Gina Davidson: Cuts won’t help end child abuse

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DID you watch the adaptation of JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy over the past three Sunday evenings?

It was a bit of a canter through the 500-page tome, squeezing a lot of the political and social themes into soundbites. But it certainly looked good.

Apart from the home of Krystal that is, the determined daughter of a drug addict mother, who hated school, hated her life, but loved her younger brother Robbie and wanted more for him and his future. They didn’t have a working fridge, or cooker or paint on the walls . . . it was very obviously a place where social workers were “involved”.

In one telling scene, speaking to the family’s latest social worker, she asks her: “Are you going to stick with us? Because we can’t keep starting again with new people.”

The fictional social worker readily said yes – after all she was only just building up a relationship with the family. But a few scenes on and she was told Krystal and Robbie were no longer her responsibility, another social worker would take them on – and there was a hint that something had gone wrong previously with a case that she’d worked on.

Rowling is a well known Labour supporter, a former teacher, someone who has been dependent on benefits. She knows how hard life can be. And as an author she no doubt spoke to many social work staff in exactly the same situation as the characters in her book. So was this storyline a left-wing message about the under-funding of social work? The fact that they have too many cases? That they have little chance to build up proper relationships with those they’re supposed to care for?

Possibly. But for the majority of social workers that is the reality. So imagine how delighted they must have been to hear Prime Minister David Cameron calling for them to be jailed for five years if child abuse is not spotted.

Cameron is right to say that the sexual abuse of children is on an “industrial scale” in the UK. Anyone who is involved in the care of a child who they know is being abused – be they social worker, teacher, carer, councillor – yet “turns a blind eye” is complicit in the act. There can be no doubt about that.

No-one would argue against the importance of preventing child abuse – and there are questions to be asked about why politicians have refused to tackle the problem until now.

But while it is right that those who fail to act on “clear evidence” of abuse should be penalised, what about the staff who just don’t have the time to spend with the at-risk families to spot any possible abuse in the first place or have the time to really listen to what children are telling them?

The same staff, who due to collapsing numbers in social workers due to scandals, due to cuts to local authority budgets, have too many cases and quickly suffer burn-out?

If a child has their social worker changed on a regular basis how can they possibly build up trust enough to reveal what might be happening to them? Fear of the abuser is a huge part in a child’s silence

Ultimately how will any of this blame game help to attract highly-qualified people into the vital profession of social work and therefore protect more children?

And who will decide what the “clear evidence” is? With hindsight much can appear clear which at the time can be mired in confusion and doubt.

Children who tell adults they are being abused should never be ignored. If that is done so wilfully, then jail is the correct result. But if the child is not heard because they’re scared to tell or because there’s no-one to listen – who is to blame for that?

Let’s show gun thugs crime doesn’t pay

THE idea that your evening in front of the telly could be violently interrupted by gunshots, as happened to Donna Wright and her family in West Pilton, is terrifying.

Someone randomly shooting at your home is the stuff of nightmares. Similarly for the staff in Laing the Jeweller and the Portobello bookies who were held up at gunpoint, that moment will resonate in their dreams forever.

Gun crime has always been low in Edinburgh – so much so that when shots are heard it is doubly shocking.

But it’s little surprise that burglaries and robberies are on the rise. When people are struggling financially there will always be those who will believe that crime could pay.

It’s up to Police Scotland to prove them wrong.

Costume left my son full of beans

FEELING very impressed with myself I made the youngest’s World Book Day costume for once – his Jack the Giant Killer came complete with a paper beanstalk curling round his waistcoat, golden eggs, a cardboard goose, golden harp and a toy hammer transformed into an axe.

The smugness soon disappeared though when it transpired all he was really interested in were the real jellybeans in his artfully ragged-edged trouser pockets.

Easy ride for Craig

IAN Craig has been banished from Lothian Buses HQ in Annandale Street to the transport depot at Gogar. At least he can get there by tram.

A-peel-ingly different design

BLAND, boring, glass and sandstone are the norm for developments in Edinburgh, but now it seems that the city might get a shiny new building that’s worth talking about for all the right reasons.

A “ribbon” hotel is being suggested as part of the St James’ development; a cylinder wrapped in bronze with an interesting spiked top. No doubt many will hate it, and whether or not we need yet another hotel is another argument, but at least it’s different. Already it’s being called the satsuma. Much better than the gherkin if you ask me.