I’m a social worker, get me into there

Cracking Crime was a themed night on BBC1 last week.
One of the programmes, You the Judge, confirmed what, on a lighter
note, ITV’s I’m A Celebrity – Get Me Out of
, had suggested earlier.

The public, or at least those who pay to phone a vote, are
reasonably sane, decent and informed. Tony Blackburn, a Lazarus
from the days of Radio Luxembourg, was, after all, the best among
that fame-famished bunch.

In You the Judge, the setting was a court room. Several
groups – police officers, ex-offenders, victims of crime, social
workers and the viewers – each decided on the appropriate sentence
for a range of crimes drawn from real cases. Among them were death
caused by drink-driving and a mugging which included a serious
assault. The sentences were then compared with the justice
dispensed by the judge.

Remarkable was the degree of consensus among the groups, often
chiming with the sentences imposed by judges, themselves far from
draconian. The two groups most frequently outside the consensus
were the victims of crime and those working in the field of social
policy. The former demanded far longer prison terms; the latter
opted mainly for non-custodial sentences.

The “foreman” of the social workers explained why: incarcerate a
young man and the opportunity for redemption is gone.

What he had no opportunity to say was that this was not due to
prison itself but the appalling lack of constructive support that
most of these institutions offered. The argument is, of course,
valid. The difficulty is that, for many, such a position underlines
the notion that social workers are out of touch with the public

Social work, as has been pointed out often, has a poor profile
or none at all. The sum of its achievements – families refloated,
lives turned around, often the result of inter-agency team work –
do not usually lend themselves to the briefest news item.

Last week, the BBC announced a shake-up of its political
programming. Among its plans are a Back to the Floor
documentary series in which politicians are sent to work in
prisons, schools and hospitals.

The front line of social work isn’t on the list but
someone should lobby so that it is. Social work, in all it
manifestations, is becoming increasingly difficult to undertake
well for many reasons.

Create more opportunities for the public to see why – and the
general response may be as surprising as Mr Blackburn’s
recent reincarnation.

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