**This is not intended to be a complete analysis of the situation, but happy to do that if people want it. This is no criticism to the BBC, who have in the past represented storylines involving social workers incredibly well, just a professional view point on this particular story**
Never have I really felt so strongly towards a soap storyline involving a social worker. Last night I was sat around a friend’s house, catching up with them and eating takeaway whilst watching Eastenders. It was the storyline where Lola had her baby removed from her care by the police and her social worker. I haven’t really been following the storyline, but have seen the odd episode.
We have seen this social worker visiting Lola on a number of occasions, often unannounced. This is fine; given Lola’s baby is subject of a child protection plan (why? I have obviously missed that bit). The threshold for child protection is that a child has to be at risk of significant harm, or likely to be at risk of significant harm. If we unpick the situation, Lola has good support networks, and we have seen her put the needs of her child before her own numerous times. If I am correct, we haven’t seen the child be placed in any risky situation, except for the fight she had… but even then she ensured someone she knew well and who her baby was familiar with took her away from the situation.
In recent episodes we have seen a social worker visit the family home and pass judgement on almost every aspect of their lives. I hear her say “is that beer?” whilst pointing towards 4 cans of lager on the side in the kitchen, as if the crime of the century had just been committed. There are no rules to say alcohol shouldn’t be in the same house as a child, and Billy is an adult who can make his own choice about whether he has a couple of drinks. I have gone out socially many times with social workers; THEY have even had the odd half a lager… I know! I know! They’re so bad ass.
This social worker character also passed comment on the cleanliness of the house. Ok, this can be a big factor when working with children at risk, but generally social workers quite understand that everyone lives differently. A bit of clutter, a bit of spilt food on the surfaces, and washing up not done is hardly going to send social services into a care proceedings frenzy. At one point Lola said something about taking her baby to see some lights (I missed exactly where it was), and the social worker replied along the lines of ‘she won’t remember it’. Never could I imagine a social worker behaving in that way. It is not about whether she will remember the lights, it is more about mother and baby spending time together, strengthening that bond between them, creating memories for mum, doing something fun etc. Lola also said something that made the social worker grab her pen and start writing notes. Lola was clearly panicked by this and asked what she had written down (obviously frightened of doing something wrong around this social worker). The social worker didn’t tell her. During every home visit I have ever gone on, and if I have ever needed to take notes, it has been an expectation on me and my colleagues that we openly and honestly share what has been written (and record any disagreement).
Towards the end of the episode it got really dramatic and I remember the social worker (stood with two police officers) saying that they were taking the child to a place of safety. This suggests that no forward planning had really taken place, and instead the police used a power to remove the child immediately to protect the child. Not only is it quite draconian, it’s also quite unrealistic. Lola had been engaging well with social services, allowing them into her home, and answering any questions they had, doing what was asked of her etc. Why on earth, if they wanted to remove the child, did they not use more appropriate methods involving less hasty intervention? In social work it is about producing the best outcomes, which can only happen if trauma is kept to a minimum. If this was a real life case, it would be very traumatic. At one point, when Lola refused to hand over her child (in the middle of the street in typical Eastenders style), the police then warned her and threatened to take the child with force. Ok, in highly volatile situations with loads of emotion, that may have to happen. However in this situation that could have been prevented by engaging with her properly, by being the supportive, empowering, helping professional the social worker should be.
Although I haven’t seen much, I have read online that it is the social worker who has been telling (not encouraging) Lola to work. If we use a bit of common sense, is it really wise to mask any likely parenting skill deficit by making someone go to work? To me the answer is a clear no. In actual fact, it would produce better outcomes if the parent of a child was empowered to spend as much time with their child as possible (not forgetting that Lola has only just had her baby) to develop the necessary skills to provide adequate care. However I don’t even feel that Lola is not caring for her baby. The message this sends to young people who are Looked After by the Local Authority (in care) is quite damaging (Lola is in local authority care or just leaving, I’m not sure).
The social worker quite rightly informed Lola that it is the baby whose welfare she is focussing on. The child’s welfare is always paramount. What she seemed to have forgotten was that Lola herself is a child in need (not at risk) being in Local Authority care (or leaving care). Either way, the local authority actually has a duty towards her welfare. Not only was this an unfair portrayal of the role of social workers and the police, it was also an unfair representation of how children in or leaving care are treated should they have a baby themselves. I would completely get the storyline if there was any kind of risk, but I would only ever put Lola’s baby as a child in need and certainly not at risk. The social worker had complete disregard for her own professional values (empathy, social justice, anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice, working openly, honestly and transparently, working collaboratively with parents, empowerment etc) and seemed to have her own agenda… this is NOT how social services operate.
**There has been lots written on twitter and various forums about this storyline. It appears others are not impressed with the portrayal of the social worker**