Social workers demanding ‘positive stories’ forget they aren’t always ours to tell

A child protection social worker explains why she feels families deserve the credit for changes more than social workers

Photo: Ellica/Fotolia

by Sophie Ayers

More social workers on the frontline are expressing their views through the medium of traditional and social media. There appears to be a developing hunger for the views of those working ‘knee deep’ in reality.

Alongside audiences being interested and accepting of the direct accounts and analysis of frontline practice, there are also those who are upset and reject the new-found commentary.

One of the greatest criticisms is that there is too much focus on the negative, and positive images of social work are not discussed or reinforced. I am guilty of producing articles that highlight deficits in the current social work system. Sometimes I am accused of exacerbating the problems by speaking out.

Do I agree with this concern? I resolutely do not.


Identifying flaws does not mean I am not infinitely proud to be a social worker. This is a glorious job with so many rewards and I apologise if this view has not been clear within my writing.

However, I discuss concerns to highlight the plight of some workers. To underline issues that can also have a profound impact upon the people receiving our services. I speak out to elicit change, not to cause trouble.

I believe that there have been many articles that indicate revolutionary practice, encouraging outcomes and positive examples of social work. However, it appears that positive news stories regarding the profession do not always sell papers and attract wider attention from the population. It is a complicated area to know how we overcome the desire for a ‘hard-hitting’, damaging headline as opposed to a story sharing positive messages.

Tool for change

I am concerned that if there are a proliferation of stories based solely on the belief that a positive outcome has been achieved due to a social worker, service users may be offended and the complexity of interventions minimised. Social workers are simply a tool for change but the greatest development comes from the true professional – the person who receives our services.

Every day something in my job provides me with satisfaction, whether it’s a child smiling at a rubbish joke I’ve made or a moment when a parent initiates a small change to their lifestyle. To claim credit for this shift appears, to me, almost insincere. Social workers may have contributed to the change but this does not mean that we should accept the ultimate accolade for this transformation.

The greatest times in my career have been when families have made meaningful and long-standing alterations to their lifestyles. There is no greater joy than when you know that it is time to check out from a family’s life.

Project manager

A family who will always stay with me were bordering on the risk of care proceedings. They took every conceivable piece of advice, lapped up the interventions and went on to become the experts in their children’s lives and needs.

By the end of my involvement, they were guiding me through the techniques they had learned and had taught me so much. I was brought to tears when writing my goodbye letter to them.

I believe that I was the ‘project manager’ in their bid for change. The family had a supportive group of professionals that surrounded them, but ultimately their greatest resource was themselves. I strongly believe that if this family wished to talk positively about the social work service they received, that is their choice, not mine.


So I will continue to focus my writing on issues facing our profession because I feel voices from frontline practice, highlighting the realities of the job, have never been more important in this regard.

We are entering bleak times, with increased austerity and the government set to take over social work regulation. I do not wish to speak for every social worker, but I know many colleagues share concerns about these developments.

One of the principal reasons I started writing (initially just for friends on my Facebook page) was my concern that the frontline social worker’s voice was under-represented.

There are signs this is changing. ‘Social Work Tutor’, for example, has been a trailblazer in terms of his writing and the way he has examined a wide range of issues that affect social workers over the past two years.

I now believe that other social workers should take up the mantle and contribute to the debate. After all, every social worker is equipped with the skills necessary to assert their views and bring about an analysis. This is the ‘bread and butter’ of our world. We also live in a powerful age where those views can be heard and shared easily. Let’s stand strong as a profession and use every outlet possible to assert our rights.


Standing above the parapet is hard and will induce criticism. I thought long and hard about whether to share my name to accompany my articles. However, I felt anonymity wasn’t an option for me. We should be proud of our views and if people don’t agree with our perspectives, it’s entirely acceptable.

Social workers are inherently tough due to the situations that we are exposed to within our working lives. Criticism and challenge is an expected and tolerable part of expressing views in a public forum.

Just as our services users are the experts in their own life and journey, the frontline workers who deliver services are the experts in what is working well and what aspects of social work that could be improved.

If you’re unhappy with the content of current social work articles, why not take action and convey your own views in written form? Use blogs, tweets and articles to ensure that our future conversation about significant changes to our profession includes those at the frontline.

I hope that the government is ready to hear our voices. A slight cynicism accompanies this aspiration. However, the more we talk, policy makers and members of the house will find it harder to simply spurn our views.

Sophie Ayers is a child protection social worker

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