Protecting Our Children
Yesterday I finally watched the first episode of the highly trailed BBC documentary about child protection social work filmed in Bristol – ‘Protecting Our Children’.
While I can’t say I enjoyed the programme, merely because of the nature of the facts of the ‘case’ which was presented, I definitely found it very interesting and worth watching. I don’t have a background nor any experience in ‘child protection’ work so watched this programme through the eyes of a layman rather than a social worker with a particular insight.
On that level I learned a lot about the processes and difficulties of decisions that surround the needs to balance protection of a child to the rights of a family to be given every opportunity and support to stay together. I maintain the levels of respect I had for those who work in that field.
Other articles written by those who do have much more insight and experience in this area appear in Community Care, the Guardian and Children and Young People Now. I’d recommend them if you do want the ‘expert’ responses to the programme.
I will say that I was impressed by the programme and the participants however I had some reservations about the process of consent, particularly by the parents of the children portrayed and how much understanding they might have that their life and actions would be laid open on film.
This piece in the Guardian today explains the process of consent and Mirziaoff, the director of the series says there was
“rolling informed consent”. Subjects could withdraw their permission at any time during filming and after the edit. “These were informed decisions which came from a whole group of professionals, including solicitors, children’s guardians and professionals working with the families.” He said that “for a number of different reasons – some of which were our judgment”, they lost at least half the footage. “We had one full film which went down the tubes because it ended in a criminal matter.”
It was clear that a 60 min programme couldn’t explain and describe the process of support and I assumed that support was given in the months and periods that weren’t shown so I didn’t have criticisms around that. I will watch again this week.
Yesterday I also went to see Shallow Slumber. A play currently showing at the Soho Theatre in London until 18th February. It is a fictional account written by a social worker and is a ‘two hander’ play between Moira, a social worker and Dawn whom she has been/is working with, depending on the part of the play.
It’s very clear that the writer (and the audience, whom I rather suspect contained a disproportionate amount of people working in and around social work/care – just a hunch) knew his stuff. He knew the language and the tasks that would be encouraged. It felt real. It felt ‘written by a social worker’.
The play runs across different time lines, starting at ‘the end’ and working backwards through flashbacks to the point in the story where lives were changed.
Sympathies towards each of the characters ebbed and flowed. The questions I was left with made me consider the choices we make, both as professionals and as people who come into contact social services and how much either party really has ‘choice’.
The acting and direction were superlative. The design of the theatre was intimate in a way that made the emotion on display from the actors more compelling and impressive. Sitting in the front (as I was) I was able to feel a part of the action and was drawn into the emotions on display.
My only reservation was the baggage I came with myself. I am a social worker and walked into the play with a number of assumptions and understandings about the roles, the language, the interactions. My position was generally one of sympathy towards the social worker and I found myself considering myself in her position which I think may have distracted me from other points of view.
It isn’t ‘easy watching’. Leaving the play, I wanted to offload and share my thoughts about what I had seen. There was an emotional blow in the story which wasn’t unexpected, indeed, it was referred to from the very start. I was glad to have attended with someone I could talk about it to (and that doesn’t have to be someone ‘in the sector’).
Authenticity through Fact or Fiction?
I did consider the two mediums – TV documentary and play – both displaying unusually (for me anyway) flattering portrayals of social work. Each had its strength but all the more it made me crave a genuine and authentic fictional portrayal of social work. I still have some reticence with ‘fly on the wall’ as the work necessarily involves work with people at their most vulnerable. Fiction allows some of those ethical issues to be pushed aside yet the authenticity and dilemmas can be equally portrayed through fiction.
Maybe I’ll start my book today and wait for the film rights to be sold!
In the meantime, I’ll keep watching Protecting Our Children with interest and would recommend Shallow Slumber – particularly the show on 14th Feb with the after show discussion. It is a play that calls for discussion.
I’d be interested in other people’s opinions on either the play or the TV programme!