Former Primus Says Social Workers Are Being Scape-Goated

The former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Rt Rev Richard Holloway, has come to the defence of social workers, saying the profession has become modern Britain’s scapegoat for society’s ills.

In a robust defence of the social work profession in the wake of the Baby P case — the London toddler who was visited by workers and other professionals 50 times before he lost his life at the hands of his mother, her partner and a lodger in 2007 — Dr Holloway argued that society vents its “frustrations” for failed families on social workers.

There was a “noisy culture of blame at work in Britain today” he argued that was “stoked and orchestrated by the tabloid press.” Social workers needed “broad shoulders and secure personalities today, if they are to bear the unfair criticism they often attract,” Dr Holloway argued. However, recent surveys found that almost three quarters of those who used social work services were satisfied with the help they received.

It was, however, within the government’s grasp to turn things round. “The banking crisis and a couple of colossally expensive wars have shown that when we want to, or think we need to, we are capable of putting money and ideas to work to deliver the outcome we want,” Dr Holloway said.

“Why can’t we get society to apply that same urgency to the social problems that confront us and attack them with deep, imaginative, well resourced, evidence-based responses that will achieve slow generational change, the only kind of change that will endure,” he noted.

Speaking in Edinburgh on the 40th anniversary of the Social Work Scotland Act of 1968 Dr Holloway traced the breakdown of society to the collapse of traditional social and employment structures, and a failure of parenting and schooling of children.

The changing industrial face of Britain over the last 40 years contributed to the decline of social standards, he argued. “The institutions that once gave [the poor] a motive for responsible living, such as holding down a tough, demanding job with its own culture and honour, and presiding, however clumsily, within a marriage and family that was the primary context for the nurture and socialising of children, have largely disappeared, and with them the main ways the human community traditionally disciplined and integrated children into the social contract.”

This “shattering of the structures” had led to the “breeding ground for despair” that gave rise to destructive social behaviour. Many children in these post-industrial, post-modern homes had never learned the “necessary disciplines and constraints of living alongside others in civil society.” As they grow, “inevitably, they offend against society’s norms and come to the attention of its authorities, presenting either as offenders or as being themselves at risk because of parental neglect, cruelty or both. These moral orphans are thrown to the state to deal with, and it is social workers, and to some extent teachers, who are called upon to do remedial catch-up with inadequate resources, in the context of a society increasingly uncaring in its attitudes to troubled, often feral children,” he said.

“That is tough enough; but social workers are sometimes called upon to fulfill another role in society, that of ritual scapegoat,” Dr Holloway argued.