Do we need specialist social workers?
We have already highlighted the need for more specialisation for lawyers. UKAP argues here for the need for more specialisation for social workers also.
The chief problem with social work in this field is an in-built prejudice against men. This is highlighted in a recent report from the University of East Anglia. Too often social workers are focused on the potential problems with fathers, rather than the potential benefit a father brings to a child’s life – according to the report:
“Bringing organisations into step to support better practice Engaging fathers should be seen as everyday practice in child protection. Better engagement may require organisations to tackle structural and cultural barriers to fathers’ involvement. This includes challenging deep rooted assumptions about gender and parenting, where the father-child relationship is often seen as secondary and where the child protection system tends to prioritise mothers over fathers. Workers need confidence that managers will support them in this and managers themselves need to challenge risk-averse, procedurally driven culture and practice. These actions should be considered part of local authorities’ duties under the Equality Act 2010”
So yes, there are some deep-rooted assumptions about gender that need to be tackled. Why are these assumptions there at all?
Well, firstly let us assume for the moment that most offences involving violence or sexual abuse are perpetrated by men.
Secondly, domestic abuse in particular, can take many forms. Violent abuse is easily visible. There are scars, fractures, bruises…evidence.
Social workers see a fair amount, presumably, of this kind of abuse. To make a psychologistic point, it is going to be hard to retain your gender-neutrality, as a social worker, if most of your time is spent rescuing/counselling women who have been the victims of obvious physical violence. Is it any wonder that you would have a particular view about gender? Surely even the most intellectually robust and independent individual would have a hard time maintaining a strictly gender-neutral view of the world. And, given that skewed world view, is it any wonder that you would privilege allegations against absent fathers? Further, if you are used to seeing horrible physical injuries to both children and women, is it any surprise that you would dismiss psychological harm suffered by a child or an absent father? You could easily imagine a social worker saying
“Psychological harm, even if it exists, is nothing compared to the physical harm I see every day. Don’t talk to me about this ‘Parental Alienation’ nonsense, I have kids here with REAL problems that need to be cared for”
The whole point here is that, given what social workers have had to deal with routinely to date, it is hardly surprising that they have the world view that they, demonstrably, do have. They are going, surely, to discount allegations of PA, and to privilege allegations of violence.
What is the solution?
Well, just as it’s a good idea for a lawyer, or a doctor, to specialise, so it must be a good idea for social workers to specialise. Some social workers should stick to cases involving violence or sexual abuse, and others should specialise in psychological abuse (PA being an obvious example). Those social workers could do their Continuing Professional Development with mandatory courses on PA. They could then be accredited in this field. And they should deal only with PA cases.
PA is a massive feature in high-conflict separations. It is hard, isn’t it, to imagine a high-conflict case where PA is absent?
Well, it could be argued that PA specialists will develop an opposite prejudice. If all you do all day is see men who are falsely accused of violence and women who routinely make such allegations as part of their overall strategy to keep the man away from the child, are you not going to develop a world view precisely opposite to that of your colleagues that deal only with cases involving true allegations of violence?
We don’t believe so.
We should remember that the victims of PA (apart, of course, from the children) are both men and women. In cases where women are the alienated, or target parent, false allegations are made against them that they are mentally unstable, or perhaps promiscuous. It’s exactly the same as when men are alienated but the false allegations often have a slightly different flavour. We don’t think that having specialist knowledge in PA will make a social worker biased in favour of men.
Getting social workers to specialise in PA can only help alter existing attitudes (prejudices?) about men, women, and gender-roles in an ever-changing societal landscape.