Do you tell people you’re a social worker?

We take a look at how comfortable social workers are with revealing their professional identity to strangers - and how they can become more confident in doing so

Photo by Community Care

Do you tell people you’re a social worker?

This may seem a strange question given how frequently the phrase “what do you do?” comes up in conversations with strangers.

However, “what do you do?” can be a difficult question for social workers to answer because of public misconceptions of the profession, cultivated by years of adverse media coverage.

A recent Community Care poll found that, out of 501 respondents, around 43% proudly said they were social workers.

However, a slightly higher proportion (45.5%) said they only revealed their profession sometimes, “depending on the situation”, and almost 12% said they never did, out of worry about people’s reactions.

The validity of this fear was brought home by an event recalled by Sharon Shoesmith, director of children’s services at Haringey council at the time of the Peter Connelly (‘Baby P’) case, in our recent interview with her.

Fifteen years on from the appalling treatment she received at the hands of the media, a workman fixing her neighbour’s fence responded to her criticism of a previous repair with, “Well, it’s not as bad as what you did to that baby is it?”.

Tales like this one have fostered feelings of fear and professional shame and, according to Shoesmith, there’s been little action to counteract that.

The scale of adverse coverage of the profession was highlighted by an analysis commissioned by Frontline published last year. This found that, in the year to July 2022, stories about practitioners were eight times as likely to be negative as positive.

Choose Social Work campaign

Choose Social Work Campaign Logo

Yet the need to raise the positive profile of social work is as great as ever today , with vacancies  soaring and high caseloads  hampering social workers’ ability to do what they know best, helping transform lives.

Community Care’s Choose Social Work campaign is working to provide this positive face for the profession, by showcasing the brilliant work social workers do every day and exploring ways for them to take back their voice.

According to Shoesmith, the way to do that is for social workers to start speaking up and building their presence – whether through the media or public interactions.

This could start with something as small as proudly discussing your job when asked; there is, after all, plenty of pride that should come with the title ‘social worker’.

“I’m still as excited about the huge potential of social work today as I was when I first entered the profession,” wrote the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services president, Beverley Tarka, in a letter to future social workers for our campaign.

“Yes, there are lows, but social work is a hugely rewarding job and a real privilege. I hope you will be, rightly, very proud of the caring, sensitive and challenging work you go on to do.”

What makes you proud to be a social worker? Tell us in the comments below to be part of our campaign.

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7 Responses to Do you tell people you’re a social worker?

  1. Anne-Marie July 14, 2023 at 10:58 am #

    I’m happy to say I’m a social worker but as I work in adult mental health, when people try to parrot on about kids, I have a perfect response which always flattens detractors – i.e. ‘no, I don’t work with children, I work in adult mental health helping people with mental health difficulties make a recovery’???

    • Claire July 15, 2023 at 7:42 am #

      How very supportive to your colleagues in children services.
      I’ve done both – worked in child & families and also in adult mental health services as an AMPH. To say the first role is harder, tougher and more stressful is an understatement.

      If anyone does “try to parrot on” I suggest if they think they can do better they absolutely must go into the profession for the sake of children whose welfare is paramount, as it would be their duty. Perhaps they can, perhaps not, but at least in terms of seeking to “flatten the detractor”, it doesn’t involve me hiding behind the roles I chose to move into whilst remotely throwing colleagues under the bus again.

  2. Helen Maureen Jocelyn July 14, 2023 at 12:29 pm #

    I was once asked to hold a baby while her Mum used the toilet – in a ladies toilet at a wedding reception.

    I held the baby until an acquaintance entered the toilet and said “don’t let her hold your baby she’s a Social Worker” as a joke while laughing. The woman became angry, snatched her baby back and left the toilet, leaving me and the acquaintance shocked. She did apologise as I pointed out the poor taste of her ‘joke’.

    It is comments like that which are misleading in public opinion.

    I am in the ‘depends group’ not due to being ashamed of my profession.

    I find when people discover I worker in Adult Social Care they start telling me all of their issues and asking me to comment on other peoples life situations.

    With an expectation I will critique the conduct of the allocated Social Workers. I do not wish to offer an ill advised, free Social Work service in my off duty hours, or listen to virtual strangers problems.

    That is what I do at work.

  3. Polly Baynes July 14, 2023 at 1:47 pm #

    I don’t always tell people I am a social worker but that is not because of possible negative reactions which I am always happy to talk about and try to change their view of things. I sometimes hold back because I find that people respond (even at a bus stop once) by asking advice about a worry talking to me about their own experiences of childhood abuse, perhaps seeing a social worker as a person unlikely to be shocked or horrified. I am generally OK with this (I have often sought advice about my bunions from friends who are doctors etc) but after a few glasses of wine feel I am not the best person for them to talk to. So I say I work for the council.

  4. Janet July 14, 2023 at 7:00 pm #

    I do tell people that I was a social worker but indicate that I worked in Adult Care including a rotation on a mental health ward. I also tell them that following retirement I became a Practice Educator in a social work charity and enjoyed assisting social work students with their progression to qualification.

  5. Paul July 17, 2023 at 1:30 pm #

    Yes. And in CP etc. Am not going shy away from tabloids

  6. Andrew July 17, 2023 at 2:18 pm #

    When you refer to the tabloids, I hope that you are referring to the ones that are responsible for the lies and defamation of our profession. We all know who they are The Daily Mail, The Sun don’t include the other more rational ones. They will always have it in for us , we don’t fit in with their right wing hate agenda.