‘Irresponsible and inaccurate’: social workers react to EastEnders child removal storyline

A social worker visited Stacey Fowler's home on the BBC soap on Friday night

Photo: gustavofrazao/Fotolia

On Friday, BBC soap EastEnders portrayed a social worker visiting Stacey Fowler’s home following concerns about bruises on her son’s arm.

As a result of the concerns, two children were removed from her care and placed into the care of one of their grandparents, who made the anonymous call to social services.

Following the episode, the British Association of Social Workers said concerns had been raised with it.

On the Community Care Facebook page, one viewer said the portrayal was “cringe worthy” as the son’s arm wasn’t checked for bruises. Another commented: “Anyone else up for contacting BBC Points of View after that ridiculously appalling display of the ‘Social Work Profession’?”

On Twitter, social workers and general viewers complained about the portrayal. Read some of the responses and join in the debate below.

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32 Responses to ‘Irresponsible and inaccurate’: social workers react to EastEnders child removal storyline

  1. DMs October 9, 2017 at 10:04 am #

    But sadly it does happen and has happened due to inadequate training of police and social workers. It’s unhelpful to suggest it NEVER happens because that denies that the system is fallible. If we pretend that there are sufficient safeguards to prevent it we will never achieve that ideal!
    As professionals we see lots of cases where it seems there was an over reaction and many where the response is inadequate. The story line may be unlikely but impossible? no

    • Kate Welsh October 9, 2017 at 11:03 am #

      I agree, having seen it happen myself, due to inexperienced newly qualified SW & lack of adequate supervision, often the pendulum swings from one extreme to another. The system needs a complete overhaul.

    • Mark Flynn October 11, 2017 at 3:33 pm #

      These claims require evidence or at least signposting to where the evidence can be found. I am a practicing social worker and never ever have I seen or heard of social worker removing children from the family home without a court order or the approval of a person with PR.

  2. The Scouse SW October 9, 2017 at 10:55 am #

    This unrealistic depiction of Social Work practice is exactly why the media always have the upper hand and the Social Work profession is demonised.

    Communication, robust checks and balances and proportionate responses are key.

  3. Maharg October 9, 2017 at 11:40 am #

    It appears to be a win-win For EastEnders, if the public believes this is how we do our Roll, then we become child catches that we always are, or if the BBC backtracks and comes up with an alternative scenario henceforth, inept social workers not adhering to children act guidelines and interventions, targeting an individual with a known mental health disorder, what a story that would be. Either way not a positive outcome for social works. Unless they come down the route after galumphing through mud over the next few months that the family need apology from the local service acting inappropriately. Take your pick but, still no positive view social work.

    • TC October 9, 2017 at 7:04 pm #

      Maharg; you have unfortunately proven one of my points. Please check your syntax and grammar and spelling.

      I have seen reports with the wrong names, dates of birth, wrong sex, etc. I have seen documents so poorly constructed, that the ICO has fined the LA; but nothing changes.

      If you see my other posts; I have tried to be as positive as possible. (I saw some excellent work done with and by Adult Services in the past) Regrettably, the practice in Children’s Social Care is so bad, that the few good out number the many.

      What is being done to change this view? It is for the ‘profession’ to change the perception of the public. Saying ‘We can not discuss individual cases’ helps no one. The public expect intellectual rigour and analysis that is fact based. I have done cases where the welfare ‘checklist’ has come out with more positive ‘ticks’ than negative; yet, children removed for LtFC or Adoption.

      It all stems from the Children’s Act 1989. All that is needed is 50.1%. Really??? Think long and hard about this.

  4. TC October 9, 2017 at 11:43 am #

    Sorry but as someone who works in the Family Court every day, I thought the scenes were mild. Children ripped from their beds late at night. (Social Worker claiming they need police protection; and normally on a Friday night where the parents can’t get legal advice or assistance; and normally the parents would have been locked up in the cells for the night) The social worker would have been much more aggressive and threatening.

    In reality, the Section 47 will state that Mother has a conviction for murder, bi-polar and history of severe PPD. Man in the home has a criminal conviction and a brother who died of AIDS. (risky lifestyle) Baby Arthur’s paternal have a congenital heart defect so not acceptable for an SGO. History of all parties having financial issues. And then we will put aside the religious issues. Lily’s Bio-Father has a criminal history and does not pay support and can not be located.

    Perfect removal situation.

    • LongtimeSW October 11, 2017 at 3:43 pm #


      If as you say you work in the family courts what are the Magistrates and or Judges let alone the family’s legal advisors doing then?

      Courts make decisions as best they can on evidence that is put before them – parents are represented and if they are not courts will only adjourn for as short a time as possible so they can get representation (if they want it) – that is the law – otherwise any decisions the courts make is illegal in itself and certainly challengeable – please do not forget in these sad situations the child(ren) have little or no power and are dependent upon responsible adults making decisions about their future – if those adults cannot or will not exercise that responsibility in the best interests of the child then courts have to – it’s not perfect but then neither are any of us parents or professionals.

  5. Gonehomebye October 9, 2017 at 12:26 pm #

    I thought the previous story where Stacey was in the mother and baby unit was a good story as it showed the support that is possible for mothers with mental health problems. This current story has the potential to make a parent think twice before asking for help with mental health issues as they might fear their children are taken away from them.

  6. londonboy October 9, 2017 at 1:11 pm #

    Not sure this is a helpful remark…but I find it ironic that SWs feel they are portrayed as demons, dis-reespected by people who do’nt have much of a clue about the reality of their lives and feel more than a bit hard-done by…strange how many parents whose children enter Care feel the same way (and we have’ent even discussed the power imbalance…)

  7. Simon October 9, 2017 at 1:14 pm #

    I’m now a children’s Social Worker – but also have 20 years as a police officer prior to my degree. Every portrayal of virtually ANY police activity, be it arrest, interviews, method of investigation etc. are consistently misrepresentative of the reality and/or procedure.

    Why there isn’t a broadcasting standard to ensure such misrepresentation is avoided, beggars belief. Notwithstanding the fact that Eastenders (and all the soaps) portray violence/misery/shouting/distress and poor social behaviour – rooting it into the subconscious of millions of naive viewers (I’d have them all on after 2100hrs and not before), in the cheap and sordid desire for ratings, the producers push inaccurate and fanciful trash into millions of homes on a daily basis. Let’s have it stopped!

    • The Scouse SW October 9, 2017 at 2:58 pm #

      I totally agree, there should be standards to ensure misrepresentation of Social Workers and other Professionals.

      However I applaud programmes such as soaps for tackling very difficult but important topics that must be discussed and not brushed under the carpet, such as mental health/safeguarding/domestic abuse/dementia etc, but when they do they absolutely must get it right by involving the professionals with the expertise to inform their approach.

      Only then will it be accurate and credible.

    • Eco-Social Worker October 12, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

      But is the portrayal of the police as bad as that of Social Workers?

      Yes, most police procedures shown are wrong, but then watching an accurate police procedural would be about as interesting as watching paint dry. However in this case it wasn’t just the process that was wrong, it was the outcome.

      But the real point is that for every negative portrayal of the police on TV, there are two or three Heartbeat or The Bill type of shows were they are shown accurately, even reverently. All we have is an alleged ‘comedy’ on Channel 4.

  8. RUTH DALZELL October 9, 2017 at 3:31 pm #

    Simon I was agreeing with you about the need for a broadcasting standard about misrepresentation of professions but you lost me when you suggested stopping soaps or putting them on after 9.00.This is however the second terribly misrepresentational story about C+F Social workers in the last few years on Eastenders. As a public service broadcaster the BBC has a responsibility surely to try to be accurate about representing professional worlds and I’m sure this can be done without sacrificing the story

    • TC October 9, 2017 at 4:26 pm #

      Sorry Ruth; but as stated; it was accurate; indeed less threatening and malicious than real life. It was accurate within the timescales a TV show allows. I pay my TV license and expect my money for a ‘public service broadcaster’ to show the true story.

      The question is; will they show it the way it really happens?; Stacey interviewed under caution; Section 47, Martin told he can possibly have the children back in his care if he throws her out; psych assessments, supervised contact, drug and alcohol testing, any positive notes go missing, parents not invited to meetings, get reports as they walk into the court room door, the unborn baby placed on CIN.. asked to sign a Section 20 within 4 hours of the birth….and all the rest. And all in 26 weeks. At the end, regardless of the outcome, Stacey and Martin will be jibbering wrecks after being put through the sausage grinder called Family Court.

      • AB October 11, 2017 at 7:46 am #

        TC I have no idea where you are practicing but whistle blow, because that doesn’t happen where I have EVER worked in the last 10 years

      • LongtimeSW October 11, 2017 at 3:51 pm #

        You’ve missed out one very important detail – the ‘sausage grinder’ as you call it is about the child or children and their future, their rights to be safe secure living in a stable home environment – everyone is legally represented (have to be unless parents decline to have their advocate) – decisions are made on evidence which is weighed up to try and get the best for a child – not seen it but perhaps Stacey and Martin will have some time to ask themselves why it would be before a Family Court in the first place?

    • TC October 9, 2017 at 6:21 pm #

      Ruth and others; I do feel the need to be fair. I have met some excellent social workers. The problem is the ones that do it the correct way and for the right reasons- they disappear. They don’t get promoted to demonstrate best practice to others, they don’t get promoted to a more influential job/role. I have sat in CP meetings and heard ‘good ones’ being told off for not ‘ticking enough negative boxes’; not towing the line and actually one said straight out ‘My manager demanded I rewrite my report; it was too positive.’ There are good and bad in all professions; we know that. Unfortunately in my 9 years of working in Family Court,, the ‘good ones’ are only maybe 10-15%’ Sorry, but that is my experience as a 3rd party.

  9. harriet October 9, 2017 at 6:47 pm #

    I have not watched this , but from the sound of it , it is a realistic story line. Some children do get removed without court orders or informed consent. They dont get properly interviewed let alone ABE interviewed over allegations and absolutely no explaination is given to parents. It may not be widespread , however it does occur .

    • LongtimeSW October 11, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

      Not true Harriet – unless under Police Powers or a Court Order children cannot be removed – it is illegal.

      If you personally know of the situation you describe report it – there will be legal sanctions on the Local authority responsible

  10. rebecca gaffney October 9, 2017 at 10:56 pm #

    im sorry but it was accurate and more humane than reality

  11. Sue Nami October 10, 2017 at 9:58 am #

    I would be interested to know how many families would describe their experiences of social workers and family courts as positive. Perhaps the question could be included as part of a questionnaire at the time of closing a case file?

  12. Picto October 10, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

    Best thing is not to watch it in the first place. Miserable TV – visual junk food.

  13. Marilyn Pachner October 10, 2017 at 2:29 pm #

    I’m a retired mental health social worker and thought the previous story line with Stacey and her psychosis was very well done and very positive. I am no longer watching Eastenders after being an avid fan since the first episode until a couple of months ago. The acting, storylines and characters were becoming increasingly unbelievable and bizarre until I realised I no longer cared about any of them. Therefore not surprised about the latest slur on social workers and their practice.

  14. J.Beans October 11, 2017 at 2:51 pm #

    I’m a student social worker and me and my colleagues have chosen this particular depiction of a child protection scenario to discuss in a podcast (which will remain heard only by students and the university). We are hoping to interview a children’s social worker but also a family social worker or equivalent to try and debate on how social workers are portrayed in the media, but perhaps a bigger question of how fair this depiction actually is for parents or bigger still how unfair the child protection system is for families (ref number of children in public care system). It seems we are quick to defend and debate for the social work profession and how it is inaccurately portrayed but what about the parents, are viewers watching this thinking it is true for them? Or are they concerned about a child but not reporting as they feel the family wont get early help or support, they will have their children removed.

  15. LongtimeSW October 11, 2017 at 3:22 pm #

    Didn’t (and don’t) see it – but from what’s described above it would seem to have been an illegal removal unless Police Powers of Protection were used – which have to be authorised at Inspector level or above – then only for up to 48 hours – Loc Auth then have to decide to return the children to family or place before a court (even if s20 was/is agreed by parents with PR – court then decides whether (temporary) sharing of PR with parents is necessary ) – that is the law – any other action in removing a child without a Court Order is not possible so it would seem that the episode was not realistic

  16. Clara October 11, 2017 at 4:40 pm #

    Having been a SWA for 10 years, and assisting in removing of children, with the police numerous times, I did watch this. The timing of the visit, late at night does happen, up and down the land. It did actually reflect what takes place, and yes, the reality is a lot more panic and fear. Although the follow up visit was terrible, with the Social Worker doing a follow up. It came across that she was there for a cup of tea, which then transpired to a formal visit.

    • LongtimeSW October 13, 2017 at 10:44 am #

      Hi Clara – on each occasion you have assisted in removing of children they would, by law, have to have been removed under Police Powers of Protection (PPP) or an Emergency Protection Order or Recovery Order granted by a court or magistrate though I don’t minimise the distress that will be caused especially to the children who are in need of immediate protection if such ‘without notice’ removals happen.

  17. Smacker October 11, 2017 at 4:44 pm #

    Fiction it is and fiction you will get! It’s been the same for years from Casualty to Coronation Street. My pet hate is the regular use of the terms Residency Order (arrgh!!!) and Police Protection Order (bigger scream!).

  18. The Voice Of Reason October 12, 2017 at 12:46 am #

    By the way… names have been somewhat altered in the above post. However, the individuals alluded to certainly DID exist, and caused a significant amount of harm. Unfortunately, many of their associates may still be at large, and still peddling their unhealthy ideologies.

    Although it may be considered controversial by some to discuss such matters, I believe that professions such as education, health care, policing and suchlike do need to be aware that from the late 1950s onwards certain unsavoury individuals infiltrated their ranks. These people are now subject to ongoing investigation. Unfortunately, their theories, beliefs and ideologies also infiltrated policing, education and health care professions, and have been difficult to purge.

    Anyone working in child protection would be wise to beware theories which do little more than imply that allegations of abuse are mere fabrications, or inaccurate memories. To suggest this is to put at risk a complete investigation. Allegations of abuse should, and must, be taken seriously, and fully investigated. It is only by so doing that professionals can collect evidence to shed light on whether such allegations are true, and should be pursued further, or not true. Jumping to conclusions is unhealthy; and suggesting that an allegation of abuse is mere fabrication or “false memory” implies that a conclusion has been jumped to.

    For those who are concerned that I am dictating what they should think, then I advise that they read about “false memory syndrome” and “parental alienation syndrome” to make their own minds up as to whether such theories should be accepted as part and parcel of child protection work. Also, maybe have a look at “Families Need Fathers”, or “Family Injustice” websites, to gain a better understanding of their content.

    Some suggested reading…











    Sadly, there are some truly sick people out there – and in the above websites, they all appear to have links (via a main group of individuals, one of whom remains at large). Is it acceptable for people to openly spew online hate directed at certain types of profession? Is that not a HATE CRIME? What about “naming and shaming” professionals online without their permission? What about suggesting you can assist pregnant women to escape to Ireland in order to avoid child protection proceedings? Is this AIDING AND ABETTING? PERJURY? HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

    Just READ through the above sites and their contents and make up your own minds. It’s high time that police, health and care professionals, education professionals, and others, knew this stuff was out there!

  19. S C October 12, 2017 at 11:22 am #

    The BBC are so politically biased, this awful portrayal was the last straw and I won’t be watching the channel again.
    They had the opportunity to show the situation as it should be… not like an afterthought shoved in for shock element.
    There are good sw and bad. However the good ones are very good and the bad ones are really bad indeed. I know things aren’t always done by the rule book and corners are cut. Sw personal feelings and personal biases DO come into play where they shouldn’t and in these situations I don’t think any parent feels it was handled caringly.
    There are also senior members of “panels” who believe more fii cases exist than actually happens, and some areas actively seek out to meet the “expected quota” of cases.
    Many cases of accusation and child removal are right and just but many others are eventually discovered to be due to medical underlying issues with the child.
    I say eventually discovered…. this happens when things get a lot worse…. or that set of parents isn’t completely brow beaten by the system and manages to fight research and fight again. Many cases don’t have the truth uncovered for years and years. The words are not always heard or heeded in such cases. The distress, the hurt and the ultimate PTSD amongst the families falsely accused never get over it.

  20. Ruksana Chowdhory October 17, 2017 at 8:05 pm #

    There is no denying that there is a mixture of good and poor practice as there is any profession, but as a Child Protection Social Worker myself, I can say that children cannot be removed from their homes unless under Police Protection powers or a court order. Police are very reluctant to use these measures so the situation for the child must be dire for this to even occur. On most occasions, social workers undertaking Section 47 child protection enquiries work with parents to manage the risk and reduce it for children to prevent escalation. It is escalated only when necessary and as aforementioned within the remit of the law. If anything else is happening, it is illegal and should be reported. A social worker does NOT have the power to remove a child from their parents care unless through Police powers, the courts or the expressed and informed consent of those with PR.

    Well done to the sensationalist and malicious media for misinforming and fear mongering yet again!