(About the story ‘Johnny’s New Job’, included in the Peacock Cloak collection. It was first published in Interzone.)
I have worked most of my adult life either as a social worker, a social work manager or a social work lecturer. I wrote this story, pretty much in one go, as a visceral response to the one of those periodic media lynchings of social workers that we go in for in the UK: the ‘Baby P’ (Peter Connelly) scandal. At the time I wrote it The Sun was printing photos of social workers and others that they held responsible, with a phone number under each that people could call and dish the dirt.
I don’t think these events really have much to do with establishing what went wrong, or putting things right for the future. I think these carnivals of horror, shame and blame have much deeper and darker roots.
Certainly most social workers I know feel that they’ve escaped such a lynching thus far by luck as much as judgement. You can’t know for certain what will happen in the future, or what is happening behind closed doors when you’re not there. You can’t remove every child from his parents just in case. And that means you can’t always get it right.
When I had Johnny call out for the welfare worker’s children to be killed as a punishment, I thought I was allowing myself a little poetic licence. Surely no one would really be that stupid? But it turned out I was wrong. In the Baby P case, Sharon Shoesmith really did receive death threats against her children.
More thoughts on all this here, plus details of an interesting book on the Maria Colwell case in the 1970s, which became a template for these kinds of case.