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Social workers don't scare easily – but I had to call the police after a tough day

Posted on 8/06/2016 by Aminul Hoque


I had to deal with a substance misusing father, his angry son and their pack of vicious dogs

There’s a meme that does the rounds on my colleagues’ Facebook pages from time to time – a badge with “You can’t scare me, I’m a social worker” written on it. It often appears after a particularly heavy day at work – in this job, you sometimes feel like you’re trying to placate half the city.

As with any frontline public service, being a social worker means getting used to a working day filled with thinly veiled threats, aggression and straight-up odd behaviour.

Understandably, social work evokes strong feelings among individuals and families. We see people during the worst and most vulnerable moments in their lives. As a consequence, emotions sometimes overflow from meetings and office visits through anger and rage. In the comfort of your office, with colleagues and security just a locked door away, dealing with the waves of emotion is manageable.

However, social work rarely takes place in a safe office environment. Legally, social workers have to complete home visits, which takes you to the unpredictable environment of a stranger’s home, often with little more back up than a mobile phone and a rape alarm. It was on one such home visit that I felt real fear.

As a social worker for a looked after children’s team, I had been asked to visit the father of a teenage boy who was running away from his residential unit daily. The boy had a mild learning disability and was on the autistic spectrum. He loved his dad more than anyone in the world.

Unfortunately, the father had a history of domestic violence and substance misuse, which meant that he couldn’t care for his son – instead, the boy often parented his father. The aim of my visit was to convince the father to work with me to get his son to stop going missing and start attending school again. I could already feel the dread in my stomach.

I had met the father on a few occasions, where he had made lewd sexual comments towards me or threatened my colleagues with his dogs. He didn’t trust the “social” – we had removed all of his children from his care. From his perspective, we had left him with nothing.

I had asked for a police escort, but they too were stretched for resources. Instead, I insisted that his probation officer attend the meeting with me. We arrived and Dad answered the door, his face sweaty and drawn – he was clearly under the influence.

Just before we arrived, the probation officer had informed me that one of the father’s dogs had attacked someone in a park a few weeks before and he had been instructed to muzzle him in public. We weren’t in public. Before entering the property we tried to get the man to muzzle the dog. He didn’t. Instead he held him by his collar as another dog growled at us from the sofa and a third threw itself at the patio doors, barking madly with rage. An unknown man sat on the sofa surrounded by empty cider cans.

We asked to go somewhere private, so Dad took us into the kitchen and stood by the door. I attempted to share my fears for his son’s well being. As I talked the door was abruptly kicked open, and there stood his teenage son, angry, upset and high, shouting at me, fearful that I had come to take him away.

The father started shouting at his son, his son shouting at me, while the unknown man attempted to placate both of them. The dogs growled and barked beneath us. I looked at the probation officer, who was wide-eyed with fear, and I thought about unleashing the completely useless rape alarm.

With the father blocking our exit, I attempted to wrap up the visit and promised the child that I was only there to talk. The distraction gave us enough time to hurry out of the house and speed walk to my car where I locked the doors and phoned my manager. The boy walked out of the house and towards my car and I quickly drove off while the probation officer phoned the police to raise our concerns for the child’s welfare. They didn’t have enough officers to visit.

Over the course of the following month the boy would go missing for days, his drug use increased and his attendance at school tailed off. I would drive the two hours to the house whenever he turned up, getting a fleeting glimpse of him before he ran out of the door. Dad never returned my calls or letters again. Two months later, I got permission to apply for a secure order, and the courts ordered the boy to be housed at a children’s home. He was later moved to a secure mental health facility. Dad is yet to contact him.

The memory of that home visit – the adrenaline rushing through my veins and the stare of the probation officer – have remained with me on every visit I have been on since. As it turns out, you can scare a social worker a little bit.

*Rainy Bay is a pseudonym

Source: The Guardian