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.