by Deborah Wain and Luke Stevenson
If you watch television as much as we do, no doubt you’ve probably been outraged or enthralled by a depiction of social work on there at some point.
Television drama and comedy has churned out a number of forgettable, flimsily-drawn social workers. Here we round up some characters who have made an impression over the last few years – the good and the bad.
1. Regi Darnell
Played by: Annie Corley
TV show: The Killing US
Invented for the American version of the epic Danish hit, Darnell is protagonist Sarah Linden’s social worker who saw her through her childhood years in foster care.
Breakdown: Boat-dweller; mother figure; sounding board for Linden’s pent-up emotion.
Voiced by: Delroy Lindo
TV Show: The Simpsons
Gabriel is drafted in to help The Simpsons after a game of Monopoly goes awry and the family ends up strangling one another. His role is to look at each family member individually and find a way to get them to put their anger to one side and work together.
Breakdown: Caring and committed, Gabriel helps bring the family together by almost getting mauled by cougars, proving his commitment to going the extra mile. However his last line, ‘Homer you’re a bad man and your seed should be wiped from this earth, no offense children’, would likely leave him on the wrong side of a HCPC hearing.
3. Sam Healy
Played by: Michael Harney
TV show: Orange Is The New Black
Actor Michael Harney himself left social work for acting. Healy is initially one of the most likable male characters on Netflix women’s prison drama, however his character grows increasingly dark during the first series.
Breakdown: Homophobe; manipulator; accomplice in attempted murder. Led to American social workers to question what impact on the profession his portrayal might have. Overall, not great.
4. Agent Jessup
Voiced by: Richard Viener
TV Show: Family Guy
Agent Jessup tells Peter Griffin “I’m here to take your kids away because you’re mentally unfit to take care of them” after Peter takes an intelligence test and accidentally throws fat-fryer oil over his wife. He tells Peter in court “You’ve inspired me to distrust all mentally-challenged parents”, and the Judge thanks him for “comically misleading” remarks.
Breakdown: Cold, emotionless and in a suit, Agent Jessop isn’t the greatest example of social work on television.
Voiced by: LeVar Burton
TV Show: Family Guy
In the same episode, Peter gets a “state appointed inspirational social worker” to help him. He describes his role as lending a helping hand, and gives Peter a lot of high fives and, at one point, is seen bathing him.
Breakdown: Super enthusiastic and energetic, Verne is seen as being supportive while possibly not doing a whole lot.
6. Kaye Bawden
Played by: Michele Austin
TV show: The Casual Vacancy
From the TV mini-series adapted from JK Rowling’s 2012 novel, Kaye Bawden is assigned to the family of young carer Krystal Weedon, but has her own life in the parish where the family live.
Breakdown: Single mother; caring, seen to be doing a difficult job well.
7. Rose Denby
Played by: Jo Brand
TV show: Damned
Comedian and daughter of a social worker Brand is in full deadpan bloom as Rose in the comedy she co-wrote with Morwenna Banks that piloted on Sky Arts.
Breakdown: Child protection officer; work/life balance in that both are equally chaotic; dedicated but overstretched; loves all biscuits.
8. Trish Barnes
Played by: Tessa Churchard
TV show: EastEnders
The actions of infamous social worker Trish Barnes in forcibly removing care leaver Lola Pearce’s baby Lexi sparked over 550 viewers’ complaints to the BBC.
Breakdown: Officious, but does show a different side when she speaks up for Lola in court.
9. Louise Marsh
Played by: Claudie Blakley
TV show: Silent Witness
Social worker Louise Marsh came under increasing pressure as she managed the cases of the children involved in this two-part episode of the crime drama, which was heavily focused on child protection and social services.
Breakdown: Some praised Blakley’s performance for highlighting the emotional toll social workers face, and others dubbing it ‘the worst portrayal’ of the profession they had ever seen. The BBC’s portrayal of Louise Marsh led many viewers to think she was in fact the villain.
10. Hilary Pugsley
Played by: Caroline Pegg
TV show: Coronation Street
Hilary Pugsley was a “sour and formidable” social worker who worked with parents on their application to become adopters. The Windasses of Coronation Street were “taken aback by the frosty exterior” of the social worker. However Pugsley, who was a diabetic, was won over by the parents’ charms when the dad offered to make her a special diabetic cake, and approved the first stage of adoption.
Breakdown: Being described as sour and formidable doesn’t sound very social work, but being won over by cake does.