Media portrayal of social work

I’ve given media interviews today on both the radio and Sky News about an Italian woman who had her baby removed by caesarean section whilst detained under the Mental Health Act, authorized by the Court of Protection.

The back story involves the police taking her to a psychiatric unit following a break down at a hotel, and her being sectioned under mental health legislation, then social workers obtained a court order following 5 weeks of detention to remove the child. A second high court judge has also been involved and maintained the status quo as adoption proceedings have progressed. The reason I’m puzzled is that the media focus on the drama and the perceived injustice to the woman who, as an Italian national, with family back in Italy they suggest should have been returned home to allow Italian authorities to deal with the whole matter. Further more there is a belief that there was some kind of arbitrary, draconian action on the part of social services.

The question I was posed therefore was ‘have social workers too much power?’. Well, my answer was that they don’t. Social workers alone did not remove this child. The court ordered it. There were police, psychiatrists, obstetricians, social workers, lawyers and two high court judges involved in making the decision to remove the child. Essex County Council social services are not allowed to comment as the matter would involve identifying a child.

The questions that do remain involve what part international social services and our Italian counter-parts played in the story and what assessments were made of extended family members as alternate safe parents.

This is a perfect example of the media and specifically one or two journalists with prior agendas whipping what they see as a fire storm of injustice before all the facts are known. My worry is that the melodrama and anxiety caused by alleging that social workers were acting with arbitrary power – when this was impossible in the circumstances – will really detract from allowing them to do their job tomorrow with new families and new situations. The level of trust has been eroded again by, I believe, journalists who have been too quick on the trigger. People must realise the consequences of their writing, especially in the age of instant communication and headline grabbing.

See todays blog Removal at birth – the real story

This is a re-occurring event in the media which I have frequently blogged about:

Media Training for broadcast, written or social media

Media Training in Social Work

Thoughts On Newly Qualified Social Workers

Representation of Children

Social work and the media

The Image of Social Work


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