Of Public Image and Social Work


Community Care launch their ‘Stand Up for Social Work’ campaign today. The aim is to focus on poor media images and misconceptions of social workers and to promote positive social work stories to the media and possibly even, dare I say it, the general public.

It comes in the wake of what can be seen as some kind of wide-spread demonisation of social workers in the press and having a profession that invokes such widespread disdain and mirth spreading to the level that recruitment increasingly difficult.

We don’t go into social work to be loved or even respected. But the tirade that greets me in some of the more virulent right wing press (The Sun and the Mail in particular) leaves me solely with the realisation that the journalists know absolutely nothing about social work at all or what social workers actually do on a day to day basis.

So I’m thrilled by the campaign that has been launched.

The campaign goals are

Campaign goals
The Stand Up Now for Social Work campaign is demanding RESPECT for social workers:

Responsible, balanced, fair and accountable reporting
End to inaccurate and misleading coverage
Support from employers
Positive images of social work’s successes
Equal media treatment with other professions
Commitment from government to support social work
Training to improve media relations

To achieve this, it is calling on:
● The media to portray social work in an accurate and balanced way, be accountable for the information they provide, and agree and adhere to guidelines for reporting on social work
● The government to do more to support and promote respect and positive images to enhance the professional standing of social work, as it has done for teachers with the ‘If you can, teach’ campaign
● Social services departments to improve their PR and media relations skills to help improve interactions with the press and increase opportunities for positive coverage

I can certainly concur and applaud those aims.

I hope the focus though broadens from strictly a child protection focus to the work that is done in other areas and fields of social work.

So far the campaign has drawn support across different political parties although I have to say my stomach turned  as I read the interview with Ed Balls by Community Care – where he tries to wheedle away from his previous panderings to the Sun and excuses his appointment of the Sun agony aunt to the Social Work taskforce  pointing out that she communicates with Sun readers on a daily basis.

Sure, she does communicate to The Sun readers – in fact, today she is communicating about.. er.. what to do if your lover has an STI, what to do if your boss demands sex, sex with brother was a mistake (!!), why did my girlfriend cheat? – as you can imagine, all valid ways of communicating serious messages – gee, thanks Balls. Must try to stay away from anything that relates to him now, it makes my blood pressure rise.

Anyway, back to the campaign.

Dave Prentice – the General Secretary of Unison – the union that probably a majority of social workers belong to (or maybe that’s just my very limited straw poll of people I know!) writes a piece for Community Care in support of the campaign and the Social Work Blog carries a piece highlighting some of the more inaccurate reporting that takes place from, what a surprise, The Sun again.

And Simeon Brody writes a piece at Journalism.co.uk explaining the campaign to a wider audience.

I hope it picks up and certainly think it has an opportunity to breathe some life and support into a profession that seems to be used as a constant political football and dumping ground for all of society’s ills.

I have long thought that the poor perception of social work relates to the poor perception of those who seek support through social work interventions. It is easy for society to want to pour scorn on those who remind them of the less favourable aspects of the communities we live in.

Doctors, nurses, teachers and policemen are for all of us.

Social Workers are for everyone else.

I hope the campaign goes some way to look at the wide variety of work and scope that social work covers – and tries to explore and explain how social work is for all of us too.

It might not be always obvious, but I am immensely proud of my job and my choice of profession. While I can live with thoughtless jibes, I am saddened most of all to think that potential social workers could be deterred from a wonderful career path through misconceptions and misunderstanding about what it is that is open to you as a social worker.

12 thoughts on “Of Public Image and Social Work

  1. I agree! The depth and range of topics, the time spent in connecting them on this blog needs to be part of a wider social discussion of how to deconstruct the populist media machine.

    For example, in something as simple as the notion of being able to ‘see a problem’ which the tabloids and their audiences have come to expect.

    This trivialising is expressed in everyday life in iconic ‘high visibility’ outerwear for street wardens, ex offenders or any vulnerable group as ‘evidence’ that ‘something is being done’.

    Yesterday, I watched a ‘crocodile’ of three and four year olds from a fee paying child care service in high vis gear the other day walking through the town centre. My first thought was is this a 21st century replay of a ‘silent’ serving class of the 19th century, nannying the delinquent future owner managers of the late 21st century?

    Where you have the delegation to a purely financial interest you’ve lost something vital. Social work needs adequate administrative support and the debate about how that discussion takes place needs to be placed directly against the quality of child and adult care we should all expect. In the media social work is in a ghetto with the mad, bad and sad.

    The point that nees to be made in redressing the media balance for social work that we’re all affected by the same issues but in different ways at diferent times and in differnet places.

    For example, high visibility tagging respects a populist machine that we need to deconstruct. In the context of children, it can’t just be about teaching children about ‘the environment’, for example, if what is happening in their social education is how to perform a perfect CV, for example, while maybe, at the same time, these children and developing young people maybe harbouring desires to kill people or themselves. We don’t know because we rely on the wrong kinds of information.

    I wondered what can really change when the love of money and the ideological support of the love of money in the media prevents parents from all social classes taking responsibility for their children in the way they want and need to. Social work needs to get this message across. Social work problems are everybodys problems. How families communicate and share information, knowledge in a situation where there’s never any time is at the crux of why baby P dies and Julie Myerson cries out for help, I think.

    In the absence of any shared time, families and their children are ‘making up accommodations’, making up their stories about themselves, each other and others because they find the increasingly complex and arbitrary rules and codes of the wider society to difficult to challenge. Someone will always be at risk, whether of harm or of harming you. Managing your identity becomes a hidden obsession which would aply equally to baby P’s mothers addiction to computers and Julie Myerson’s need to write her story.

    We need to discuss as a society the impact that ‘rule aware’ services have on children’s minds, hearts and lives as they grow up?

    In thirty years time what will we think about how we destroy difference and dissent? Will we regret it?

    I think that whether you consider yourself an Alpha family or whther you’re considerd an Omega family, (lacking the esential social nutrients you need to engage), you really have little redress against the casual expense of services that really undermine ability to be responsible and to care about other people. This, in no way is the fault of social workers but it’s got to be about social work replacing itself at the centre of a social development to have better and more reciprocal conversations with everyone, backed up with a decent administration.

    To me, it’s more important to care about the whole picture than to conform to a system that seems to want to spit people out and disempower them from their ‘quiet enjoyment’ of their time on earth!

    Will the crocodile three and four year old children (like their very poorest peers who are almost tagged at birth but hardly ever really helped to move beyond the social and judicial system around them, as their life ‘known’ but never really ‘known’ to the different parts of the system unfolds there but nowhere else, apparently).

    the point that needs to be made by social work and social workers is that both of these ‘tagged’ groups may be growing up with the same expectation. To expect to have a class of people paid to care for them, always, throughout their lives. the debate should be do we want all of our children to grow up wondering why they have an innate sense of ‘celebrity’ or social superiority?

    These ‘crocodile children’ may, (but we just can’t know) be always (just on) the right side of ‘social tagging’ but is it really what we want as a society to be ‘just in time’, each of us, always, just one step away from being either ‘found out’ or, at the other end of the populist continuum, like Jade Goody, ‘discovered?’

    Is it time to ignore celebrity, police on TV, Facebook?

    • Wow, there really is a lot there, Paula. Lots of very interesting points though and I can certainly relate to a lot of what you say. Of course an idealised world may not need social work but as long as there are people there will be excluded people and stronger people and weaker people and good people and bad people. I wish ignoring was as easy as thinking it. Aspirations are on very shaky grounds at times.

      • There needs to be more cultural journalism I think. I bet that cultural journalism has a masive hidden audience.

        Everyone assumes that this kind of writing is in the Guardian or the Independent but as Julie Myerson found out, noone in the paper that had serialised Living With Teenagers had read her book and very often the market in sensationalism is really the only priority before the more balanced and insightful thought pieces.

        Blogs are a good place to begin to write this kind of cultural journalism but it’s probably some kind of popular publication between blog and Granta that’s needed for social work.

  2. There’s a saying that a lie goes three times round the world before the truth can get its shoes on, cb. The trouble is that when a journalist doesn’t specialise in a topic and if they’re working to a deadline, then they don’t bother to check their story. I see this regularly in health, where some of the stories that are in even the good press, bear no resemblance to what has happened. I think actually that bloggerdom is the answer to this kind of reporting; people like yourself who write from a professional point of view , counter all the rubbish and also journalists looking for info on a subject will check blogs that specialise, so I think the answer is to keep on doing what you’re doing!

    • Thanks Julie! – I hope so. I think my audience is generally the most sympathetic kind (apart from occasional and pretty randomly generated ‘kill all social workers’ comments and emails that I filter out). But maybe slowly but surely more diverse voices will be heard.

  3. Thanks for your support and for featuring our campaign today – hopefully we can keep the momentum going and try to change attitudes at least a little bit.

    • I am really very fond of your campaign and think you are doing a marvellous job (if you hadn’t guessed!)

  4. “We don’t go into social work to be loved or even respected”

    Certainly not! We go into for the money and fame.

  5. lol reas.

    hi cb! this initiative sounds a lot like the Social Work Reinvestment Initiative we have here in the states.

    social work is an often misunderstood and maligned profession. its a shame really.

    hopefully initiatives like these will bring better public understanding, increased funding, and better outcomes for the people we serve

    • Hi Douglaskev – thanks for dropping in. I hadn’t heard of that initiative but will look it up a bit later. After all, the end results are what we are all after.

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