Will Social Workers ever get the respect we deserve?
Before I started practising as a Social Worker, I used to naively believe that being a registered professional would come with a tiny bit of respect and prestige. That wasn’t what I wanted to become a Social Worker for of course, but I still thought that having a professional title would put me on the same footing as my friends in education and health.
Everyone seemed to respect teachers when I was younger and valued their place in my community.
The same went for nurses who, as well as being respected, tended to get a lot of praise for their selfless choice of career.
None of my friends in these fields ever bragged about their work, but there was still this sense that they held a valued place within society and helped make the world a better place.
Social Workers pass on knowledge like teachers I thought…
Social Workers support those in need like nurses I thought…
Maybe I’ll be similarly respected by society when I’ve qualified I thought…
How wrong I was.
The public image of my profession, particularly where I practise in Child Protection, is so bad that I sometimes try to avoid the question of what I do for a living when I first meet people
It wasn’t always that way and I used to talk freely about what I did for a living with people I met at parties. But after one too many comments about being ‘child snatchers’, ‘stealing babies’ or ‘letting Baby P die’ it simply wasn’t worth the risk of awkwardly having to defend my profession against strangers I’d likely never meet again.
Even the kind comments would mostly revolve around ‘how hard’ my job was and how people ‘could never do it’ themselves.
I don’t want people’s sympathy because I chose this career
So now I mostly just tell people I work for the Council and leave it at that.
I hate myself for it, but I hate the fact that our media and Government have shit on Social Workers for so long that I’m forced to hide my profession from strangers for fear of them regurgitating the nonsense they’ve read in the press about adoption targets, families having to flee the country and Social Workers all having blood on our hands for the high-profile child deaths that dominate national media reporting of our profession.
What do Politicians think will happen to the public’s view of Social Workers when they routinely blame ‘inadequate Children’s Services’ when children are killed by their parents; failing to acknowledge the budget cuts, austerity measures and job losses that are the underlying causes behind many tragedies.
How do newspapers think their readers will react when their headlines continue to blame Social Workers for the deaths of children; often seeming to place more blame on professionals than the actual parents and carers who murdered their own young.
Our press and politicians whip people into a frenzy for either political or financial gain, then step back and watch as Social Work is dragged through the mud
Even the more positive news stories tend to be tinged with an air of disappointment about our profession.
Extra finances put into Social Work to attract new people into the profession (because the current ones aren’t good enough)
New ways of training and accrediting Social Work to begin (because those already practising aren’t fit for purpose)
With such an overwhelming sense of negativity about the profession coming across on a national level, it can often feel like we are on the back foot before we even begin our working relationship with those we are tasked to support. In my own practise, it can sometimes feel like I’m starting ten feet off the pace and must work hard just to get to a point where people have faith that all Social Workers aren’t incompetent and poorly trained.
This national negativity can be compounded if you’re working in a locality where Children’s Services have been assessed as inadequate and serious case reviews are routinely reported in the local newspapers
Even worse than those factors, we sometimes find ourselves fighting against farcical notions that Social Workers are somehow paid a bonus for taking children into care and have an agenda to lie about parents to meet our adoption quotas.
When are we going to get a fair representation in the media that helps to change public opinion for the better?
Where are the politicians who are going to champion our cause, and stand up for Social Workers?
What do we have to do to get the reality of our jobs out there?
Social Workers perform an incredibly valuable role in society and, if not for us, many vulnerable people would be left without anyone else fighting their cause.
We don’t need to be all called heroes, but at the very least it’s time for a little respect.