All in a day's work

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 September, 2011, 12:00am


All in a Day's Work is a memoir written by British social worker Becky Hope about her experiences over 20 years working in child protection in Britain.

Hope is a pseudonym used to protect the children she has come across. And boy, do they need protecting.

The book charts the plight of children who don't cry because they know no one will respond, and others who sleep under urine-soaked blankets and scavenge for food in bins.

'Rearing children is a full-on responsibility and society fails to recognise this at its peril,' writes Hope. The book is full of case studies that prove that society (British society, at least) is failing in this duty.

One such child is Martin, who was thrown out of home at the age of 10 by his heroin-addicted, prostitute mother. Now in his teens, he is prone to violent outbursts and, as a result, is moved from one children's home to another. Heartbreakingly, Martin is always worrying about his mother, who couldn't care less about him. He carries bread in his pocket for comfort because he's so used to going hungry.

Not all the stories are doom and gloom. There is a flicker of hope in the tale of Rosie, a woman in her late 20s, who was removed from home at an early age along with her twin brother and two sisters. Rosie's 'level of neglect ... matched up with the worst', and yet she has turned her life around completely and is happily married with a young son.

There is also the story of Sarah, a young girl desperate for love whose junkie, alcoholic mother can't pull herself together well enough to protect her daughter from an abusive boyfriend. She ends up happily adopted in a loving home.

Hope's reasons for writing this book were threefold: to encourage more people to enter what is an unpopular profession; to increase the understanding of what social workers actually do; and to dispel misconceptions about the profession.

I found it successful on the latter two counts but, as for the first one, well, I am not sure I could handle such taxing and emotionally draining work every day.

Hope writes: 'I hope that through a deeper understanding of the consequences of neglect, abuse and delay on children, society may look hard at itself, and at the most vulnerable within it, and consider whether this society really does put children first.'

Verdict: The prose itself is rough, ready and clich?ridden. However, while the book makes for tough reading as both a piece of literature and in terms of the content, it's worth doing so to catch a glimpse of the underbelly of life that most of us, with luck, manage to avoid.

All in a Day's Work by Becky Hope; Hodder & Stoughton, HK$175 from