Can the public ever learn to love social workers?


In books, films ,TV soaps and dramas there are inspirational teachers. Sure there are bad teachers and lazy teachers, well meaning but ineffective teachers but there are also passionate, dedicated and inspirational teachers. Social work also has passionate, dedicated and inspirational professionals, just not on tv. Nurses on tv are skilful, caring, professionals who get to know their patients as people and who can see beyond medical conditions and difficult behaviour. According to tv they have complicated personal relationships which suffer because of the emotionally draining nature of the work and their dedication plus which they have to work with brilliant but abrasive consultants and budget orientated target obsessed senior management. It's clear that nursing is a caring profession. But so is social work!

So why are social workers so misunderstood by the public and portrayed so unfavourably on tv? I don't blame the media for this ignorance I blame the social workers. If people don't know what social workers really do whose fault is that? It's not just the failure to challenge lazy script writers and journalist it's the failure to provide alternative material.

Social workers have plenty of stories to tell that illustrate their work. They talk about their work all the time in the office and in supervision. And yet social workers seem unwilling and unable to explain what they do. At first I thought this a false modesty, a belief that what they were doing was so routine as to be of no interest or a reluctance to find the time, a cynical view that senior management just wanted good news stories to gloss over the real problems, even a "superstition" that to publicise something that was working would be to set your self up for criticism. Now I suspect it's a lack of confidence that the profession has something unique and valuable to offer. After all social workers (working with adults) do spend a lot of time complaining that their role has been reduced to tick box assessments!

 

It is not surprising that the profession lacks confidence, it is undervalued by government, it is blamed for,"bed blocking," dismissed by many in the NHS as an irrelevance, social workers are the agents of social services one of the NHS minor partners and as a consequence have low status. This has been the situation for a number of years what's different now is that social workers employers, the local authorise also seem to place little value in the need for the skills of the profession as they go about cutting social work posts and replaced them with unqualified workers. Even the directors of adult social care appear to devalue the work many of whom can be heard telling colleagues that in the future local authorities won't employ any social workers they will instead be working for private companies like Virgin Care or health care cooperatives. This view seems to be shared by the ADASS who appear to have lost faith in the profession, whilst they lobby for increased funding for adult social care they are silent on replacing social workers with unqualified or health staff and the "out sourcing " of social work.

 

The implications of this for the profession are that this becomes a self fulling prophecy in that what directors believe will happen happens because they are the ones cutting the posts and outsourcing the service. There will still be a social work profession it just won't be in the public sector.

 

Blair McPherson ex social worker, former director of community services, author and bloggerwww.blairmcpherson.co.uk

 

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