Social work-media relationship must work both ways

It is a truism that frontline social workers feel vilified by the media. For years they have felt more vulnerable to criticism in the press than other professionals with responsibilities to protect children. Media coverage of child deaths has appeared ignorant at best and vindictive at worst and general reporting of social work issues is often riddled with inaccuracies.

So it comes as little surprise that our survey of journalists reveals high levels of ignorance about issues such as social work being a degree-level profession and the differences between social work and the wider social care landscape.

This knowledge gap must be filled. Community Care will do its bit by creating a fact sheet for journalists. But there will not be large-scale change without the profession itself taking action. It is easy to criticise the media for misrepresenting social work and, while it can seem wilful, it cannot always be the case. If they get it wrong then surely social workers themselves have a role to play in helping them to get it right.

One journalist who took part in the survey said it was “notoriously difficult to get a social work perspective”, so she normally didn’t bother. Understandably, councils may feel apprehensive about engaging with the media. But journalists who continually come up against fortress-like council press offices will find a way to tell their story anyway. By barricading themselves out of the reach of the media, councils may believe they are protecting themselves in the short-term but they are simply allowing poor and inaccurate reporting to thrive.

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