Scanning the newspapers to gauge the reaction to yesterday’s final report from the Social Work Task Force, it is the comments from some of the public that caught my eye.
Most of the national newspapers I’ve seen have covered the report in a straight way – outlining the major reforms, along with comments from ministers. The BBC has also done roughly the same.
The Daily Mail has tried to put more of a spin on it, highlighting the recommendation for reforming the pay structure – Social workers to be given pay RISES in wake of Baby P scandal – rather than the recommendations to drive up standards. Interestingly, the article’s original headline contained the word ‘outrage’ but dropped it soon after, presumably due to the general lack of outrage.
But as usual, the comments at the bottom of the article include anti-social worker vitriol along the lines of ‘sack them all’ (among many others). Ignoring the ludicrousness of those sorts of statements, it nevertheless shows how much still needs to be done to improve the image of social workers in the public eye.
These sorts of comments appear at the bottom of many articles on social work – regardless of the newspaper – and highlight the deep-rooted prejudice that exists among some of the general public.
Tackling these perceptions will be incredibly difficult. The Task Force recommendations should help if they are driven through. It calls for a programme of public understanding, with greater openness and enhancing awareness of what social workers do and the contribution good social work makes to society.
This is key; I think a lot of anti-social worker feeling is down to misconceptions about what they do and the fact that it is only when it goes wrong that it is reported in the media – social workers seem to be painted as either child snatchers or uncaring box-tickers that ignore obvious abuse.
More campaigns along the lines of the one to improve recruitment seen earlier this year – and which created a huge spike in interest – are needed, as is a sustained feeding of ‘good news’ stories into the media.
Also, if the other recommendations do end up raising standards, the resulting better outcomes – and fewer poor outcomes, more significantly – will help to change the perception of social workers over time. Likewise, the number of damning newspaper articles would decrease.
Achieving this will take a sustained campaign over many years, but it needs to be done. Teachers’ status has been rehabilitated following similar campaigns in the past decade, and there is no reason that it can’t be done for social workers.