Shifting the social work stigma
England’s largest social work charity, Frontline, warns that negative news stories are having a detrimental effect on the public perception of social workers, after new independent research reveals that over half (58%) of people say social workers have a ‘bad reputation’, and of those, nearly a third (31%) would be reluctant for their help despite needing support.
According to the independent survey of more than 2,000 UK adults, two thirds (66%) feel social workers are given a hard time and are portrayed negatively by the media. With almost half (45%) of people only understanding what social workers do from reading media stories, the negative news agenda is having a knock-on effect on the ground. While negative perceptions are held across society, they are strongest among men, with over a third (34%) admitting they wouldn’t be willing to speak to a social worker, despite needing help when struggling with family issues such as, addiction, mental health, and exploitation concerns – a 24% increase compared to women (28%).
Analysis shows the public’s not wrong. A review of all media coverage around social work from the past twelve months shows stories about social workers are eight times more likely to be negative rather than positive. Furthermore, ‘frustration’, ‘worry’ and ‘fear’ are revealed as prevalent in media coverage featuring social workers.
Frontline will also be launching a new film as part of its ‘This is the work’ campaign to tackle the misconceptions about social work and shine a light on the positive work that social workers do in communities across the country every day.
Tommy, a 25-year-old social worker from London, who features in one of Frontline’s new films, says: “There are so many harmful and misinformed stereotypes about being a social worker. Some people think we’re there to take peoples’ kids away and split up families, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, most of the time we’re doing everything we can to prevent this from happening. We’re sitting down and making real, genuine connections with families and children to help them get through difficult times in their lives.
“I don’t think many people realise what you can actually do as a social worker. For example, I work in the child protection team which sees me encounter situations such as child abuse, neglect, exploitation and gang-related coercion. I also support young people living on the streets to find them safe and stable homes. It’s a challenging job and you need a good amount of resilience to get through, but it’s one of the most rewarding careers out there – I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
With public perception meaning some families may be reluctant to receive help, Frontline’s research suggests one of the key ways forward is to have more diversity across the workforce to give families the opportunity to work with people they can relate to; over a third (34%) of people say they would open up to someone who shares the same background as them.
Lisa Hackett, Chief Social Worker at Frontline says: “With 1 in 4 children currently living in poverty, and this number expected to rise as a result of the cost-of-living crisis, more people than ever will need the support of social workers. This is why, as a society, we desperately need to tackle these dangerous misconceptions around social workers.
“Social workers support hundreds of thousands of children and their families in England each year, and we need more people from a diverse range of backgrounds to join the profession and represent the communities they work with.
“Through this campaign, we want to help the public understand the vital work social workers do, to remove the stigma around receiving support from social workers and encourage more people to join this life-changing profession.”