In the days after the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary on social work aired I was left with a familiar feeling.
The programme focused on child protection social work, a job I do every day, yet it had left viewers with little more than a failure narrative about our profession. Even the social worker who controversially went undercover for the filmmakers felt let down by the final programme.
In the past I would’ve simply joined the chorus of frustration from my colleagues and left it at that. But this time I wanted to do something about it because I’d seen this happen so many times before. So I put a question to the followers of my Facebook page: if I took the leap to start a project to try and give a fuller, fairer account of modern social work, would they back it as a crowdfunded venture?
With hours to go until the deadline, the worldwide social work community has already helped me raise the funding to make this dream a reality and I’m grateful for the support.
My ‘Stand up for Social Work’ project will start with a book, to be published next year. Each chapter will tell the story of a social worker, client, loved one or policy maker to reveal what it’s like to be in their shoes. We’ll get their side of the story, hear about the impact they have, explore the cost this has on them and hear their hopes, and fears, for the future of social work.
Thanks to your support so far I’ve already got frontline social workers, service users, family members, politicians, policymakers and academics lined up to share their stories.
I’m still practising as a social worker and that will always be my priority. But your help means that I’ll be able to take the time out and pay for the travel needed to shadow people, interview them and gather the stories of modern social work.
Community Care, which ran its well-supported ‘Stand up for Social Work’ campaign again last year, is backing the project as media partner and you’ll be able to read about my progress in regular columns.
A changing landscape
I’m passionate about this project because running my ‘Social Work Tutor’ Facebook page alongside my day job has taught me a couple of really important things.
Firstly, social work has a story that needs to be told. Every week I receive thousands of comments and messages. I hear about the differences social workers have made to people’s lives and the sacrifices made in their own lives in the name of the job. I also hear about the anxieties of feeling unsupported and the day-to-day realities of a profession that’s one of the hardest, yet most rewarding, in the world.
Secondly, not only do we have a story to tell but, more than ever before, we also have the means to tell it. The power of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is making us less reliant upon traditional media to offer a fair reflection of social work to the masses. We have a platform to offer an alternative view of our profession.
My own Facebook page has grown from something I set up to share articles and news stories with a handful of social work students (one of whom called me a ‘Social Work Tutor’ – which became the name of the page) who were struggling to apply theory to practice, to a site with more than 200,000 followers. The posts I publish can reach millions of people each week.
Long gone is the reliance upon the four terrestrial TV channels and eight newspapers I grew up with in the 1980s. We no longer simply have to sit back and watch as the mainstream narrative of our profession is set by people in positions of power – whether they be politicians guided by party ideology or an increasingly negative national press focused on child protection failures.
Instead the power to stand up for social work and tell our own story lies in our own hands.
We should use it too because in my decade of being actively interested in social care I cannot recall a good news story about our profession in the national media, or many instances where practising social workers have been able to speak openly about their work.
While other public service professions such as education and healthcare staff fight back against changes imposed on them, receiving generally positive public support in their struggles, social workers have not yet been able to put the brakes on any proposed changes; remaining a political football and at constant threat of the next great upheaval.
For 10 years I have sat back and waited for a true representation of the many-splendoured thing that is social work.
For 10 years I’ve longed for people using services to be given a voice that is factual, fair and not sensationalised in order to grab attention.
Now, thanks to the support of the social work community, I’ve been given the opportunity to do that.