Child protection social workers have to walk a tightrope between protecting children in their families and protecting them from their families. Well-documented scandals have involved both the failures of social workers to intervene soon enough, if at all, and failures involving premature or draconian interventions which were subsequently found to be unwarranted. While doctors differ and patients die, there is a public expectation that social workers will protect all of the children all of the time.
Although the perceived shortcomings of social workers often make the headlines, little is written about the unpalatable job they do for society, or about the individual children and families who are at the receiving end of their (often unwelcome) intervention. Having retired from forty years in statutory social work, Paul Harrison decided to tell that story. Hanged If You Do…: Reflections from a Career in Child Protection is a personal account told in a conversational, non-academic style that finds humour even in some dark places. As such, it is aimed at a wide readership who like non-fiction, topical issues and a bit of entertainment.
Hanged If You Do… addresses sensitive issues of public interest such as:
- Supporting vulnerable families who may not want to be helped
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Mental illness
- Drug addiction
- Youth homelessness
- Children in care
- Family privacy versus State authority
Harrison also provides an insight into the politics of child protection, and how the media stereotypes statutory social services as the villain and the voluntary sector as the hero, no matter what the story.
Paul Harrison is a registered social worker working in child protection since 1978. He continues to practice in that area, making him one of the most well-known and experienced social workers in Ireland. He has held a number of practice and management positions in statutory social services and served on the board of management of several voluntary organisations. He was a member of the national management team of the Child and Family Agency upon its establishment in 2014. In that capacity he was a regular spokesperson for the agency on radio, television and print media. He is currently in private practice and also a board member of the Adoption Authority of Ireland.