The image of social work – voicing our thoughts

In the main, there is still a negative view of the image of social work in society. Much of this driven by a lack of understanding of what we do and the many positive outcomes that we deliver for children and families being hidden from public view. This is often exacerbated by the skew of media attention towards negative stories and outcomes.

To help identify what we can do about this, Children’s Social Work Matters has been conducting a consultation with students, children’s social work practitioners and managers across Yorkshire & Humber.

Some key issues raised amongst the 30 participants included:

People don’t understand what social workers do. They think we only break families up.

Families involved don’t understand the ins and outs of the roles of social workers and what we are there to do. Often, the state of mind of the families we work with is such that they can’t take in everything that is happening to them and why. This means they usually have a ‘blinkered’ view of social work which can reinforce the myths/misconceptions. Without being able to see/think about the full picture they will put blame onto social work. This will then spread to wider family and friends.

‘We need to show what we do. We need to tell people that our aim is to do all we can to keep children and families together – the last thing we want to do is split up families.’

Family group conferences are a mechanism we use to involve and empower families in decision-making and illustrate one way we try to make the best decision for children and families.

We also need to show the breadth of the work we do to get people away from the narrow, stereotypical views of social work. Coupled with this, people need to see our passion and drive for the job – people who care, people to trust. This is difficult when we’re always dealing with a negative backdrop.

There is a lack of awareness/visibility of the supporting role that social work delivers to children and families. For example, a lone mother of 4 struggled to look after all the children when one child became seriously ill and needed the bulk of time and energy to care for. Social work supported her by finding foster care for her other 3 children to give her some respite until the children were able to return home and back into her care.

Restorative practice is a good example of how social work today works in collaboration with families and other services.

‘People don’t realise that social workers’ are often from the communities they serve and some have been supported by the care system earlier in their life.’

There’s much more to being a social worker today – there are many facets to social work

Often, public understanding is based on an old fashioned/out-of-date view of social work. The role now is much broader/more multifaceted and complex than it used to be. People need to know why social work gets involved, better understand the situations that drive this and what happens when they do. Services and support are shaped by users’ needs.

Social workers are highly qualified and trained


Linked to the above point is that social work practice now is better than it ever was in terms of qualifications, professionalism and areas covered e.g. child sexual exploitation (CSE), domestic violence.

Also, with the inspection and review regimes we are the most scrutinised profession – at every stage of our work and involvement with families.

‘Some people and colleagues in other professions don’t know this. Consequently, social workers are not always seen/treated as equals by other professionals.’

The stigma associated with ‘social services’ is a significant negative influence on the perception of social work

We need to recognise and think how to combat the stigma around being linked to social services. Even some colleagues in the police use ‘social services’ as a threat to young people and families which is really unhelpful.

‘The activities and positive role of social work is often invisible to people’.

Social workers and recipients/service users need to be heard/tell their stories

‘We need to be more assertive/bold about social work, its role, positive outcomes/successes. We need to be on the front foot with positive stories.

The children’s voice is also important. Once a 4-year old on being removed from her parental home for own safety said ‘yay, please don’t send me back’.

That said, confidentiality and safeguarding prevent social workers having more of a voice.

We need to engage with a broad range of groups

As well as the communities they serve and the general public, other parties that we need to engage with/influence include the: media, education sector, and health. We should also look to work more with the voluntary sector and Local Children’s Safeguarding Boards.

The good news is that there’s plenty of good stories/outcomes that would be good to share – we need to make it easy and encourage them to be shared.

Findings from this consultation and wider desk research will be used to develop a series of activities to promote a positive image of social work over the next 12 months.

It’s time tell our own stories, instead of allowing the media to do it for us!

If you have a good news story to share we’d love to hear it. Drop us an email at

If you are a children’s social work student or practitioner in Yorkshire & Humber the full report is available at OurCSWM.