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.
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”.