The Image of Social Work

Sep 12, 2013 by

Media training for social workers

Again there’s all sorts of talk of social work in the media and how social workers are represented with one or two of the extreme newspapers enjoying their normal attempts to reinforce stereotypes and the social work community its self getting extremely aerated and exasperated with several ‘here we go again’ articles.

I think it’s about time people realised that social work as a profession is here to stay and that all the UK social workers ask for is parity of respect with social workers in all other western industrialised countries. Social workers will make some mistakes from time to time as do the police, medics, lawyers, plumbers, electricians and builders etc etc etc. However, when Harold Shipman killed people I didn’t see all GP’s tarnished as lethal predators in the community. When Beverly Allott killed people I can’t remember all nurses being considered homicidal. It just seems to be that divisive stereotypes can’t be let go by some sections of the community.

Social work is now more regulated. Social workers have to be registered and subject to disciplinary procedures which are reported on and therefore more transparent. Just like any other profession the public have mechanisms to hold social workers to account.

It’s tragic and it’s frustrating. The fact that social workers constantly deal with conflict and are endeavouring to bring resolution to that conflict with people who are extremely damaged and, more often than not, vulnerable. If it wasn’t for that fact then this whole matter could be put down to being incredibly boring. But social workers do deal with extremely sensitive situations and so any extra negativity in public perception just makes it that bit harder on the doorstep.

On the other hand there is some debate to be had as employers of social work – mainly local authorities – still sometimes confuse confidentiality with secrecy and a more open relationship with the media could be possible without betraying the service users’ confidentiality. I still think that a segment of journalists’ training could include what social workers do and why they do it and it would do no harm to have social work training discuss the media and how to work with them to mutual advantage.

200 years ago doctors were considered the lowest of the low – ‘charlatans’ or ‘snake oil salesmen’ – with surgeons calling themselves Mr as Doctor was seen as pejorative.  I just hope it doesn’t take as long as that for social work to be accepted fully.

There need to be media training for the social work profession, as well as for businesses and individuals, to optimise their presence and good work. This is offered at David Niven Associates

For bookings call 0845 833 0859 or email info@dnivenassociates.co.uk.
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1 Comment

  1. Tony Domaille

    My background is with the police. That is certainly an organization that gets things wrong from time to time, but the police are very good at counterbalancing bad news with good news. Just as someone publicly complains the police have failed in a particular duty, there will be simultaneous reporting of a series of dawn raids on drug dealers or the conviction of a paedophile. The police know they need to consent of the public and know how to maintain it.

    So I couldn’t agree more with the idea that social workers could engage far more positively with the media. Why don’t they make it known there were more than 600,000 referrals to children’s social care last year and the majority had positive outcomes? Why don’t they describe what positive outcomes are rather than allowing the public to think they are child snatchers? Why don’t they tell stories of social work at its best?

    I fear that social workers have long since adopted a siege mentality in response to adverse media reporting and public perception. And I think because of that siege mentality, social workers too often unwittingly reinforce adverse perceptions by behaving in ways that set them apart from other professions. Working in the safeguarding arena one hears far more complaints about social workers being dismissive, failing to return calls, being late for appointments or meetings or dressing inappropriately than any other group.

    Social work is a noble profession. The public has not the first idea how much important, life changing work is done every day and the media is guilty of perpetuating unhelpful stereo-types. But public perception won’t change, and social workers won’t be appropriately valued, until they learn to put out far more positive messages about their work and about themselves. No one is going to do that for them.

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