‘Why I’m standing up for social work – and how you can help’

Frustrated by media portrayals of our profession I asked social workers to back a new crowdfunded project to share our stories. Here's why...

Picture: daliu/fotolia

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.

Showing different sides of the story

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.

An opportunity

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.

Thank you.

To pre-order the book or support the project, check out the Kickstarter page here.

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9 Responses to ‘Why I’m standing up for social work – and how you can help’

  1. Pat August 3, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    As a foster carer I feel frustrated by the lack of social workers. The children I look after have had 9 different social workers in the last 2 1/2 years. After making comments at their review we were given a SW who would be there permanently. While she has been with us for he past year she has cancelled more meetings than she has attended. How can she possible build a relationship with these children when she is constantly travelling 150 miles to see another child, thus taking 2 days travelling !!! It’s not that she is a bad SW far from it but there are very few employed and possibly more on sick leave than working. With more children coming into care ( shameful) we need SW who have the time to work with the children and families. While I understand that our children are seen as safe. They still have the right to be seen regularly.

  2. Imelda August 7, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

    And this is the frustration of us all Pat. Unfortunately, providing social services to the public comes low on the agenda of our greedy and corrupt successive governments. It is at this level we need to tackle it for the sake of our children and families not to mention all other service users. I have worked in social services for 33 years and can certainly see how the tightening up of services impacts on the most vulnerable of our society. I feel like a broken record but I will not shut up because people matter!!!

  3. CT August 8, 2016 at 6:07 pm #

    It is a shame that popularity on a FB page is an arbiter of anything most of all giving permission for SWT to speak out on behalf of all SW. Given three recent posts (now unfortunately taken down) which caused some SW concern about his voice, my only consolation is that books on social work are not widely read. One likened working on the frontline to being in a war zone, another demonised families by extrapolating from the Ben Butler case, and another claimed social workers as heroes. They are not and I am ashamed to be associated with this as a voice of SW.

  4. Jay August 9, 2016 at 3:40 pm #


    On the one hand you talk about the popularity of the SWT Facebook page not being important but then tell us that thankfully social work books are not widely read so their views won’t be seen.

    Which is it?

  5. Airstrip Won August 11, 2016 at 9:26 am #

    I agree – mostly – with CT, though I would stop short of saying I was ‘ashamed’ to be associated with SWT, even if I fundamentally disagree with a great deal of his/her musings and with CC’s promotion of SWT as some kind of (unofficial) voice of the frontline. But, I do value the opportunity to debate the important issues SWT and others raise.

    I’d be interested in reading the posts CT mentions. It is a shame they were taken down as this denies opportunity for debate. I wonder why they were removed?

    I agree with CT that social workers are not heroes and I believe it is potentially dangerous to believe so. Generally, the whole ‘stand up for social work’ agenda constitutes a simplistic solution to the complex problem of social work’s image which largely stems from its inability to speak fluently and coherently about itself.

  6. Social Work Tutor August 11, 2016 at 8:37 pm #


    A friend pointed me in the direction of these comments.

    Obviously it’s very upsetting to see such cruel things said, especially the accusations that I am shaming this profession that I love so dearly and am being heralded as some sort of voice of the profession.

    I have never claimed to be a voice of all social workers and simply write about what I see, think and feel from my own practice and the many thousands of people I am lucky enough to interact with online.

    The book I am writing will not be about me at all, but about the voices of the twenty people whose stories I will tell through the book. I think this perhaps hasn’t been clear so I will try to make that more obvious in future.

    If people don’t agree with what I write about, that’s fair enough, but please don’t say such nasty things because it really isn’t befitting of what is supposed to be a ‘caring’ profession.

    If we can fight against ourselves in this manner and deride that fact that my work can reach many people, then we will never make any progress and our professional dialogue online will along to nothing more than navel-gazing and infighting.

    To all of my critics, I have offered the chance to meet in person to discuss issues and learn from their points. I again offer this to CT and Airstrip One: email me and let’s see what I can do better.

    But please don’t be so cruel to me.

    • Airstrip Won August 12, 2016 at 9:04 am #

      Dear Social Work Tutor

      Again, in the interest of fruitful debate, I am grateful for your comments. I will not speak for CT. I hope CT or anyone who knows him/her will see this and CT will themselves respond. I will also conduct this debate publicly, as is fitting.

      I have to say that I think your latest comment is way off the mark. I take your remarks extremely seriously and would like know how I have been ‘cruel’ and ‘nasty’ toward you, so I may learn from any mistakes I have made.

      As it happens, I believe you have misrepresented what I said and that anyone reading these comments will realise that. I also believe your response, couched in such personal and emotive terms suggests you have significant difficulty with criticism of your views and your response, couched in such personal and emotive terms, has served to achieve the opposite of what you claim. You have succeeded in making this about you.

      And that detracts from the real issues.


  7. Social Work Tutor August 12, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

    Thanks AW,

    The cruel comments refer to both the statement that I am making someone ashamed to be professionally associated with me. I should have made this more clear as it was not you who made such comments and you pointedly stated you did not agree with this.

    In relation to ‘making this about me’ I also agree that is a fair point and am now seeking to take a step back to focus on the ‘real issues’ you point out.

    To address this need to remove my personality from the debate, I’ll take your advice on board and leave things as they are.

    As a result of needing to concentrate on ‘real issues’ I’ll likely not have the time to check public comments much over the coming months (although some people feel these are helpful, I have my own worries that Internet-based chat achieves very little). Because of this, please feel free to drop me an email as I’d love the chance to chat further.

    Take care


    • Airstrip Won August 12, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

      Agreed! I will do that, and I look forward to talking with you in a more appropriate forum.