Improving public perception of social work requires positive media exposure, say practitioners

As findings show that only 44% of people think social work is well-respected in society, we asked practitioners what would help improve public perceptions of the profession

Photo by Community Care

Most social workers believe that improving public perception of social work requires enhanced media representation, a Community Care poll has found.

This follows the report of a recent survey by YouGov, for Social Work England, that revealed that just 44% of members of the public thought the profession was well-respected within society, far lower than was the case for doctors (90%) or nurses (86%).

In further qualitative research by YouGov, practitioners linked negative perceptions to a lack of understanding of social work’s role, which they attributed to the media.

This included entertainment TV often showing social workers arriving at a family’s home to take away their children, which was “not an accurate representation of the purpose of social workers”, they told the polling company.

‘Realistic portrayal of social work’

On the back of the results, Social Work England has launched a campaign urging the entertainment industry to ‘change the script’ on how it portrays practitioners on TV.

A Community Care’s poll, which amassed almost 1,000 votes, found that most readers supported this ambition.

Two-thirds of respondents that said ‘realistic TV and film portrayals of social work’ would be an efficient way to improve public perceptions of the profession, while 59% called for less negative news coverage (readers could vote for more than one option).

Almost half (48%) supported educational government campaigns on the role of social work, while 39% backed making social workers more visible, for example, by placing them in schools. 

Media training for social workers

One social work lecturer, in the comments section of the related article, suggested social workers receive media training to become “public ambassadors for the profession”.

“Social workers have an incredible amount of knowledge and experience and many of us have first degrees in other subjects,” said Jim Greer. “We can combine our social work experience with enough background knowledge to speak on a range of social issues.

“When local authorities are asked about social work issues they should put forward social workers or managers rather than PR people. Of course, we cannot comment on confidential aspects of individual cases but we can explain in general terms how and why social services make certain types of decisions.”

Would you welcome media training and opportunities to speak to the media?

Share your story

Would you like to write about a day in your life as a social worker? Do you have any stories, reflections or experiences from working in social work that you’d like to share or write about?

If so, email our community journalist, Anastasia Koutsounia, at

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