Family Justice Narratives : No. 4

This is the fourth of the Family Justice Narratives. You can find out what the Family Justice Narratives are all about and how to get involved here.

NARRATIVE NO 4 : Anonymous Guardian

 

Naturally, it has taken some time to get down to writing this, despite my best intentions. It’s an excellent idea and I look forward to reading all the narratives. I rarely meet colleagues who work in the Family Justice system who are not committed and passionate about what we all try to do.

 

I’ve been working in Child Protection for 32 years and have been an employed Guardian for the last 10 years. I am filled, like all of us, with trepidation for the future of Family Justice and the impact it will have on the children who deserve the best possible protection, in every sense of the word.

 

I love the job when I am able to do it properly. It is a privilege to bear witness to people’s painful stories but also their courage, humour, warmth and resilience. It is a joy to form meaningful relationships with children and it is deeply rewarding to know that, sometimes, I really do make a difference

 

It is frustrating not to be able to do the job to the best of my ability because of the sheer volume of families. I hate the restrictions this places on me and the fears that accompany that.   I mourn the days when I could write a comprehensive Final Report that could stand alone and provide a young person with an understanding of how and why decisions were made on their behalf. I loathe cutting corners, being cursory and not being able to develop relationships which can encourage reflection and sometimes, change. I am determined not to become a ‘lazy’ Guardian, not seeing children, or agreeing with the LA because it is easier. But this all means working longer hours than I have ever done in my career and that involves collateral damage.

 

Over the years I have developed tried and tested ways of managing the job and having a family. These are; being organised at work and domestically, reading, crosswords, female friends, laughing, rubbish TV and books along with a couple of glasses of wine and the recent addition of a gym. Inevitably there are times when I have been too stressed to be fully emotionally available as a parent and all my children have at some point told me “you love those children you work with more than me”.  Despite this, as they have matured I sense they are proud of what I do and have all developed a strong sense of social justice.

 

However, there are times when this balance goes completely out of kilter. This happens either when I have a case that, in some way triggers an emotional reaction in me (often a 16.4!), when the ‘corporate demands’ become beyond human capacity or when personal demands on me become too onerous. The past couple of weeks has been affected by a seriously ill elderly parent and the duty and responsibility this involves lead to considerable tension. Concrete pours into my jaw, neck and shoulders; I cannot relax enough to read or watch TV. The anxiety manifests in dreams where I tearfully beg my manager not to give me another case. My wine glass gets refilled too often and I sneak a Gregg’s steak bake (a young person’s recommendation!) at lunchtime. I look at my diary in despair: at least 10 urgent visits need to be arranged, 3 final reports due in two weeks, 4 dreaded Duty days and an immense back log of electronic filing and other admin. As I write this, I hope that next week will be easier and that my natural resilience will magically reappear and once again I will establish equilibrium.

 

I think the future is bleak, not just for the Family Justice system but for all the infrastructures we value in a civilised society. I have many ideas for improving the system but they are out of step in this political environment. As an old fashioned social worker, I believe that I am my best tool and that relationships are the key to protecting children. Although Government lip service is paid to Munro, I do not think that the politicians actually understand what she is talking about. They have no appetite for the reality of human distress.

4 thoughts on “Family Justice Narratives : No. 4

  1. This series has been excellent. I have been very critical of CAFCASS over the last few years, but I think the Guardians on the ground are working as hard as they can under intolerable pressure. I am hearing at present of case-loads of 35 proceedings per Guardian, which clearly leaves no space and time to actually form the relationship with the family and to scrutinise the social work that were the cornerstone of good old-fashioned Guardian work.

    Being the voice of the child is a hugely important and pivotal role, and one which has given up / diluted in principle far too lightly over the last few years – as an understandable but misguided reaction to the explosion in volume not being matched by an explosion in funding or people.

  2. Patricia Watson

    I was a Guardian in London for over fifteen years and prior to that in social worker for longer than I care to remember. I am now retired and living in Spain. However I try and keep up to date with what is happening in the Guardian field and I found this article quite disturbing and cannot imagine that children are receiving the service that they deserve, and indeed received pre CAFCASS, with the demands that are described by the writer. I found the writers honesty refreshing and it is nice to know that some of the ‘oldies’ are still working hard to provide children with a decent service even though they seem to be fighting a losing battle.

  3. I agree with Andrew Pack on the topic of funding for Guardians. As the ‘Anonymous Barrister’ in Narrative 4 points out, the balance here is wrong. Guardians provide the best value for money of all of the professionals in the child care court system. A good Guardian makes all the difference to the outcome of a case; and skilled Guardians produce settlements at a greater rate than lawyers and judges.

  4. Kerry Donaldson

    Wow. That makes for chilling reading!

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