The mantle clock says it’s 6:45pm on this bitterly cold January night and I want to be back home
Through a gap in the middle of the living room curtains I can see a pitch-black sky and broken toys in the front garden, illuminated by a scant scattering of light shining out from the one nearby street light the council have left on; their ‘efficiency savings’ seeing every other light turned off in the name of austerity.
My mind starts to wander. I don’t want it to, but it’s late, and I’m hungry and tired.
As I start to dream about bath, bed and watching Marie Kondo while flirting on Tinder, his snarling voice snaps me back into the room.
“Are you even f***ing listening to me?”
Mentally checking off the things in my flat that don’t ‘bring me joy’ is immediately replaced by the reality facing me.
“No wonder you lot let Baby P die”
At times like this in social work, you’re faced with three options. They don’t teach you this in University and it isn’t in any statutory guidance I’ve ever read, so let’s call it the ‘Maisie Method’ (patent pending) of dealing with insults in the workplace:
Option 1: Cold hard dose of reality
Option 2: Fight or flight
Option 3: Professionalism
Now, if anyone said this to you in the ‘real world’ (as in outside the workplace and in your own free time) you’d go with Option 1.
“Why on earth are you accusing me of having any connection whatsoever to a child that was killed by his own mother and her partner, in 2007, in London? At the time of his death I had no interest at all in being a social worker. I was downing Jager-bombs at the student union whilst shaking my arse to Umbrella and trying to pull the vice-captain of the football team. Now, let’s stop using anything you can to distract us from the fact that you’re a violent perpetrator of domestic abuse and get back to how we can stop you hitting your partner in front of your infant child, okay?”
But I don’t want to be murdered and/or hauled before the HCPC (I’m sure a minor detail like the fact I’d been mutilated wouldn’t prevent them from bringing fitness to practice hearings against me for daring to offer a little sass to someone) so let’s rule out that option.
Option 2 is what I want to do. It’s what my body is screaming at me to do. After all, I’m alone in this man’s house and the only things keeping me safe are my handbag and hope. He’s got a 7-page police record that details a catalogue of violent crimes, sees no harm in repeatedly assaulting successive female partners in front of children and is looking at me in an intimidating manner that makes my skin crawl.
We both know I’m not going to fight him. He’s 6ft 3, 18 stones and has a history of affray.
I’m 5ft 5 (and, errr, let’s just say ‘less’ than 18 stones) and have a history of hockey, netball, boxercise and once coming third in my school sports day triple jump.
We also both know I’m not going to flee. He knows to say just enough to scare me, but not so much that I have any evidence to say he poses a direct risk. It’s why probation haven’t deemed him as being a high-risk and we’re currently assessing him in the family home; the ‘rule of optimism’ winning out in the hope that maybe, just maybe, this time the promises of being a ‘new man’ are real.
So, we’re left with option 3.
“Mr (redacted). I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about an unrelated case right now. Could we please return to going through the latest updates to the baby’s child protection plan?”
He stares at me. His eyes lingering for just a little longer than they should, the silence lasting a touch more than is natural and making it awkward. It’s his way of letting me know that he’s in charge. He’s the powerful one. We’re in his home. He then says “the social are all the same”, sighs, then follows up with “alright then”.
We rush through the plan, confirm his next session with the domestic violence perpetrators programme and I don’t say anything else that’s likely to challenge him.
In my case notes this will be recorded as a successful visit. Child seen. Home tidy. Mother and father spoken to separately. Plan updated. SMART actions set.
I’m not going to record my ‘gut feeling’ because there’s no evidence base.
I’m not going to record him swearing because it’ll be spun like it was my fault for daring to lose focus for five seconds.
Successful visit. Child seen.
I bet Marie Kondo wouldn’t put up with this.
Maisie Macdonald is an English Child Protection social worker. She writes under a pseudonym.