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Campaign launches to improve media reporting of social work and protect professionals

New advice and guidance for journalists and publications reporting on social work has been launched to provide more protection after harrowing testimonies of death threats and harassment from those working in the profession.

22/09/22

Campaign launches to improve media reporting of social work and protect professionals

A new campaign launches today (Thursday 22 September) to protect social workers from the negative consequences of media attention in the profession.

Produced in consultation with the UK‘s approved press regulator IMPRESS, the guidelines were developed after members of the Social Workers Union (SWU) came forward with distressing stories about the impact of poor media reporting about the profession.

In one case, after the names of social workers were revealed by the media, one social worker had to have police protection after local Facebook groups tracked him down and found out where he lived, making repeated death threats to him and his pregnant wife.

Another was harassed whenever she came into work by a group with a megaphone and was followed home after leaving the office.

Both social workers have now left the profession.

The guidance contains five principles suggesting for journalists, including to maintain accuracy reporting on cases involving vulnerable groups and be mindful of standards relating to legal – or potential future – legal proceedings.

It also suggests guaranteeing the right to privacy of professionals and avoiding harm by ensuring no social workers are individually named or identifiable as working on a particular case – unless authorised to do so by court proceedings.

The guidance asks publications to recognise that social workers are not spokespeople and are bound by confidentiality – and therefore cannot defend themselves from allegations or misrepresentation, by responding to or correcting the record.

Carol Reid, SWU National Organiser, said the guidance while public scrutiny was necessary, there is often a difference in the way that social work is reported compared to other professions.

“Social workers are on the front-line of helping the most vulnerable in society. In their roles, social workers have to carry out statutory duties. Therefore, it is correct and accepted that these professionals – like their colleagues – are open to public scrutiny.

“However, unlike colleagues in general nursing, police and social care, social workers tend not to receive balanced coverage in the media.

The guidelines have been supported by organisations including, Age UK, BASW Cymru, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), the Cooperative Guild of Social and Community Workers, and Scottish Association of Social Workers (SASW).

“Social workers often work with the most vulnerable people in challenging environments and situations,” Dr Lis Boulton, Health and Care Policy Manager at Age UK, commented, adding: “while they should be scrutinised by the media, in the same way that everyone else is, they should not have to fear coverage that is so negative that it puts both them and the people they support at risk.”

“It is only fair that reporting should, where possible, also reflect the good work that is done to improve people’s lives.”

The Chief Social Workers welcomed the publication of the guidelines and said they will continue to work with Government Departments to support the social work profession on the issue.

“It is essential that social workers are treated fairly and that reporting is responsible and ethical. Recruitment and retention in social work is a key challenge and ensuring that the media acts responsibly will support this essential public service,” Lynn Romeo, Chief Social Worker for Adults in England said.

Press coverage of social work practice has long been an issue but was brought into sharp focus during the ‘Baby P’ trials in 2008 and 2009. Academics have since argued that the press (and politicians) ‘mobilised public anger’ towards the profession, with the social worker involved forced to go into hiding.

Sharon Shoesmith, Head of Children's Services at Haringey Council, the authority with responsibility for Baby P, will be speaking at the COMPASS Jobs Fair London on 21 November as part of a full conference programme. Register for your free ticket to the event, or find out more at https://www.compassjobsfair.com/Events/London/

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