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It was well past five pm. My stomach rumbled with hunger, but my brain told it to stop moaning because there was no chance of relief until late that evening. An emergency admission to care necessitated my staying behind until a foster placement could be found for my clients, four children under ten, who were already placed on the Child Protection Register because of neglect. I got on with the mountains of paperwork, while waiting for the Family Placement team to ring.
As time wore on, I received a call from the mother, (who was heavily intoxicated), took a call from the Duty Officer and then made a list of thing which I knew had to be done in the morning. Finally, I managed to place the children in care, and got the paperwork signed.
Thank goodness, care incidents didn’t happen all the time. Nevertheless, they did happen more than any of us would have liked. Apart from witnessing the trauma of the children and the ire of the parent(s) when this happened, it played havoc with a social worker’s diary (already overflowing), for the next week or so. Dates had to be re-arranged for the consequent court appearance and the writing of a report explaining why the care incident was necessary.
When I got home that evening, it was around nine pm. I ate some pasta, which didn’t like being nuked in the microwave and mulled the case over in my mind, while my poor husband tried to make normal conversation.
The following morning, tired and aware of the zillion things I had to do, I got a brusque telephone call from the children’s solicitor telling me that I shouldn’t have taken the children, because the mother was doing so well. That is, she was attending Alcoholics Anonymous as well as working on her parenting skills at the Family Centre. I had made an unannounced visit to the family that afternoon, I replied. I found the mother drunk and the children running amok in the house, as well as spilling out onto the street. Then, I spoke to my Line Manager, who at that time was under great pressure to reduce the number of children in care, (because of the cost to the local authority). She also voiced her concern and said we should have worked with mother a bit longer, etc, etc.
In my indignation, it seemed to me that everybody was more concerned with the cost and the legal personnel’s negativity, rather than the core of the problem. Four vulnerable children were not being supervised, and it would have remained thus until the mother sobered up. Judging by the state of her, that would have taken hours.
I almost handed in my notice that day.
But I’m glad I didn’t, because the warning shot given to the mother did the job. She worked even harder with Alcoholics Anonymous, gave up drink and finally got her children back. She even gave me a hug and thanked me for my intervention.
Such success stories do happen in child protection social work – not often, but they do. And I’m so glad I was instrument in the outcome of this one.

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