Stand Up Now for Social Work is a Community Care campaign calling for fair, accurate and accountable representations of social work in the media; greater support from the UK government to help boost the public profile of the social work profession; and access to better PR for social work departments.
Community Care began working on the issue of media coverage of social work following news coverage of the Baby P case, including the Sun newspaper campaign calling for the sacking of the professionals involved in the case. The campaign secured 1.2m signatures. Some social workers felt that the coverage was biased against their profession.
Community Care wrote to The Sun’s editor to express social workers’ concerns. It also set up an online petition, and contributed to an Early Day Motion.
Reaction from social workers was swift and positive, so Community Care widened its focus to look at all media and at social work as a whole, rather than only child protection.
Damage caused by adverse coverage
Many social workers feel that coverage of their profession in the media is often negative. Portrayals in the wider media, such storylines in TV shows, can also serve to perpetuate myths about social workers.
There is a danger that this type of coverage, together with generally low levels of awareness about what social workers do, leads to a low public opinion of social workers.
Such attitudes damage the profession’s credibility in the eyes of service users and other professions, make it difficult to keep hold of experienced staff and find new recruits.
For example, after the Baby P case, A Community Care poll of 250 readers found that 40% felt media coverage of the case was affecting their practice and could adversely affect recruitment into the profession. Trade union Unison also said that social workers’ morale had sunk at Haringey, where the Baby P case happened, after they were subjected to verbal abuse by clients, egged on by “disgraceful” coverage in the tabloid press. Both Unison and the Local Government Association warned of a potential exodus of staff and recruitment crisis following what the LGA described as a post Baby P “Witch hunt”.
Ultimately, this could put vulnerable children and adults at risk as fewer social workers are left to take on more cases, spending less time on each case.
The Stand Up Now for Social Work campaign is demanding RESPECT for social workers:
Responsible, balanced, fair and accountable reporting
End to inaccurate and misleading coverage
Support from employers
Positive images of social work’s successes
Equal media treatment with other professions
Commitment from government to support social work
Training to improve media relations
To achieve this, it is calling on:
● The media to portray social work in an accurate and balanced way, be accountable for the information they provide, and agree and adhere to guidelines for reporting on social work
● The government to do more to support and promote respect and positive images to enhance the professional standing of social work, as it has done for teachers with the ‘If you can, teach’ campaign
● Social services departments to improve their PR and media relations skills to help improve interactions with the press and increase opportunities for positive coverage
During the campaign, Community Care will publish articles in the magazine and online, run special podcasts and videos online, and lobby the media and politicians. Plans include:
● Protesting against the Press Gazette’s decision to shortlist the Sun’s Baby P campaign for the best editorial campaign of the year accolade in the paper’s British Press Awards.
● Holding the media to account by highlighting good and bad coverage of social work.
● Drawing up guidelines to advise journalists and the wider media about what social workers do and how to accurately portray the profession.
● Promoting positive stories about social workers and the difference they make to people’s lives and highlighting positive social work role models.
● Demanding that government offers more support to the profession.
● Continuing to collect more signatures to Community Care’s petition and Early Day Motion 692 calling for better coverage media coverage of social work
Community Care is also calling on its readers to take action to support the campaign. Details are available on a dedicated action page.
Myths about social work: some of the misconceptions people have about the job