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Protecting Our Children: Winning trust for the making of the series

Updated Monday 30th January 2012

Social workers aren't always welcome visitors - so how do you persuade people to let a camera crew in as well? It was just one challenge for producer Sacha Mirzoeff as he documented the daily lives of the Bristol team for Protecting Our Children.

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It seemed an impossible task – to try and portray the problems and solutions of child protection. Child abuse has always existed but remains deeply clandestine and for a very good reason. After the outcry after the of Baby Peter Connelly tragedy, it seemed all sympathy and understanding for social workers vanished. But how many of us actually understand the job they do.

And without them who is going to look after our most vulnerable children?

So our task was to get our television cameras to show the work of child protection social workers at first hand - not in a scandalous way, but in an informed way over a long period. It was hard enough for social workers to get in a home without a TV crew, let alone with one. We had a problem. Piece by piece we had to solve that and it took a long time…

It took the team behind Protecting Our Children over a year to agree access with Bristol council, even though there were good historical relations.

The crux, we all agreed from the outset was, the welfare of any child involved has to come first. The details of what that means in specific situations is complex.

Then it took a long time to find the right families who had good reason to take part. You have to think that in the first place it's very hard to even ask a family who are probably going through the worst of times to take part in a television documentary.

And why would a social worker, who is already under quite enough pressure, want the microscopic analysis of a television crew to deal with as well?

After six months filming, we started to penetrate deeper into the stories and people were so used to us being around that it became easier to work.

The very fact that people agreed to take part is a real sign of the passion that they have. Many social workers are desperate for the public to gain a real understanding of their day-to-day work.

Many families want their voice to be heard for the first time, or have advice to offer for other people in a similar situation or else are so at odds with social services that they want the process faithfully and neutrally recorded.

After a year and a half of filming, we had more than enough to fill a series.

The hard parts for any film crew working in these situations are that we inevitably become emotionally involved with people's lives, be it social worker or service users.

When we witness tragic events and difficult decisions that will change people's lives forever and feel the heart ache inside, we are still professionally obliged to remain neutral and somewhat detached.

Our job is to faithfully portray what other people think and feel.

We were in a unique position which gave us a better chance than the social workers to hear what the families thought, as we were not there to help determine their future and at times appreciated the frustration they felt with professional services.

We also were left in awe of the pressure that social workers find themselves under.

They work in potentially dangerous situations, often on their own with just a mobile phone to protect them. They regularly suffer abuse that would not be acceptable in other areas of society. And yet despite dwindling budgets, cut backs in other agencies that support them and an increased workload, they are still driven to protect children.

Hopefully after our three hours of television made over the best part of three years, there will be a greater understanding in what it takes to protect our children.

 

Protecting Our Children: Professional Voices

 

 

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