It used to be my favourite time of day.
Pick my daughter up from nursery after a hard day at work. Drive home as we sang Disney songs together. Let her play with her little toy kitchen set as I cooked tea for us both. Then sit down to eat in front of another Peppa Pig marathon.
Bath time for us both. Get in our pyjamas. Quick run downstairs to fix her a warm cup of milk. Snuggle down together in her bed as we read The Gruffalo for the six hundredth time.
After a stressful day at work where my attention was 100% focused on other people’s children, those few hours on an evening were the only chance I had to give my own child the attention she deserved. And, on the one night a week when she stayed over at her Dad’s house, it was my time to crash out on the sofa and binge on trashy TV.
Things started to change about a year after the split from her father. Until then I’d managed to juggle everything pretty well. Be the good social worker I’d always been told I was, keep in shape, go on the occasional date, give my daughter the mother she deserved, see my friends from time to time, remain amicable with her father and paternal family… it was a lot of work, but I managed it.
But things started to change last summer when the work became harder.
Requires improvement. That was Ofsted’s verdict. We ‘required improvement’. We had to improve.
The changes came in to ‘help’ us improve and our ‘transformation journey’ had begun.
It started with cryptic emails from directors about ‘organisaitonal changes’ and ‘restructures’. Then the ‘new ways of working’ came into effect. The increased ‘managerial footprint’, ‘operational oversight’, ‘social work throughput’, ‘data cleansing’, ‘performance trackers’… yadda yadda yadda.
The private consultants they’d brought in to oversee the ‘transformation journey’ were running the show now. Looking after employees became far less important than looking after the data trackers and performance indicators that became the new benchmark for effective social work.
For all the lip service the consultants gave to ‘the child’s voice’ and ‘the child’s journey’, the reality was that the increased scrutiny of our ‘transformation journey’ saw us spending less time with children and more time on our computers.
But that wasn’t me. I’m not the kind of social worker to visit a home, do a quick headcount, make my excuses and leave.
Real social work isn’t done in the office. It is done in people’s homes.
So I spent the same amount of time doing direct work but had to increase the time I spent in the office. Every Friday night they pulled all the data together for every little thing we did. If anything wasn’t on the system, you were called into the office on Monday morning and asked to explain yourself.
A lot of workers left. But it wasn’t so easy for me. The location of my office suited my daughter’s nursery and my commute was short. Being a single parent, I couldn’t just knee-jerk it out of there. I had to stay the course in the hope things would improve, as my manager kept promising.
But after a few more months it didn’t improve and something had to give.
Instead of being there at 5pm every day to collect her, my daughter was often the last one in nursery as I was rushing in the door at 5:59pm.
I started catching the worst of the rush hour traffic both to pick my daughter up from nursery and get her home. Tea became more rushed, I no longer get in the bath with her and I didn’t even have the energy to read her bedtime story anymore.
After a whole day spent talking and typing and driving and arguing and emailing and training and recording and…. well, I just didn’t even have the energy to read a short children’s book with any enthusiasm at all.
One night we thought we’d ask her Echo Dot to read a story to us, and it just kind of stuck.
Now it’s a pattern. That’s just what we do.
I spend all day trying to prove to my superiors what a good job I’m doing at caring for other people’s children, then come home and neglect my own.
Sometimes, if I’m being honest, I’m jealous of my service users.
Despite everything they are going through, most of them get to spend all the time they want with their kids.
Every Sunday we feature an anonymous blog from a new ‘secret social worker’. Email me via firstname.lastname@example.org if you’ve got a story to share