All the makings of a Christmas scandal?
A lowly birth, a loving family and the big society. Peter Beresford takes a satirical look at social work and the nativity
Sadly it looks as though social work is to be hit by yet another front page scandal in this season of goodwill. The case doesn’t look like going away and there’s already talk of a major national inquiry.
To start with, the case seemed uncontroversial. A new baby arrived, and the social worker’s report highlighted that while the family seemed to be experiencing serious housing difficulties (and some input from parenting classes to support forward planning may be helpful here), a lot of love was nonetheless evident, both between the partners and in their bonding with the child. She noted that despite it being “the bleak midwinter”, a stable-place sufficed.
There also appeared to be some strong support networks to hand. Early on after the birth, three representatives (it is thought from overseas philanthropic organisations) had arrived with gifts for the child. While these were not necessarily suitable and might encourage unrealistic expectations, they did suggest the availability of support to draw upon within the framework of the big society.
However, a very different story soon broke in the local tabloid, which ran a front-page piece suggesting that the child’s parentage was more problematic than first appeared. It claimed the birth father was not in fact Joseph, as had previously been understood, but a more distant and less certain figure. Alarms were raised about whether this was indeed the “hard working family” that had previously been taken at face value by local social services and the young social worker involved.
King Herod’s vizier then intervened to place a particularly worrying interpretation on the conditions the child was found in, referring to a “poor, lowly stable with the oxen standing by … amid the poor and mean and lowly“. In a high-profile speech , he suggested that this reflected “the unhelpful habituation of social workers to families’ poor conditions” and that this was “diverting their attention from the primacy of the child and the need to speed up adoption procedures”.
He spoke of social workers “becoming desensitised to squalor … partly because so much of their time is spent in difficult circumstances … [and they are often] blighted by an ‘optimism bias’ which means that they can put … the rights of biological parents ahead of vulnerable children.”
There have been swift responses from social work’s professional bodies to the political and media profile the case has gained. The College of the Judean People’s Front for Social Work and the College of the People’s Front of Judea for Social Work both said (separately) that this was “an appalling misrepresentation that devaules the role of social work generally and the social worker involved in this case specifically”.
A high-profile charity founder was quoted as expressing her concerns that the disadvantage experienced by the baby, could lead to a “cycle of deprivation” which could cause neurological damage later in his life, resulting in him associating with “vulnerable people” and getting into trouble with the authorities.
The Bethlehem Department for Education reiterated its concern that “children’s future attainment, wellbeing, happiness and resilience are profoundly affected by the quality of their experiences during early childhood. Parents are the most important influence, but high-quality early education can also make a big difference to children’s lives.”
A spokesperson from a local service user-led organisation, however, said: “I don’t know why they can’t just help the family and leave the kid alone. For all they know, he could be an example to us all.”