Understanding and working with the perceptions about social work – Dr Sharon Shoesmith

11th Oct 2017, 1:30pm - 3:00pm

Faculty of Health and Social Care

The presentation will be based on a psychosocial reading of the responses to the familial homicide of ‘Baby P’. As part of my PhD I identified a ‘cultural trope’ as a belief, a reality or a truism that blames mainly social workers for harm to children despite their work as one of a multi-agency team. I argue that the cultural trope is a result of a dynamic interaction of the denial or disavowal of harm to children by known adults especially where it involves the mother, with decades of social, historical, cultural, and political influences. The interactions of the media, especially The Sun, with the most senior politicians in both the main parties created and structured an emotional public sphere in the case of Baby P which they then sought to shut down with far-reaching effects. I argue that those effects are deeply complex. It is the negative perception of social workers embedded not only in the responses of the public but also in their everyday work with professional partners that I will explore in the session. Such perceptions and their impact encourage social workers to be risk-averse and result in increasing numbers of children being brought into the care system.  I argue that social workers must first understand the origins of these perceptions and then learn how to work with, and gradually counter these negative perceptions both individually and collectively. The profession would benefit from uniting under one strong independent representative body. Such a body must promote and protect social workers but also engage proactively with the public, educating the public about the nature of the work of social workers and the challenges they face in protecting large numbers of children across the UK.

Read an interview with Dr Shoesmith.