Social Work as Social Good

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Words: Aleeza Siddiq (she/her)

It’s hard to find a profession not embroiled in an industrial dispute at the moment. Up to half a million workers were on strike on February 1, and as the UK refuses to meet the demands of and provide sufficient pay to a workforce still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, it increasingly feels like we are a nation lacking in compassion. This is all the more apparent when it comes to social work. 

Social workers are required to be highly trained and educated professionals. Their jobs involve juggling strict regulations, huge caseloads, and ethical and moral considerations, all of which ensure the safety of our population. They work in many important areas, from child protection services to education, and are the backbone of our society.

Despite this, representations of social workers in both popular culture and the mainstream media are, at best, ignorant and at worst, deliberately harmful. Any child growing up in the 2000s will remember the harsh and cold social worker depicted in the film Lilo and Stitch: an antagonistic villain who steals children away. Meanwhile, headlines like ‘Social workers failed to act quickly to protect neglected toddler’ in The Guardian or ‘Damning report into actions of social workers’ in The Scotsman, while documenting real failings, risk leading people to believe that all social workers as individuals are terrible at their jobs; when this is not the case. Such headlines fail to acknowledge that, despite working very long hours, the tsunami of cases flooding social workers every day makes it extremely difficult, in fact almost impossible, to pay each one sufficient attention. Ultimately, picking out the cases which need urgent attention is not a task immune to human error, and while failures are tragic and unacceptable, they are rare, and it is the system which is responsible for them, not the social workers themselves.

A survey conducted by the British Association of Social Workers found that 71.9% feel that they are unable to complete their work within their contracted hours. Their jobs are made even more complex when faced with legal battles, where the rights of families and the necessity of intervention by social workers find themselves in conflict with one another. Protecting the most vulnerable people in society is an almost impossible job. The risk is that a barrage of negative representations leads to a lack of trust in the profession, meaning fewer young people take up jobs in a sector already facing a recruitment crisis.

To solve this crisis in social work, society needs to start treating its professionals with the respect they deserve and not use exceptional cases to berate an entire workforce. The government also needs to intervene to ensure social workers can fulfil their social good without experiencing burnout. Compassion comes from the top. 

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Theresa racz
Theresa racz
9 months ago

Well done this is amazing and so true thank you

Michelle Riley
Michelle Riley
8 months ago

This is a really good read and I can totally relate.