BASW writes to BBC over ‘cardboard cut-out’ social worker portrayal in EastEnders

Social workers have criticised a storyline in the BBC soap in which two children are removed from their family

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has sent an open letter to the BBC complaining about the “cardboard cut-out” portrayal of a social worker in EastEnders.

BASW’s chief executive, Ruth Allen, wrote to the BBC and said some of the actions of the social worker and police in removing two children from their family were “unlikely, procedurally wrong, and in places unlawful”.

The storyline involving social services aired on the popular BBC soap over the past two weeks. It started with Stacey Fowler’s children being removed by a social worker following an anonymous tip from their grandmother about bruises on a child’s arm.

‘Little empathy’

The social worker does not look at the bruises before the children are placed with their grandmother, and Allen said Fowler was “quickly pressured into acquiescence with no reference to her rights”.

“The social worker at this point in the drama was quite the cardboard cut-out, showing little empathy or responsiveness to the family’s situation, although she wasn’t particularly harsh or offensive,” Allen said.

The portrayal prompted critical comments from social workers on social media, while other commentators did say it was not impossible that events would unfold as they did in the show.

Allen said EastEnders’ characterisation of social workers was “troubling” for professionals who tried to work compassionately with individuals and families, even in difficult circumstances.

“Some have said it feeds into the fear of children’s social services being heavy handed, and might reduce parents’ openness to early support and help,” Allen said.

‘Real human beings’

She added the overall plotline had been complex; subsequently, the children are returned after a medical examination and the social worker is shown welcoming the family being reunited.

Allen said: “There is no reason to expect television dramas to only show the best of what we do; we don’t expect that of dramas about doctors or nurses (see the Trust Me series recently as a good example).

“The problem for social work is there are far fewer depictions on television or film, and they tend to be disproportionately inaccurate and negative – and they are landing on top of popular perceptions that are also often disproportionately negative or uninformed about what social workers – particularly child protection social workers – actually do.”

She called on the BBC to show more stories of social workers as “real human beings and capable, skilled professionals, not cardboard cut-outs or cartoon characters”.

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15 Responses to BASW writes to BBC over ‘cardboard cut-out’ social worker portrayal in EastEnders

  1. Ian Merry October 20, 2017 at 5:32 pm #

    Does BASW not understand the difference between fact and fantasy?? The entertainment media is designed to present melodrama for the entertainment of their audiences nothing more and nothing less. This phenomenon of associating with the entertainment media as if it were fact is evidence of the mental illness which is caused by this association. I’m believe that mental illness is being accelerated by this blurring of fact and fiction by the entertainment media and the responses from professional bodies which depicts human suffering for the entertainment of the masses

    The work of social workers is still relatively unknown in the wider community despite the documentaries attempting to offer real life truths rather than these media dramas.

    The entertainment media is a parasite on the body of what we would call values, commitment and empathy and consistently savages social workers who fail for whatever reason.

    It’s about time that BASW and others develop clear arguments about the blurring of fact and fiction in social work and return to the reality of social work in the 21st Century rather than these episodes of reacting to stories created for public entertainment.


    • Ruth Allen October 23, 2017 at 11:06 am #

      Please read our statement – this comm care version does not capture our position which covers exactly what you are describing. As with TV dramas, one cannot control press coverage.

  2. Alber Bartlett October 20, 2017 at 7:07 pm #

    when social workers openly lie under oath to a judge its a crime in criminal court of law yet in family law it is widely accepted as the norm and munby does nothing to stamp it it out , and when you present evidence that shows social workers lied and broke court orders , the same authority will apply for an injunction ” GAGGING ORDER ” to prevent you exposing the truth and if you persist the said LA will then apply to have said parent/s jailed !!! if im wrong call me out

  3. TC October 20, 2017 at 8:07 pm #

    The BASW are as usual trying to cover up. Let us put everything else aside..

    The removal of the children was VERY realistic. We will ignore that we had a Mother who was already suffering with a life threatening pregnancy illness. She gave birth prematurely.

    We will ignore that it will eventually come out that it was a vicious and nasty and ‘guilt ridden’ Grandmother that made the referral…

    What was shown was an extremely vulnerable Mother, 32 weeks pregnant, scared the entire time they would take her baby at birth, a late night ‘visit’ on a Friday night with two burly police officers blocking the door and a social worker using threatening language. ‘Just agree with me or else’.

    For parents who have been through the sausage grinder of the LA and the courts, it was very real. Indeed, that episode should have had a disclaimer ‘May trigger anxiety and fear’.

  4. Kat October 21, 2017 at 8:31 pm #

    I think we need to focus on the fact that the portrayal was inaccurate and harmful rather than the fact the social worker didn’t seem very empathetic; unfortunately by making comments about the sw’s personality it just makes us look like we’re moaning about ‘everything being negative’ when actually it’s more than that, it is plain WRONG!

  5. Peter Endersby October 23, 2017 at 10:54 am #

    Education and health professionals are routinely misrepresented in the media. Social Work has such a chip on its shoulder. This tells us far more about the professions view of itself than the media’s two dimensional depiction.

    • PassionateSW October 24, 2017 at 7:14 pm #

      Although i agree that there is a vast amount of misrepresentation of a wide range of public professions in the media I disagree that social work has a chip on its shoulder. You only have to look at the public and media perception of education and health professionals to see that these professions are held in high regard. In contrast social work is vilified by the media and the public who often believe that the only role social workers have is to take children away from their families. I would also hope that professionals who work across all public services would be supportive of each other instead of minimising what are genuine concerns about continued misrepresentation that is harmful to those that work within the system, and those that need suport from it.

  6. Collen Riva October 23, 2017 at 12:33 pm #

    Social Work has always been wrongly portrayed in both the media and in society. It is there fore imperative and appropriate that BASWA should approach and work with the BBC producers to improve the image of Social Work. Doing nothing about it will only perpetuate the beliefs which are not helpful to both the society and the profession.
    Fantasy needs to be addressed too if it has the effect of misleading society and possible recipients of services. We need to bridge the gap at every opportunity.

  7. LongtimeSW October 23, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

    I am ‘calling you out’ Alber Bartlett (comment above) – which case/cases do you refer to? Do you have a website/link for the case(s) you are talking about?- Family Law cases are availaible as anonymised transcripts so where can I find them one(s) you are referring to?.

    I await your reply (if any) with interest

  8. Polly October 24, 2017 at 3:18 am #

    Who said all publicity is good publicity? Regurdless of my own thoughts which are a mixtures of all of the above. It’s certainly got people talking – and I bet the on demand viewing figures have shot up.

  9. LongtimeSW October 25, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

    Dear Alber Bartlett – No evidence to back up your claims above? . . . . Thought not.

  10. Planet Autism October 25, 2017 at 7:36 pm #

    Have heard from many parents that this scenario in Eastenders was very accurate and many have experienced very similar. There is a lot of rule-breaking, lying, fictionalising and being one-sided in social work behaviour. So for all the SWs denigrating Eastenders’ portayal, perhaps you are among the minority who do play nicely, but don’t assume all the others do. Well done Eastenders. There are journalists speaking to parents right now, the truth will out.

    • PassiinateSW October 27, 2017 at 8:05 am #

      The “truth” as you put it is judged by the family courts and not social workers. Evidence put in front of the courts is collected from a wide range of professionals and not a one sided view formed by social workers. Additionally the family court system is a closed court. Therefore the “truth” you refer to is based on the story you are hearing from arrived families, and I wonder if you viewed all available evidence that your view would remain the same in all the circumstances you refer to. Im not saying that things are perfect in the social work profession, as in any other. But your claim that those that “play nicely” are in the minority is innacurate and perpetuates this skewed view of social work. I would like yo see the research evidence that supports your claim. Social workers have a code of ethics that they have to abide by and if found to deviate from this face disciplinary action and referral to the HCPC where sanctions can be imposed up to deregistration. Social work is an undervalued profession where individuals and the collective are blamed for taking action, at the same time they are hung out to dry when they dont.

    • LongtimeSW October 31, 2017 at 2:45 pm #

      ‘Have heard from many parents that this scenario in Eastenders was very accurate and many have experienced very similar. . . . . ‘ – sorry isn’t this one-sided itself?

      – Be interesting to know what other views you have (or have not?) heard . . . . . . . .

      thought not.

  11. Planet Autism November 17, 2017 at 2:54 pm #

    PassiinateSW have you not heard the phrase by a judge more than once “I prefer the evidence of the SW” (and when I say ‘evidence’ do bear in mind that hearsay and everything that encompasses is classed as ‘evidence’ in the family court) or the ‘evidence’ of an expert witness who is paid to write what the LA wishes and sometimes has not even met the parent?

    Speaking from the perspective of the ‘autism world’ bone fide research has found that autistic mothers are being discriminated against, the NHS NICE guidance on ‘soft signs’ of abuse reads like a list of autism difficulties (reported on by a variety of organisations in the latest NICE consultation) and having encountered many families who have suffered at the hands of SWs who have lied, perjured, misrepresented and failed to conduct a balanced investigation, I have no reason to believe outside of the ‘autism world’ families are treated any differently. In fact I know that it is happening across the board with a variety of invisible disabilities and conditions, to the degree that national charities have set up webpages advising on it. There are of course media articles, such as the case of baby Ellie who had EDS and who was removed from her parents under false accusations of abuse. It is happening a lot more than you may care to admit.

    HCPC – they may ‘hang out to dry’ SWs that need to be scapegoated from time to time, but there is anecdotal evidence there are SWs reported who should be investigated for shocking behaviour that aren’t.

    @LongtimeSW “thought not”? Thought wrong. You are right, it does appear one-sided. However the distinct dearth of families coming forth and praising their lovely SW and how much they helped the family are rare. So you have to ask the question why so many families are saying the same things. They aren’t all neglectful or abusive parents who are in denial. I also personally know of an innocent mother who lost her toddler through lies and corruption by the authorities, going as far as false police records belonging to someone else being used against her, someone who had never been in trouble with the law. You might ask how this could possibly happen, it happened because the system was corrupt right up to the judge. Her whole legal team thought she would win the case and were staggered at the bias of the judge. A wonderful, intelligent, caring and warm mother lost her child through lies and discrimination and contact has been denied. That little girl, who was clearly traumatised by being taken, will grow up without knowing her innocent mother or other family members.

    Having seen the results of surveys, the evidence is also in the public domain and continues to be compiled by support organisations. You will have seen the statistics about the number of children going into care rising, the number of children on CP plans rising. The numbers don’t lie. There is research backing up that the number of children being abused has not risen and families are being unnecessarily traumatised.