The Social Work Task Force has called on the sector to launch media campaigns to improve public understanding and highlight the importance of the social work role.
The final taskforce report, Building a Safe, Confident Future, described the public image of social work in England as “unremittingly negative, with damaging consequences for recruitment, morale and public perceptions”.
The panel of experts responded by outlining plans for a long-term media relations campaign to address misconceptions – marking a major victory in Community Care’s long-running Stand Up Now for Social Work campaign. This began in March this year with a drive to improve public attitudes towards social work, aimed at three groups: government, employers and the media.
Community Care has been urging the government and employers to do more to promote positive images of frontline social workers, and called on the media to improve its understanding of the profession, in a campaign that has won the backing of ministers and leaders across the sector.
The taskforce’s suggested strategy begins with relationship-building between frontline social workers and local media.
The sector should ensure there is a continuously updated “bank” of positive stories about frontline practitioners, the taskforce said, in order to “create a benchmark for the public of the positive impact social work can have”, and there should be “systematic use of statistical data and other information on performance to create a balanced, accurate picture” of the profession.
Ministers should use their position to communicate with the public “to explain and promote social work and its importance to the nation”, while regular surveys should be carried out to measure the impact of the campaign.
Finally, to plan for times of crisis, there should be clear lines of accountability for handling information when a news story involving social work breaks, locally or nationally.
The recommendations come at the end of the year in which social workers have had their role and competence questioned by national media coverage, which has been at best, sceptical, and at worst, hostile.
Community Care launched Stand Up Now for Social Work in an attempt to restore public perceptions of the profession following a public outcry over the Peter Connelly case.
Our campaign highlighted how:
- 54% of national newspaper reports about social workers are negative
- Two-thirds of local authority press officers described social workers as “reluctant” or “extremely unwilling” to engage with journalists
- More than half of councils ban social work staff from engaging with the media
The lack of understanding about the social work role affects not just the public, according to the taskforce report, but can also hamper multi-agency partnerships because colleagues from other professions can be confused about what they should expect of social workers. This leads “to misunderstanding and frustration on all sides”.
The government has accepted all of the recommendations from the taskforce including the formation of a national college of social work, which will lead efforts to improve media relations and public understanding by calling on “high quality media expertise”.
Improving media relations and public understanding are crucial steps towards becoming a fully confident, effective profession, the report concluded.