Is any public service more reviled than social work? Policemen, when not drinking with journalists, chase down baddies; firefighters save babies, and doctors cure diseases. Social workers, on the other hand, take away people’s children. They miss catastrophic abuse. In no news story are they ever -heroic. The perception of social work is unremittingly grim. It’s badly paid, box-ticking, mired in bureaucracy. Only go into it if you like being a martyr.
Josh MacAlister, the chief executive of Frontline, wants people to imagine things differently. In a decade he thinks social work will be one of the main options for top graduates. At an Oxford careers fair, he suggests, students will be queueing up at the social work stand. Entry will be fiercely competitive. ‘These things are not unimaginable,’ he says. ‘It’s happened in other professions.’