Social Work – a Daily Mail interpretation

I know I shouldn’t do it. I know it will just make me unnecessarily angry and raise my blood pressure. I know exactly what I’ll find but sometimes, just occasionally, my curiosity gets the better of me and I dip into the Daily Mail’s website.

And to those lucky enough not to have come across the Daily Mail – think populist and right wing – a kind of printed version of Fox News.

Yesterday, I found a story (from a few days previously) headlined MUM ON THE RUN: PREGNANT TEEN FLEES TO IRELAND TO ESCAPE SOCIAL WORKERS SHE FEARS WILL TAKE HER BABY.

I will sum up, for those of a nervous disposition for whom actually entering the lion’s den or giving the Daily Mail the merit of your ‘click’ might be a bit much.


Heavily pregnant 19 year old (she is named in the article but I chose to convert her name to initials) discovered that her social worker had asked the local maternity hospital not to let her leave with the child before a case conference had been arranged as the pregnant woman had had a history of self-harm and had previously been known to have taken an overdose.

There is a reason I have never written a sentence about Children and Families Social Work – and that’s because I don’t really know a great deal about its workings – I  mean, I studied about the Children Act (1989), risk assessments and child development from when I did my MA.. but that was.. er.. a few years ago!  I have some friends in that field but while we might discuss general issues, I wouldn’t say it has given me an insight or understanding of the system – nor can I comment on the particulars of this case.

The only thing I’m commenting on is the language used in the article. Some examples of the quality of journalism on display in this article.

The county council has not obtained a court order giving it authority to keep MT in the hospital, and she has no history of being a danger to children – yet social workers appear convinced she is unfit to care for her baby.

Convinced to whom? The local authority (quite rightly) have refused to comment. A lot of assumptions in that sentence there. Of course, only one part of the story is presented – fair enough. We don’t know what the social workers are thinking to be honest. Is it what one social worker is thinking? One social worker in consultation with her manager? All the social workers that work in that area or the UK or the world.. The journalist seems very happy to present this as fact.

Then they wheel out the politician with a point to prove

John Hemming claimed that the local authority had been heavy-handed.

In some cases, he said, fearful parents feel they have no option other than to flee to Ireland or Sweden, where it is difficult for councils to take children away from them.

‘MT is right to worry that if the new baby is taken into care after birth she might end up getting adopted,’ he said.

It really is a bit of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t case. As far as I know, ‘taking children away’ is the absolute last resort. And this makes it sound like it is an available option.

Without knowing details, background, medical history and planning of the social services in question, it’s hard to know whether this is ‘heavy-handed’. And no option but to flee? Is he really presenting fleeing the country as an alternative to working with social services who might not be ‘child-snatchers’ but do actually work within a legislative framework whose principles are based on working to keep families together.

It does sound a bit ‘rent-a-quote’. Child might end up getting adopted – might not end up getting adopted too though. That’s the beauty of being able to put the word ‘might’ into a sentence and presenting it as fact.

MT accepts that she has harmed herself and taken an overdose in the past, but insists she has not been troubled by problems related to depression for two years.

Yet council documents show her past difficulties are still considered serious.

‘council documents’. Surely I’d be more interested in confidential medical documentation to be honest – that the Daily Mail would not be able to get their hands on.. council documents can’t just invent things -much as people do think it.

And this use of the word ‘yet’ to again – well, frankly it’s just irritating at this point.

Maybe if there were more responsible reporting of the actual situations and less conjuncture for a ‘cheap shot’ at social services, people wouldn’t actually think that their only answer is to flee to a different country for fear of having their child taken away.

I have to add I have nothing but sympathy for woman in question, it is an awful and tragic situation for her to be in but I can’t help feeling that there is some manipulation by the Mail to make a demon of a social worker (who is actually named in the article) who is doing a job within a legal context as far as we know. No action has been taken yet. A woman who is pregnant is frightened. I’m not surprised she’s frightened if this is how social workers have been presented to her up to this point.

And people ask why there is a shortage of social workers in the country?

If you’ve got to this point and have a strong stomach – go click on the article and read the comments section. There are some fairly vitriolic rants there.

(I did submit a comment to their site but they vet all comments and it hasn’t made it up there – possibly because it was a rant about poor (and cheap) journalism taking advantage of emotionally fragile people to make political points).

Anyway, I’ll off to lie down with a copy of the Guardian!

edit: John Hemming has replied to some of the issues raised  on his blog. I thought it would be fair to share as he has more details than I was privy to (although I maintain that my argument was about the language rather than some of the substance)

20 thoughts on “Social Work – a Daily Mail interpretation

  1. Ohh for heaven’s sake, Daily Mail. I’m 17, have no experience in social work, but the first thing I think when I hear that social services wants a case conference before allowing a 19 year old with a history of depression & DSH to leave hospital with her baby, is that they are concerned for *her* welfare as much as they are concerned for the baby’s. “Case conference” isn’t the same as “grab child and run”, right?

  2. The problem with all of us working in the public sector, particularly my social work colleagues, is we’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t.

    Now about your addiction to looking at the Daily Mail….this is a serious problem…..

  3. It’s all part of the wider picture of how the Jeremy Kyle generation like to perceive/portray social workers. My particular pet rant is about how social workers are portrayed in soaps like The Bill and Casualty. They are invariably whey faced and incompetent and the proposed client joins the professionals (nurses or police or whoever) in rolling their eyes at the mere mention of social worker. I worked on a Cand F team for two years and alongside it for ten more in a rough inner city area and I only ever saw one child taken at birth. I did however see a plethora of case conferences where it was worked out what help and support we could give a new mum with problems. Who knew our service did that eh?

  4. good blog – fair & balanced with very good points- I came from John Hemmings site who has linked to you. If I may, I would like to take up just one point.
    “council documents can’t just invent things -much as people do think it”
    when council employees – unqualified case workers in particular -record things, they are recording their point of view. This then gets picked up by other social workers, who then rewrite with their own point of view & it is presented as “fact” The chinese whispers which occur in these situations do lead to things being ‘invented’ to which a parent has no recourse unless you can prove something is factually incorrect. Even if you do it is my experience that the social Workers will then remove the corrections. The majority of social workers I have encountered are either good but overworked and therefore inaccurate or just plain lazy & vindictive. Unfortunately this gives a bad impression to the public.

  5. The problem with the story is that there is an element of truth (albeit very small). When I worked for child welfare, there was one woman in particular who was notorious for pulling kids. I can’t believe she managed to keep her job, frankly. But that’s the problem with that kind of position: with the harder cases, where the argument for pulling the kids could go either way, social worker judgment ultimately comes into play. And if you have your own stuff (and Lord knows, she did) then it will cloud all your decisions.

  6. Caroline – thanks for that. And well done on the great blog by the way.
    Columbus – Fair enough, I perhaps need to be more careful with my language. I can understand how that happens – I think I was trying to make the point that medical records rather than council records might have been more illuminating and more pertinent. Believe me, I would be the first person to condemn poor or lazy practice. I just think some of the language and tone of the article were generalised and unfair.
    Reas – that sounds awful and there are good and bad workers in every field. I am no apologist for shoddy practice and neither for poor policies that we work with that affect quality of care delivery – but – I think sometimes language can be emotive and that is the accusation that I lay at the door of the journalist who wrote the article.
    Tomorrow I am going to speak to schoolchildren to help persuade them that a career in social work and social care is a fulfilling one (I’ll probably write something about it next week). I want desperately for good and diligent workers who care to be encouraged to join our ranks – not vilified as individuals. Criticise the services if you will (this isn’t to you, personally!) but not the individuals if and only if they are performing according to requisite guidelines.
    (phew, just back from work and I was waiting to respond all day!).

  7. I got a mental picture of a very pregnant woman kind of bouncing along over to Ireland… It made me laugh even though it is a very sad situation. Unfortunately, I have been that worker in the hospital, trying to explain to a new mother why she can’t take her baby home. But I would never have been talking to that mother if she were in my local hospital. Child welfare would never have been called in the first place because she hadn’t done anything to merit it.

  8. and reas, there is a supervisor in my office whose baggage colors all her decisions. i know exactly what you’re talking about and its very frustrating when they’re in a position to be the authority.

  9. Thanks for all the comments – just as a note – and I’m putting it here because I don’t want to make a specific posts about it. I’ve added a Commenting Code to the ‘About me’ page..

    Thanks again 🙂

  10. Pingback: Have a Break……….Have a Seroxat « It’s a Mean Old Scene : Thoughts of a Fraggle

  11. I do feel that almost nobody in the whole world likes child protective services workers. Parents think CPS is out to get them. Society also believes they meddle. Hey, even in my job as a preservation worker, I advocate against them. It’s easier to dislike CPS workers than to appreciate them, but they do essential work. Many do it very well. I’ll agree with Reas, that there are a few who are quicker to pull kids (and cover their own rears) than I would like. In general, putting down people who do this work is a cheap shot though. Appreciation for how hard this job is is rare.

  12. Blue, I don’t know how you manage it but you not only say what I’m thinking but also things that I didn’t realise I was thinking – and so eloquently. Thanks 🙂

  13. Fair enough, but what I wrote was not intended to deal with the particulars of this case. It is about the reporting of it. I have written that repeatedly. I have no wish to turn this into a sounding board about the rights or wrongs of particular, individual decisions being made. It is not something I have any knowledge about.
    What I do believe is, as stated above, that social workers who work in child protection do a difficult job – a job that society needs them to do – and the profession and people who do the job should not be demonised.
    Poor decision made, fine, I’m not claiming anyone is perfect, but how about reporting about the hundreds of thousands of good and fair decisions that are being made too.

  14. Well, I’m surprised at this article. The writer of it must have a shorter memory than I have, for I have not yet forgotten (or ever will, I hope) the Fran Lyon case.

  15. The thing is, depending what Social Worker the girl gets she may get support , she may have her child recommended for adoption (child lost forever, or maybe, if she’s lucky 18 long years )

    No matter how small the chance, would you take it?

    How can anyone judge a nineteen year old, and decide she will never, ever be a good parent.

  16. I am in no position to judge individuals and have made that very clear. I will never defend poor practice and don’t seek to – but thanks for dropping by. I’m not unsympathetic. Bad decisions shouldn’t be made but good decisions are made too. That was my point.

    I am going to close comments on this thread. I don’t think there is anything else to add but thanks to everyone for contributing.

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