‘Worst portrayal of the social work profession I have seen EVER!’

A collection of responses to the latest episode of forensic crime drama, Silent Witness, which saw a social worker at the centre of the story

Photo: BBC

The BBC’s portrayal of social work was at the centre of a Twitter debate last night, following the latest episode of crime drama Silent Witness.

This week’s two-part story, entitled ‘Protection’, featured three different plot lines heavily focused on child protection and social services.

These elements were linked together by social worker Louise Marsh, who managed the cases of each of the children involved.

The programme sparked a lot of reaction online, with many fans of the show convinced that the social worker was in fact this week’s villain.

It also divided opinion among sector professionals and many criticised the show’s portrayal of social work.

Here’s a collection of views from social workers and others who watched the programme.

Watch last night’s episode and let us know what you think in the comments below

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24 Responses to ‘Worst portrayal of the social work profession I have seen EVER!’

  1. Anne January 21, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

    Well another obvious portrayal of a social worker – they were bound to show the social worker as wrong and not working as part of a supervised team. As I watched the story unfold I thought here we go and to be honest I was not far wrong. Not sure what else they could have done, their brief is to make it exciting and dramatic.

  2. Soraya January 21, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    Such an inaccurate portrayal of a social worker! So disappointed with the BBC to the point I’ve made a complaint on bbc website.

    • Soraya January 21, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

      This is the BBC’s response.

      Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

      I was sorry to read you were disappointed with BBC One’s ‘Silent Witness’. I understand you feel the programme depicted social workers in a poor light. Furthermore, I appreciate you found the programme failed to display the hard work social workers do and believe the storyline was poorly researched.

      To address your concern; Silent Witness is set in contemporary Nottingham, and we aim to reflect real-life as far as possible. That said, ultimately it is a fictional drama series, and therefore inevitably an element of dramatic licence is sometimes necessary.

      It’s never our intention to cause upset or offend our viewers, especially those who have first-hand knowledge and experience of our stories. Our portrayal is specific to the individuals in our story, and not meant to representative of everyone’s experiences.

      Rest assured, we do value your feedback. All complaints are sent to senior management and in this case, the BBC One and the Silent Witness team every morning and I included your points in this overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensures that your concerns have been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future programmes.

      Once again, many thanks for contacting us.

      Kind regards

      Brian Irvine

      BBC Complaints


    • hazel January 21, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

      This practice is the tip of the iceberrg. Its been my experince and was a true portrayal and that of many people particularly where not well known conditions are concerned of which there are many. Only common are looked for but no so common or rarer are overlooked and yes they very good of dismissing medical diagnosis which has happened to many. g

  3. christine January 21, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

    A very accurate portrayal of childrens social services. Well done the BBC.

  4. Helen January 21, 2015 at 5:36 pm #

    Actually, I don’t think it was a million miles from the truth except that there appeared to be no supervisor with whom to consult. The dilemmas are what we face and the emotional toll, as we know, can be enormous and lead to stress burnout. She was at least portrayed as caring and thoughtful which is often not the case with TV dramas.

  5. caca January 21, 2015 at 6:18 pm #

    Social work isn’t the only profession to be negatively shown in the media but it is quite embarrassing that we’re the only one who builds it into something bigger, it was a drama programme not a factual representation of the job!!!

  6. Jane Rose January 21, 2015 at 8:12 pm #

    Jane January 21 2014 at 20.15 One oif the worst portrayals of both SW practice and procedures.It took all of my self control not to complain that night.
    Quite frankly if as BBC maintain research was completed I suggest they look at their source of information.

  7. Melanie Hamilton-Perry January 21, 2015 at 9:58 pm #

    As a social worker, I could not watch this episode of silent witness.

  8. me January 22, 2015 at 2:42 am #

    any portrayal that does not show a social worker with wings and halo is wrong and nothing less is acceptable.

  9. Nikki Smith January 22, 2015 at 9:27 am #

    As a 3rd year social work student and currently on a placement i see poor unprofessional practice regularly. Well done bbc there should be more tv highlighting the many issues within the profession.

    • Robert hutches January 24, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

      Well said Nicki many social workers take a systematic approach to cases that include fabricating evidence lying on oath and even being biased towards family’s. Each case should be judged on its individual merits.

  10. Al January 22, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

    Wow, Nikki. Those are some fairly damning comments. If that is your real name you’ve used there, you might want to be mindful that this is a public forum and may be frequented by the social workers you shadow.

  11. Paul January 23, 2015 at 10:12 am #

    I realise that Silent Witness is a work of fiction, but the show is so poorly written it is laughable! Pathologists doing children’s medicals, forensic investigators having to continually explain things to bumbling police, all while the female pathologist wrings her hands and has a troubled look on her face.

    An accurate portrayal of social work? Really? You must work at an appalling council. Social workers don’t trot around starting court proceedings on their own! I think whoever wrote this episode has an axe to grind regarding social workers.

  12. Barbara MacArthur January 23, 2015 at 10:29 am #

    I was appalled at the portrayal of the disoriented but supposedly experienced social worker in “Silent Witness” . She may have been dedicated, but could not see further than her nose. She was ignorant about many different signs which could be mistaken for child abuse. What use is she if she attempts suicide when things do not go according to plan? She was useless when a young lad who threatened her with a knife. Upon my retirement I emptied my drawer of the varied collection of sharp knives that I had confiscated over the years. I have since found a couple of them useful in cooking. The other objects, such as a couple of chair-legs, I disposed of.

  13. Mike January 23, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

    This program did show the dilema a social worker might face in being sure a situation is unsafe but meeting the burden of evidence that is necessary to act for that child being a difficulty that sometimes means harm must occure before action can.
    The interesting part for me was that where the social worker was right the Court did not agree but where the social worker was wrong (though still acting protectively within the information available) the Court agreed and this shows the public that child protection has much inherant conflict that works to ensure mistakes are minimal.
    I therefore don’t agree it was a terrible portrail of social work I think it was an ernest attempt to paint a picture and inevitably it had a good dose of drama because thats what the public want and therefre what the BBC must supply given this was not a documentry.

    • Sam January 29, 2015 at 1:24 am #

      Unfortunately there wasn’t one single instance where the social worker made the right call. Every single decision she made resulted or would have resulted in making the lives of the people involved far worse. Thank goodness it is fiction.

  14. Barbara MacArthur January 24, 2015 at 10:27 am #

    I think Clare Booth Luce was thinking of social workers when she said “No good deed goes unpunished”

  15. Peter Teague January 24, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    Sad to see some people felt this was a good portrayal of a social worker.
    How can a vulnerable, reactive, unsupervised, headless chicken, be expected to perform such an important role for society.
    Apologies to the admirers of Louise but please don’t consider going into SW, or if you are already, please leave.

  16. L January 24, 2015 at 11:42 pm #

    Oh for God’s sake, it’s a TV Show. It’s hardly a realistic portrayal of a standard pathologist either – they hardly go around solving crimes, interviewing suspects, telling the police how to run their cases. Many previous shows have misrepresented Detectives and the Police in general, you never see such an outcry then. I gather social workers are particularly touchy about the subject, perhaps there is a sense of unjust victimisation of the profession. As a barrister in public law, I see a great deal of extremely poor social work practice, with flagrant breaches of duty and very little sense of accountability on the part of professionals. I work both for LA’s, defending claims, and bringing claims against them. What I appreciate, however, is the very nature of my job means I see a skewed image of the profession — there are plenty of good examples of social work — however I don’t see why the BBC should favour any one representation over another.

  17. Jenny Eckersley January 26, 2015 at 6:17 pm #

    I was a child protection worker and mental health worker for 39 years
    I’ve removed children from risky situations
    I’ve stood in the witness box on many occasions
    I have seen poor and thoughtless practice, As well as brilliant social work.
    I was often horrified by the poor supervision and massive case load I had.
    The social worker in the programme was well
    motivated, but lacked confidence in her role.
    We have all been stressed by the job, but perspective is essential. I thought the programme showed the conflict for social workers very well. The old saying “you can’t do right for doing wrong” seems very apt.

  18. Julie January 26, 2015 at 9:21 pm #

    For me , as an experienced social worker , I was concerned about the lack of ‘team’ and the portrayal of social workers going alone with such huge life or death decisions It was actually this portrayal that Munro identified as the weaknesses within social work – poor accountability , poor supervision , poor reflective practice and rigid risk adverse risk assessments ; ( I know u know its only tv )

  19. Iain January 28, 2015 at 11:04 pm #

    I’ve just seen the programme and felt that the social worker was doing all she could – she was in an impossible position and made decisions without support.

    I saw only an indictment of the system NOT of the social worker.

  20. Sam January 29, 2015 at 12:16 am #

    Literally the worst social worker in the world. There was barely a character in the episode whose life she hadn’t destroyed. Bloody glad it’s only fiction!