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
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.