an ‘agent of the state’ and working for the government on behalf of families who are most often victimised by the same government that employs me. I have a foot in both camps so to speak.

It almost feels as if there’s a game we play in social work where we have to pretend that families can make a difference in their lives if they only follow the latest SMART plan or engage with the next parenting course- but we have to totally forget to mention the elephant in the room that is poverty.

So we play this little game where we pass the total responsibility for addressing structural inequality onto clients and hold them up to the same societal standards that we set for affluent families- expecting that those in the most deprived areas of our local authorities can meet the same Common Assessment Framework criteria as those from our wealthiest.

It’s impossible of course, and that’s why so many of my clients get so frustrated when someone like me walks into their life and starts scrutinising them. Because, for all my empathy and social work value base, I’m still from a relatively privileged white and middle classed background.

Although it’s hard to hear attacks about my perceived status or lack of relatability, I totally get why clients feel that way and why I’m seen as just another government employee who’s out to ‘get’ people who are oppressed and marginalised by society.

And with that in mind I really don’t blame people for finding it hard to buy into social work interventions when the tools of our trade don’t give us anywhere near enough to make a meaningful difference. All the motivational interviewing in the world won’t make up for a disadvantaged background, and even though I ask the ‘miracle question’ I’m not really a magical fairy who can make people’s dreams come true in five years’ time.

No, most of my clients don’t really need these techniques and assessments in their lives. Most of them don’t need a social worker either. They just need more money.

They say money doesn’t make you happy but try telling that to the mother I’m working with who’ll have to choose whether her kids go hungry or cold this winter.

Having more money will certainly make her happier than having more social workers.

Maisie Macdonald – The Secret Social Worker – is an anonymous social worker who writes under a pseudonym. Names, details, and events are changed in order to protect those involved in Maisie’s diaries. 

You can follow Maisie on Twitter @socialworkerMM