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Opening our profession to scrutiny and understanding

Photo of Annie Hudson (c) authors own

Protecting Our Children , BBC2’s powerful three-part social work series, finished on 13 February. The series followed Bristol's child protection teams over the course of a year to see frontline social work first-hand. Throughout the series we saw a tiny fraction of the child protection cases that come through the team’s doors. We saw how the social work profession deal with often incredibly challenging situations, and also how they interact with other agencies to provide support to families in need.

Annie Hudson the Strategic Director for Children, Young People and Skills at Bristol City Council writes for Social Work Connections about her motivation for giving the BBC behind the scenes access to her department. She also talks about some of the responses to the show and what she hopes this could mean for the future of the social work profession.

“Social work is a private activity, which most people only hear about when tragedies occur. It is a profession on which the media effortlessly projects prejudices. No wonder social workers often feel beleaguered, facing intense media criticism when things go wrong, but with little public understanding of how the work can transform lives when the right decisions are taken.

“We must challenge these perceptions.  As a public service we also have a duty to be open about what we do. This requires, amongst other things, skilful engagement with the media to open up social work practice. These were our motivations in agreeing to allow the BBC to film in Bristol.

“We were very aware of the risks, but decided these were worth taking. Preparatory work gave us confidence the documentary team were committed to convey the complexities of practice, rather than rushing to get a ‘good story’.

“The programmes illustrate uncomfortable things social workers must do, working to support families, but sometimes necessarily and wisely using their authority in the interests of children. Some professionals regretted there was not more about early help and family support but it was simply not possible to show the full range of work undertaken. Most professional feedback agrees the programmes reflect some of the realities of the work.

“We cannot yet evaluate the public impact, though viewing figures were high and the series has attracted very considerable media attention which has been largely very positive. There is much important if anecdotal evidence (emails, twitter, blogs) that viewers were left with a better appreciation of, and considerable admiration for social workers; as one viewer said these are ‘the unsung heroes in our society’. There has also been a palpable sense of public shock at the tough realities of some children’s lives.  We must listen to this.

“We now need to find ways of continuing public debates.  I welcome fellow professionals’ views on how we might do this.  Finally I want to applaud the great courage of social workers and families who agreed to be filmed.”

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I very much welcomed this insight into the social work job, as a social worker myself (with adults) it has been frustrating the stigma this profession has been given and the blame culture when things go wrong we appear to be easy targets, which is unfair. I hope other programs will be made.

Jackie Mahoney
18 Mar 2012

I thoroughly enjoyed the programmes and thought it was great to see such skilled Professionals in action. Thank you Bristol for taking the risk and opening your doors. Each programme was moving, and I commend all of the families and Social Workers involved. I enjoyed seeing the differences in the way that all of the Social Workers tackled the complex and senstive issues and have respect and admiration for them all. I particualy feel that Annie (Second programme) is someone who I would like to model in practice. I feel that she worked with courage, dignity, skill and compassion.

Kath Beattie
14 Mar 2012

Well done for a well thought out and made series. Can we have more covering the early intervention and scaffolding of the family please.

Jasmine Ladd
11 Mar 2012

Now retired but up to retirement a Social Worker for 18 years working with families and child protection issues the programmes reflected many of the serious issues facing Social Workers on a daily basis. It provided an honest and thought provoking view of Social Work which at times brought tears to my eyes. Well done.

Jan Bennett
09 Mar 2012

These were fantastic programmes that showed the knife edge decisions social workers have to take, how complex the family situations are and what skill, courage and persistence is needed to work in the most challenging circumstances. It took me back to my practice and reminded me what a wonderful job so many social workers do. Well done Annie and Bristol children's services!

Chris Born
07 Mar 2012

'Protecting Our Children' was a wonderful insight to the important work of child protection, it was good to see this work being highlighted in the media. However I would like to see Adult Social Care receive the same positive media attention. When the general public hear the words 'Social Worker' they immediately think of children's' services and nothing is thought about the often complex cases we in adult services also deal with. We are not only forgotten by the public but often our pay is a few thousand pounds less per year, which shows what our managers in county councils think about us. I have no doubt my social work colleagues in Children's teams have a difficult job, and they do a very good job, however so do we in Adult services. I just wish this was recognised.

Lorna Jones
07 Mar 2012

Regrettably I missed the programmes, but would have liked to watch it. I agree its good to inform the public/media about what challenges social workers face as part of their job in protecting the vulnerable.

Lydia Lewis
07 Mar 2012

Dear Colleague, This series of three programmes did a lot to demonstrate the complx risk assessment and risk management across the damned if you do damned if you dont spectrum of our professional activity. A brilliant series which should do a lot to help train social workers in the future. I have been professionally involved since 1973 in a career spanning both children and famlies and adults of working age / mental health. I am happy for Annie to see my comments - we worked in Bristol on the same area many years ago. Graham Whitwell

Graham Whitwell
07 Mar 2012

Well done to Bristol Childrens Services and social workers for making this important programme. I have great respect and admiration for you all . This was a revealing and honest insight into the challanges of the job which has helped educate the public. Congratulations!

07 Mar 2012

Congratulations to Annie Huson for a brave decision as well as all her staff for the courage to be involved in such an excellent series. I was involved in the social work response following the Bradford City fire disaster almost 30 years ago and wrote a newspaper article encouraging those affected in the community to get in touch only to be criticised by a councillor on the childrens' committee. At the time people talked of being ashamed at needing a social worker. All of this demonstrated how little people understood the work of social workers - even those closely involved!rnrnI am not sure what the viewing figures were for the series but certainly the reviews and previews I saw were very complimentary and it was clear that the media in general had gained a better insight and understanding. I even read a comment that anyone wishing to criticise social workers should be made to watch the series as it would change their views. I know from my own experience that there is great value in engaging with the media as once they gain an insight into what we do they are less likely to be critical.

Richard Mason
07 Mar 2012

At last, a programme about social work that felt real. I have been a children's social worker for many years and I was so impressed with the social work staff and the reflective practice taking place. It was refreshing to see managers who were still social workers at heart. We need more of these programmes to educate the general public.

Sian Edwards
07 Mar 2012

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