Fewer than half of journalists surveyed by Community Care know that social workers must have a degree in order to practise.
Our poll of journalists in England found that 47% believed the minimum required qualification was a degree, while nearly a quarter said an NVQ was needed. Ten per cent said A-levels and a further 10% opted for GCSEs. One person believed no qualifications were required.
The findings also revealed journalists are confused by the distinction between social work and social care, with 68% of respondents saying “care worker” was a social work post. In addition, 18% believed foster carers were working in a social work post and 7% said nursery workers were employed in social work.
The 10-question survey, which was completed by 30 journalists from national to local media, including three specialist social care writers, found 20% believed social workers were better than they were 15 years ago while 13% said they were worse.
About 70% said they would approach the British Association for Social Workers for a social work perspective on a story, while two-thirds said they would contact the local authority concerned. One-third said they would contact the NSPCC.
The survey was conducted as part of Community Care‘s Stand Up Now for Social Work campaign to raise the public standing of the profession, including through more balanced and accurate media coverage.
Improve media skills
The campaign is also calling for councils to improve their media skills to ensure they are more responsive to the press and enhance opportunities for positive coverage.
The survey follows widespread concerns by social work leaders about media coverage of the profession. In an online survey conducted earlier this year, the Social Work Task Force found that 88% of respondents agreed that “the social work profession was undervalued, poorly understood and under continuous media attack”.
In its latest report, the taskforce proposed the creation of a national college of social work to give the profession a stronger voice in the media, and issued a proposed description of social work to aid public understanding (www.communitycare.co.uk/whatissocialwork).
Taskforce chair Moira Gibb said: “It is very interesting to see that the results of this survey back up the evidence that the Social Work Task Force has gathered so far – that there is a real lack of understanding around what social workers do. We hope that this description will start to aid understanding – both by journalists and, in turn, by the public.”
Ignorant of social work
The findings did not surprise BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson. “We know that even the supposedly better quality print and broadcast media are ignorant of social work from the way they use outdated words such as social services and child protection or at-risk registers so I’m sorry to say that your findings don’t come as any surprise at all,” he said.
“Much of my profound irritation with the media stems from being asked often to fill in with a comment on a poorly researched piece to support a story which has already been written and in any case misses the point.”
He said BASW was about to appoint its first public relations manager to build relationships with the media and “offer real stories” about social work.
“Hopefully, we will be able to engage better with those who are prepared to hear,” Dawson added.
“Social workers need to speak out”
Guardian journalist Debbie Andalo, who has written about social work for 10 years, said she often struggled for comments from frontline local authority social workers but those in the voluntary and independent sectors were more forthcoming.
She recently edited a social work supplement and was unable to find a single social worker employed by a council to comment. Instead she interviewed social workers elsewhere, including from an independent fostering agency.
“I understand the nervousness, especially after cases like Baby P, but the more frontline social workers talk about their jobs the more understanding there will be of the challenges they face,” Andalo said.
“It would help if there were more social workers who would speak on the record about what their job involves. They have to take some responsibility for that – perhaps be a bit more courageous.”
Our survey said…
● Who do you go to for a social work perspective on a story?
“Normally wouldn’t because it is notoriously difficult to get a social work perspective on a story.”
● Who can you complain to about the conduct of a social worker?
“Their boss, local health trust, police, MI5.”
Journalists’ fact sheet
Community Care plans to compile a fact sheet for journalists on social work, providing information such as the qualification needed, the social worker’s role, whom they are employed by and who regulates them. We will provide more details as they become available. More on our campaign
● Have your say on media coverage on social work on CareSpace
● Read Sally Gillen’s blog Social work-media relationship must work both ways