Social workers urged to report negative media coverage to union

    Social Workers Union gathering examples to inform work with press bodies to improve representation of profession in media

    Woman reading a newspaper
    Photo: Drazen/Adobe Stock

    How much does negative media coverage of social workers affect you?

    • Severely (40%, 422 Votes)
    • Moderately (37%, 386 Votes)
    • A little (15%, 152 Votes)
    • Not at all, it's all white noise (8%, 87 Votes)

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    Social workers have been urged to report negative media coverage of the profession to inform efforts to improve press reporting on social work.

    The Social Workers Union (SWU) wants practitioners to email it cases where media organisations have misrepresented the profession or revealed personal details about individual social workers, and said it would take action off the back of this.

    The SWU and the Independent Monitor for the Press (Impress) have already drawn up guidelines on media coverage of social work, however, IMPRESS does not regulate the major national publications, a role which falls to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

    SWU plans to use the reports of negative media coverage submitted by social workers to inform discussions with IPSO around potentially adopting the IMPRESS guidelines or similar.

    IPSO’s readers’ advisory panel, which gives feedback to the regulator from a reader perspective, discussed media coverage of social work at its meeting in February.

    The SWU, drawing on its discussions with IPSO, said that the panel had discussed a selection of articles about social work from regional and national publications and found most of them to be positive. However, the union said the panel had also identified examples of potentially misleading headlines, for example, in relation to the circumstances behind children being taken into care.

    IPSO is planning to hold a webinar for social workers about its guidelines in the coming weeks.

    The reporting mechanism comes amid renewed focus on the public portrayal of social workers in the light of:

    SWU general secretary John McGowan said: “If any social workers spot media coverage which misrepresents the profession or reveals personal details of social workers, which may be in breach of the guidelines we have published they can now report them directly to the Union and we will take action.”

    You can submit links to, or images of, media coverage about social work that you are concerned about to

    Social work reporting guidelines

    The SWU and Impress’s reporting guidelines comprise the following principles:

    1. Maintain accuracy and take care to report on cases involving vulnerable groups accurately and in accordance with other standards relating to legal – or potential future – legal proceedings. Journalists should consider whether their reporting makes unfair generalisations about social workers.
    2. Assess risk to ensure that coverage of issues does not create harm to the public and to individuals by ensuring no social workers are individually named or identifiable as working on a particular case (unless authorised to do so by court proceedings).
    3. Ensure right to privacy of social workers by only naming them in exceptional circumstances, such as where direct wrongdoing is proven.
    4. Recognise social workers are not spokespeople or able to breach confidentiality so cannot defend themselves from allegations or misrepresentation, by responding to or correcting the record.
    5. Avoid portraying law-breaking as acceptable, excusable or perpetrators as victims. Social services, social workers or other authorities are in no way to blame for the actions of those breaking the law.

    IPSO has its own editors’ code of practice, which also includes standards on accuarate reporting and respective privacy, as well as on discrimination, harassment and coverage of children and victims of sexual assault.

    IPSO has also published specific guidance on areas including reporting suicide, sexual offences and deaths and inquests.


    5 Responses to Social workers urged to report negative media coverage to union

    1. Dr Teresa Cleary April 22, 2023 at 12:43 pm #

      Perhaps social workers and their employers should examine the criticism in a little more detail, own the shortfalls of the profession (many of which are caused by a lack of resources), and seek to genuinely learn. A free press is an important part of our democracy and the place where we are called to account by the public – as all ‘public servants’ should be.

      This defensive drive to silence any voice of descent is extremely worrying. It also rings of self-serving at a time when people and communities are struggling. Social work is hard, the risks involved are profound, training is often poor, experience is more-often-than-not wanting, and local authorities are overwhelmed.

      Yes, social workers could do better. Is it any wonder?
      Own it, reflect on it and improve it.

      • Tom J April 24, 2023 at 11:47 am #

        Im certainly with you regarding free speech and social work needs to be fully open to learning from when things go wrong and recognising that we do not always get things right, however if we look at not too recent headlines such as ‘PM: WE’LL FIND WHO FAILED ARTHUR SO BADLY-PM’ ‘BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS’ ‘GO NOW’*

        These headlines are not about learning at all, they are about blaming and shaming, infact ignoring any genuine learning and instead seeking to scapegoat and pin the blame on a few individuals.

        * Ref:

        • Tahin April 25, 2023 at 9:48 am #

          It’s the responsibility of social work ‘leaders’ and practitioners to counter and challenge unfair or erroneous attacks not retreat into the usual woe is us defensiveness. Media agenda is always against us but that isn’t just due to their malicious intent, often times it’s lazy reporting reframing an anti public sector rhetoric. Populism infects social workers too as evidenced by the scapegoating by SWE and the timidity verging on embarrassment to stand up for us by our supposed senior voices. For me Dr Cleary and Alison are spot on. Ask yourself what you get from SWE and BASW for your fees before retreating into the noone likes us, nobody understands us hopelessness. Time our supposed betters stopped chattering amongst themselves and got stuck into the public arena and risk getting a bloody nose for challenging the prevailing narrative.

    2. Alison April 22, 2023 at 5:39 pm #

      Begs the question what the great abundance of Chiefs and ‘Leaders’ are for if they do not prioritize countering negative coverage.


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