The Sun‘s agony aunt Deidre Sanders has defended her controversial appointment as a member of the government’s Social Work Taskforce, established in response to Baby P.
Speaking to Community Care following readers’ angry responses, Sanders said she wanted to represent “the voice of ordinary people on the outside of social work”.
She claimed there had been a “breakdown of trust between social services and the general public” and pledged to use her role to address this.
“People need to be much more comfortable contacting social services – not a week goes by without me trying to persuade people to report concerns about children at risk,” she said.
Contributors to Community Care‘s discussion forum have come out against Sander’s appointment, with one calling it “a mockery,” adding: “What other kind of professional review would invite a tabloid agony aunt onto a review panel?”
‘No social work knocker’
In response, Sanders (right), a trained counsellor and sex therapist, insisted she was “not a social work knocker”, adding: “They do a very tough job under difficult circumstances.”
The agony aunt, who answers about 1,000 letters a week with a team of trained counsellors, also joined The Sun editor’s recent defence of the paper’s Baby P campaign, which called for social workers involved in the case to be sacked.
“The campaign wasn’t a malicious wheeze of a handful of newspaper executives but a response to the thousands upon thousands of protests which were pouring into the paper. We were helping ordinary people get their views heard in the corridors of power,” she said. “I think that’s an important function of a popular newspaper – and those working in the professions in the public sector can get cut off from what are seen as commonsense values in the real world where, if you get something wrong, you lose your job. “
At the time of The Sun’s campaign last year, Unison representatives at Haringey Council said professionals were being subjected to verbal abuse by clients, egged on by “disgraceful” coverage in the tabloid press.
The campaigning body Social Work Action Network (Swan) also launched a petition to condemn the “witch hunt” against the profession fuelled by the Baby P case.
Sanders personally distanced herself from the decision to run the Baby P campaign. “It was made by a different part of the newspaper. I am not privy to editorial decisions made at The Sun,” she said. She also claimed her problem page represented “another side” to The Sun – dubbing it a “social services unit run by News International [Rupert Murdoch’s company that owns the paper].”
But she added: “A big problem after Baby P was that Haringey didn’t even want to say sorry to start with, didn’t seem to accept responsibility. If our campaign was seen as a mere witch hunt in the social work sector, it illustrates the communication gap we have in society.”
Sanders, 63, has run the problem page since 1980, and is the author of more than 200 advice booklets and patron of organisations including the National Association for People Abused in Childhood and the Family and Parenting Institute. She is also an honorary council member of the NSPCC and was a member of the NSPCC National Commission of Inquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse.
The Social Work Taskforce, headed by Camden Council chief executive Moira Gibb (right), will review the profession in England including workloads and supervision. The Department for Children, Schools and Families appointed the members earlier this week.
A DSCF spokesperson said: “We have invited Deidre Sanders to be a member of the Social Work Taskforce because she is a nationally respected agony aunt who can draw on her experiences to help the Taskforce. She has been invited to join the group in a personal capacity.“
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Blog: Dear Deidre, are you the right person for the Social Work Taskforce?