By Maurice Bates and Corinne May-Chahal
We are this week launching the College of Social Work’s first ever national campaign, Speak up for Social Work. Its aim is to ensure that social workers are at last able to find their individual and collective public voice.
The Social Work Task Force report in 2009 confirmed what most of us in the sector already knew. It found that social workers are “deeply concerned” by the way their profession is reported in the media.
It said that the public image of social work is “unremittingly negative” and expressed grave concern that “social work has been reduced to high-end child protection in popular understanding, thus disregarding other important aspects of social work”.
The consequences of negative publicity are not superficial. When people do not understand or have confidence in the services available they are less likely to take full advantage of them. This can have damaging results for the most vulnerable in society.
When a profession is beleaguered, talented people are discouraged from joining the workforce and morale falls among those who feel that their work is unappreciated.
The popular perception of social work is unfair. For every failure, there are countless examples of good social work in which children are protected and their prospects improved. There are numerous cases where the lives of older people or people with mental health problems are enhanced. But how often does the public hear about them?
The media is, of course, more disposed towards stories of culpability and conflict and we should not be looking to gloss over failures. However, we must be proactive in ensuring our successes are celebrated, and our work is accurately represented.
Social work needs to alter its approach and attitude to the media if a confident, respected and high-status profession is to be built. We need to be bold about our achievements and ready to explain to journalists exactly what we do and how we support the people who are most vulnerable in our society.
That is why we are calling on social workers to join, develop, lead and act as spokespeople for the College, which will play a vital role in ensuring the profession is able to speak up for itself.
We know that social workers are proud of their profession and determined to drive up standards. The College aims to raise standards so that we have even more to shout about and the public hears the success stories of social work loud and clear.
Maurice Bates and Corinne May-Chahal (pictured top) are the interim co-chairs of the College of Social Work
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