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When was the last time you saw a headline or heard a broadcast that stated “Social worker does good job” in the national media?




The mystery is that, in most other western industrialised countries, social work and social workers are generally regarded with more respect than in the UK. I haven’t yet, in several decades of social work practice, heard a satisfactory explanation of why this is.

Over the last 20 years I’ve regularly appeared on or written for one form of media or another and most times it’s been to counteract a negative story about social work. But even though it’s been a bumpy ride at times I’m still completely committed to working with the media. We just can’t avoid the fact that in either broadcast, written or social media, it’s the window to the world for most of the population. If social work as a profession doesn’t influence what’s in that window then those looking for easy targets to blame or those who perpetuate myths about social workers will never be challenged. The public deserves balance. 

How satisfied is the profession with its portrayal in the media?


Recently my company commissioned a survey aimed at those in and close to social work to see if the perceptions were right and what measures are needed to improve things. When asked if they felt the image of social work in the media is satisfactory, 90% of the 356 respondents disagreed. 

What started as a quick insight produced a staggering response. Each question within the survey received between 40 and 70 voluntary comments, and with over 320 of the respondents being frontline workers, managers, students, academics, independent case workers and retired staff – it is clearly a subject those across the whole profession feel passionate about.

What are the barriers to positive media coverage?


Interestingly, 90% agreed with the statement “Employers should be more open with the media about the work social workers do”. Respondents’ comments revealed issues pertaining to confidentiality, information sharing and data protection being used too regularly as an excuse to avoid media engagement.

Furthermore, 76% agreed with the statement “Frontline social workers should be seen and heard more in the media.” As one respondent said “Frontline workers should be heard to aid better understanding in communities.”

What is the broader impact of negative media coverage?


A colleague of mine, Dr Kieran File, is a media linguist and communication consultant. His PhD research explored the language of media interviews. His first thoughts on the survey feedback were that participants “have no doubt that aggressive media targeting of social workers in the wake of scandals and tragedies makes the job of practitioners more difficult”. 

For every scare story that isn’t balanced, it makes it just that more difficult for the social worker on the doorstep the next day to gain the trust of a family. As one respondent said, “it makes it hard to maintain equal relationships with other professionals and appear competent when working with families”.

But how do we achieve balanced coverage? This is something I discuss in more detail within the latest edition of Sanctuary Social Work News, whilst exploring the merits of media training.



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