A disease runs through society these days. A different kind of disease. It cannot be detected by any medical machinery or be treated by conventional doctors. It runs through every sector of society, but has dire consequences for a most vulnerable group known as Social Workers. The disease is called Blaming. Been around for a while, but seems to be spreading exponentially in this second decade of the 21st century. No one is spared. Corporations are riddled with the virus. They have taken the disease to new heights and dispensed it to every corner of the globe.
My best friend works for one such organisation. The people who work there love to blame each other for mistakes made. Fear causes blame to spread. Workers fear for their jobs if they mess up and would rather blame someone else than take the heat. We learn that at an early age. No one wants to get into trouble so we blame someone else in order to escape punishment for our mistakes. We blame our parents for our own lacklustre performances in life and then blame spouses and friends for those continued personal failures. We are good at it. Some become sociopathic in their attempt to look good when really they are in need of deep, personal therapy.
There really is no cure for the disease of blame. It surfaces when members of societies fail to look after each other and worry more about his or her own individual wants and needs. We fail all the time as humans but don’t want to acknowledge it either for fear of retribution from others or the erosion of the ever more popular concept of self-esteem. The higher we climb the ladders of what our particular culture deems as success, the more vulnerable we are to the ravages of the Blame disease, both giving and receiving. Nothing really new here, but it is gathering momentum under the weight and scrutiny of a global media, the demand for personal excellence and the need to never appear weak. Image is everything in the Western world especially. Image includes the appearance of looking like we know what we’re doing.
Social workers know all about this in the country where I presently reside. They are all overworked and definitely underpaid. Probably the same everywhere. I know it is in Canada too. Only the brave or foolhardy enter the profession. Many begin with a sense of duty to help others, carrying a built-in empathetic gene that compels them to rescue people who find themselves in dire life situations. Sometimes the people who need help don’t want it. They go out of their way to make it difficult for Social Workers to do their job. In such instances, bad things usually happen. To all concerned.
Parents do not report abuses to their children. Why would they? They don’t want to be known. People with mental illnesses never detect themselves. Some are even clever enough to fool the system. One wrong note by a social worker or a faulty report by another worker (through misinformation from the client usually) and consequences can be catastrophic. We can’t lock up everyone who appears off kilter. Every so often, someone falls through the cracks and is released from an institution prematurely. On one such occasion a released patient attacked and killed someone on a street very near to where I live. You know what happens next. Everyone becomes an expert in second-guessing the wisdom of the attacker’s release. The social workers are vilified and calls are made to symbolically hang those responsible. We want to blame, not learn from our mistakes. While the front-liners are out there battling an unbeatable foe, the public relinquished its responsibility for people’s wellbeing by ignoring the needs of those around us. We do not live in a kinder, gentler society, just a self-serving one.
Not all social workers are competent. They may even lack real empathy after so many years on the job. Some get into the business because their own lives have been troubled and still are in some cases. University degrees in social work do not necessarily make good social workers. According to stats from September 2014, there were 26, 810 full-time children’s social workers in England, let alone the thousands of others in other sectors and in the rest of the UK. The average caseload for each worker is 17 children. The number is around 22 in the north of England where economic and social problems abound. I’m a parent. I have 3 children who are reasonably well-balanced. It took a lot of concentrated work to look after them and meet their needs. I can’t imagine caring for 17 who come from less than ideal circumstances and in many cases abusive. The legal hurdles faced by social workers trying to get help for children in trouble are often as tangled as they are frustrating. Budget cuts to social programs also contribute significantly to rising social problems.
The head of the British Association of Social Workers said in a recent article that the “….Mental Health of Social Workers is at risk amid cuts and rising caseloads”. I think this is as true in every other country as it is here. I got a first hand report of this from one of my guitar students. He is a recently retired children’s social worker. The job literally ruined his health. Too many clients and never enough time to do what he needed to do to ensure his children’s’ safety. He was roundly criticised for any failures by his superiors and government officials alike, all passing the blame down the line instead of accepting responsibility for an understaffed, decaying and directionless system. My student is a sensitive and caring person who does not deserve the grief.
In a former life and vocational capacity, I served with many different social agencies in Ontario, Canada. I worked with some of the finest people you could imagine, social workers and other care givers. A few were quite controlling, guarding their little territories like they owned them. I know there are as many problems within as without. What to do? Become aware of the problems in your area. Get to know the social agencies available. Volunteer to help where you can. What ever you do, don’t blame someone else for mistakes made and problems continuing.