I want to speak out but I’m worried…
I’ve seen my colleagues who were vocal about the strike put under the spotlight.
I’ve seen Social Workers who’ve kicked up a fuss be suspended.
But I want everyone to know that this strike is an absolute last resort.
This isn’t something new though. It’s been like this for as long as I can remember.
People go off sick with stress after only a few months of starting here. Some end up having 8 different managers in a year. Throughout my time in Kirklees there’s been very little support in terms of progression or development of staff. When I started, Section 47 Child Protection cases were “stacked” and left unallocated for weeks on end. Now they allocate sooner, but this causes high caseloads of up to 40 in the child protection and long-term teams.
When Ofsted visited the authority in 2011 they said the IT system was “not fit for purpose” yet consultation on a new system didn’t start until 2016 (when they knew Ofsted were due to visit again).
This movement from staff began from our Union in 2013 and, in response to our concerns, they council parachuted in an agency team for 6 months. This cost half a million pound and had little to no effect. They also promised a recent pay regrading but it’s been over 6 months and nothing’s been implemented.
Their latest bright idea is to bring back our ‘early help’ team…. the same scheme they scrapped just months ago when attempting to have a single worker model.
Currently in Kirklees the front-line protection team is about 70% agency staff. I have absolutely nothing against agency staff – in fact Kirklees would have collapsed without them. But when there had been no attempts to retain staff and permanent staff feel less valued due to a massive pay gap, it doesn’t help staff morale.
But, for all these structural issues and barriers to doing our jobs properly, the thing we fear most is bullying.
Staff will speak out and some have been suspended for doing so.
Staff burn out, hand in their notice, and are told if they don’t get their work up to date they will be reported to the HCPC or won’t be given a reference… yet while they try to catch up on this outstanding work they are allocated new cases.
They never have a chance of finishing
A few people have criticised our strike and said they couldn’t take such action in case something goes wrong on their caseload. But some colleagues are working up to 60 hours a week, desperately trying to keep children safe. Everyone must surely know that effectively safeguarding children is impossible with caseloads of over 30 children.
We aren’t doing this because we don’t care – we’re doing it because we care too much to walk away.
I’m fully aware the children on my caseload aren’t getting a good service already. I’m the 10th social worker in the last 12 months for many of the children I’m supporting. This is totally unacceptable and is due to workers going off sick, the churn of burnt out staff and the impact of relying on short-term contracts.
I want to help improve the lives of the children I am responsible for, but I can’t do that if I burn out. That’s why I’m standing up to those who aren’t listening and trying to make people realise that working in these conditions is unsafe, unethical and unfair.
The day before the strike started we had a meeting with our senior managers. There had been an Ofsted monitoring visit the week before so people were pretty run down as it was and the atmosphere was draining. In the meeting, we were told that Eleanor Brazil (The Government trouble-shooter brought in to take charge of Kirklees Council’s failing children’s services) was recommending to the minister we partner with Leeds in a bid to improve and stop the authority falling in to a trust.
This was followed up with a veiled threat that Leeds wouldn’t look kindly on the strike and we could be putting the deal in jeopardy.
It was unfair to place that burden of responsibility on Social Workers
We don’t want to cause trouble, to leave children alone or to put anything in jeopardy. We simply want things to change for the better and to stop this endless deterioration of our profession.
We want to feel valued.
We want to be supported, cared for and nurtured, not simply bribed with higher pay.
We want a new computer system that actually works.
We want to be able to spend time with the children we are entrusted to support.
We want to be able to do the jobs that we trained to do.
But most of all we just want to be listened to and taken seriously.
We’re the ones out there doing the work and we’re the ones who speak to children and their families every single day.
None of us Social Workers on strike want to leave here, that would have been easy. We’re doing this because we want to be part of the solution.
Please support us in this strike.