We have social workers in a welfare state for a reason: to help those who need help. But when gross violations of peopleÂ’s rights occur Â– as were revealed this week in the cases of enslaved Romanians in HelsingÃ¸r and a group of severely abused children in the northern Jutland town of SkÃ¸rping Â– it calls into question whether our social contract with Big Mother is worth its high price.
In the welfare state, we trust that the extensive, professional corps of social workers can serve as the first responders once abuse has been exposed. But a more urgent responsibility is to interpret the information passed on to them by teachers, doctors and neighbours in order to stop abuse before it gets out of hand. For the average member of a community, the busy-bodyÂ’s tattling might just be gossip, but for the social worker it could corroborate the concerns of a teacher or a coach.
In cases where social workers have all the pieces before them, yet abuse continues for years Â– as appears to have been the situation in SkÃ¸rping, as well as the town of BrÃ¸nderslev, where a man was convicted of similar abuse in December Â– then itÂ’s time to take a step back and find out whether these are isolated incidents of professional incompetence or whether social workers lack the will or the tools to take action.
In the SkÃ¸rping abuse case, the system apparently got off to a good start: local authorities were reportedly aware that the family fit the pattern for an abusive family. That was in 2005 (or 2006, they arenÂ’t quite sure when). The alleged abuse continued for another five years.
Someone obviously didnÂ’t do their job in the intervening years. Pleading its defence, the council argued that one of its reasons for not putting the kids into foster care Â– despite the childrenÂ’s school and others expressing concern Â– was its lack of evidence.
Social welfare officials, though, were apparently concerned enough that they asked the police to step in on multiple occasions.
Describing their own inability to help the nine children that were allegedly abused over a 16-year period, the police said Â“they did what they couldÂ” and described their collaboration with council authorities on the case as Â“exceptionalÂ”.
If this is a prime example of how the welfare state should work, then God help any child out there who is suffering at the hands of an adult Â– because it looks like their Big Mother canÂ’t.