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Social Worker Speaks

August 1, 2013 permalink

A British social worker suggests her profession should improve its public image by use of social media to present an honest picture.

Of course, if the public had an honest picture of social work, they would demand thorough reform or abolition. The profession can flourish only because of the misperceptions fostered by the media. Instead of using social media to manipulate their image, social workers should alter the operation of their profession to be less damaging to families and children.



Social workers should use social media to challenge public perceptions

Presenting an honest picture of what we do is essential for countering media negativity and restoring public confidence

Whenever social media is discussed in the context of social work, it mainly conjures up images of confidentiality breaches and disciplinary hearings. In May, a social worker made the news after being dismissed for describing a case on Facebook, in which three children were put in to care, as a "career high". It was a thoughtless mistake and it cost her her career. [ That was the case of Siobhan Condon. ]

As a student social worker, I was very aware of the risks associated with talking publicly about my job on the internet. I was also aware of other students who had been removed from the course due to comments they had made online. Facebook, blogging and Twitter were to be feared. Of course, dismissal is sometimes necessary when the comments are discriminatory or a breach of service user confidentiality. However, it is important to recognise the potential of social media to do good and to use it to our advantage.

The largely negative portrayal of social workers in mainstream media has a palpable effect on the confidence of practitioners. When the public see a social worker on TV show EastEnders unfairly and without query removing a child from Lola, a capable mother, it's no surprise that their understanding of our role is warped. The damaging consequences should not be underestimated. [ Link to EastEnders. ]

A child protection colleague of mine had to attend a service user's house for an initial assessment. When she arrived she found a young mother in floods of hysterical tears, panicking about the prospect of her child being taken from her "like Lola's was". My colleague was incensed that an inaccurate portrayal had invoked so much fear in someone she was there to support.

Challenging these negative portrayals and presenting an honest picture of what we do is essential for restoring confidence in our profession. The media is central in shaping public perception and, subsequently, in shaping local and national policy. While it may not be possible for every social worker to represent their profession on prime-time television, it is possible for every social worker to have an online blog and a Twitter account.

Online blogging has the potential to be to our generation what pamphleteering was to the Reformation. Pamphleteering played a central role in allowing Martin Luther to challenge the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church, eventually leading to the Protestant Reformation. A blog is a forum where an individual can discuss any topic they like – and in a nation where 33m people use the internet daily, it is possible to reach a huge audience within seconds.

I began blogging for two reasons: firstly, as a form of stress relief, to offload my thoughts and feelings about different elements of my practice and connect with other social workers to discuss these problems. My blogging acted as a form of international supervision. Secondly, I wanted my friends and family to understand the reality of what I do. If every social worker were to have a blog, we could begin to lead the dialogue surrounding our profession. There are already a number of successful bloggers, such as the Masked AMHP, who are actively clarifying the complexity of social work.

Furthermore, if we engage with each other on forums such as Twitter, we can create a large information-sharing and supervision network. In his book Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky argues that "by turning us from passive consumers into active producers and sharers of content, the internet is creating a better, more democratic world".

How refreshing it would be to attend an initial assessment and have a service user respond: "I was looking forward to your visit. I saw a post on Facebook about all the ways you can help me." Is this too idealistic of me? I don't think so. But it requires that we as social workers do not continue to let others define our job role. We must make our voices heard.

Source: Guardian (UK)