Are people pretending to be social workers to gain access to children and toddlers? Or are bogus social workers an invention of the mind - somehow representing our fears about our inadequacies in an era of state surveillance?
The increasing spread and reach of state surveillance is undeniable fact, but fear about it long predates recent technological innovations such as CCTV. That the state deploys false actors as undercover investigators or (more controversially) active agent provocateurs is well enough known and has a long history.
Naturally, this leads to suspicion. If you know that undercover agencies are at work in the community, then how do you know who to truly trust among that community? In times of social worry that underscore panics and outbreaks of mass hysteria, suspicion thus falls on anyone who looks or acts in a way that isn't 'normal.' In the boiler room of rumour and speculation, and fuelled by the fire of hysteria, innocent acts are interpreted in awful ways - and sometimes with terrible consequences.
Bogus Social Workers (BSW) are merely one manifestation of this psychopathology. At their height in the early 1990s, they were reported across the land - appearing to question families, carry out 'tests' and carrying with them the full menace of official power. Were they actually social workers carrying out routine duties? Or were they potential child-snatches merely posing as such in order to win access to the homes of strangers? Or were they, in fact, psychological constructs that merely existed in the popular imagination?
Coming as soon as they did on the heels of the 'satanic panic' that swept several communities in the years immediately prior to the heyday of the BSW, many suspect that people were swept along by collective hysteria to misinterpret interactions with innocent parties such as health workers, who routinely visit new mothers.
An investigation into the phenomena was carried out in 1995, and looked at BSW reports over the preceding five years. The conclusion was that there was little physical reality behind reports.
In 1990, South Yorkshire police initiated Operation Childcare, which collated gathered 250 reports of bogus social workers from 23 police forces. After a year later not, there had not been a single arrest. Just 18 of the reports merited further investigation and just 2 were thought to represent genuine crimes.
Despite these semi-official rebuffs to the alleged "reality" of BSWs, they are still reported - appearing particularly in the cases of very young babies. Some have advanced the suggestion that the BSWs are real women who have a psychological need to be near infants while not actually wishing them any harm. Others suspect that they are, in fact, psychological manifestations of the fears of young mothers themselves - representing their darkest, most secret fears of inadequacy.
Unusually for such phenomena, BSWs normally - although not exclusively - present themselves in female form.
The bogus social worker reported in April 2014 in Gloucester
The bogus social worker reported to have tried to snatch two babies on the same day in Tees in 2005.
Further reading and recommended books
Bogus social workers threaten to take child TWO bogus social workers tried to take a child from her mother after calling at her Derby home.
The man and woman visited a house in Chaddesden, along with a second man who claimed to be a police officer. [Derby Telegraph]
Bogus caller warning, West Lothian Police in West Lothian are investigating two incidents where women claiming to be social workers visited the same address in Livingston. [Midlothian Police]