23 Jan 2012

OU/BBC documentary highlights the challenges facing social workers

Louise is one of the social workers followed in the documentary

Louise is one of the social workers followed in the documentary

The complexities behind the work of child protection social workers will be observed in a three-part documentary which has been co-produced by The Open University in partnership with BBC.

The BBC TWO three-part documentary, Protecting Our Children, follows social workers from Bristol City Council and highlights the life-changing decisions they make on a daily basis for the city’s children.

It documents a social worker’s job and the complex decisions they have to make, focusing on social work’s most critical dilemma; when it is right to remove a child and when it is safe for them to be reunited. Social work involves a careful balancing act and often involves social workers putting themselves in vulnerable positions to risk assess a child’s household.

The documentary was filmed over 18 months and is about a number of children who are on the frontline of child protection in Bristol.

Open University Senior Social Work Lecturer Dr Lucy Rai and Social Work Lecturer Dr Barry Cooper worked with the BBC to provide expert input into the development of the documentary.

Dr Lucy Rai said: “Protecting our Children witnesses moments of truly inspiring hope as well as chilling stabs of a very cold reality. It very difficult to motivate change, but it is even harder to sustain it both for social workers and for the parents who are striving, against momentous odds, to ‘do the right thing’ for their children. One of the huge challenges for social workers is deciding what constitutes the ‘right thing’; the eternal debate over whether a child is better off with their birth parents or removed.”

Dr Cooper said: “The programme provides a unique insight into five very different examples of child protection social work.

“These stories of real life social work practice dilemmas are profoundly affecting and they make for compelling and frequently uncomfortable viewing.”

The documentary shows how social workers have to manage a heavy caseload, are often put in difficult and highlights their emotional battles with helping parents and families in order to secure the best outcome for the child/children. The programme also focuses on the needs of vulnerable children and the various challenges involved with child protection work; highlighting how many children are found to be at risk as a result of neglect or because of physical or sexual abuse.

Dr Cooper added: “Whatever resistances from adult parents and carers that social workers have to confront, their primary professional responsibility is to the child. It is this that must drive the decision making.

“There are important values in social work about working in partnership with people and empowering them to make positive changes to their lives. Sometimes this can be done but, as these programmes demonstrate, it is not always achieved. Whatever the attitudes and reactions of adults, it is the needs of the child that has to be the main factor in driving all judgements and decisions about whether parents can maintain parental responsibility for their children.”

The series will be broadcast weekly on BBC TWO, starting on Monday 30 January 2012.

As part of its broadcast partnership with the BBC, The Open University has developed a range of free educational resources on social work which accompany the programme. For further information about child protection, free educational resources on social work and the range of social work courses provided by The Open University, visit: www.open.edu/openlearn/startyourday

Notes to editors
Programme Credits
Protecting Our Children was made in partnership with BBC.
Executive Producer for the BBC is Julian Mercer.
The Open University academic consultants for the series are Dr Barry Cooper, Lecturer, Social Work, and Dr Lucy Rai, Senior Lecturer, Social Work.

Social work at The Open University
The Open University is the largest provider of part-time work-based social work training in the UK. The OU’s curriculum is developed by leading academics and professionals who are actively engaged in social work, ensuring that teaching reflects current priorities. The University is also a pioneer in working collaboratively with service-users, whose voices are heard throughout the OU’s learning materials – challenging and enriching the contributions of practitioners and policy makers alike.

The Open University’s social work education ranges from short introductory modules through to a work-based honours degree in social work and a top-up degree to enable Social Workers with a DipSW to achieve an honours degree.

For more information on the OU’s social work courses, go to: www.open.ac.uk/health-and-social-care/main/study-us/social-work

Photo credit and copyright: Sacha Mirzoeff

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