Division, disrespect and disengagement

I’m going to keep this post short.

I launched my website in May 2015, having spent the previous month putting my heart and soul into writing my socks off every evening whilst my son slept. At first, I wrote because I was angry. Angry at myself and my own failures and mistakes. Angry at the way my son had been unnecessarily removed at birth and then clumsily handed back 258 days later in a car park. Angry at the way I was made to lie to my older children, still in the care system, about their younger sibling spending time at home when they were not permitted. Angry that the local authority would not engage with me, would not trust me and would not give me a chance to demonstrate I could, and had changed. Angry at the predominant voice in social media being one to encourage fear of social workers and fleeing of families.

I hoped that by writing, I might show some parents that there was another way, that they could be empowered with knowledge and support, that they could engage with social workers, that they could survive the child protection process, too.
I hoped that by writing, I might remind some social workers that service users are real people too, that there are real and enduring effects of our interactions for our families – long after our cases are closed and social workers have moved on, and how important it was to listen and be aware of the experiences of the families they work with. I wanted to remind social workers of the power of their role and the need for humanity and kindness, always.
In a Utopian way, I wanted to help both social worker and service user work together, respectfully and mutually contributing to the relationship for the benefit of the whole family – and the social worker themselves.
I never thought anyone would actually read my website, I just hoped some may stumble across it. I still, to this day, never think about anyone actually sitting and reading my website, and when I’m told people do, I get quite emotional and feel very humbled.

Almost two years on, and my motivations have not changed. In fact, if anything, I am even more motivated to fortify the relationship between social worker and service user and that is at the heart of every single one of my training sessions. Because of my profile, I feel a great responsibility to ensure the voice of parents involved in the child protection process is heard. Without wishing to sound arrogant in any way, I try to speak for those who cannot, for whatever reason. I take this responsibility extremely seriously and carry it with me always. I would never do anything to disrespect the trust of those within the profession, and the families I work with. I’ve never been any good at anything before, but I’m good at what I do, and I feel I make a difference.

 

I have been aware of various “social work blogs” since I launched my own and have read many with great interest. When I started on this journey, I found them an education, a different perspective – I guess the way some people feel reading mine!! Some of them made for difficult reading; it was painful to read of another human being emotionally worn-out in a job they entered to try to help people like me. Some of the light-hearted posts made me smile and laugh; it was a joy to know that these same authors could find levity as a tool to keep them going, even in distressing times. However, the general theme of these blogs were a positive reinforcement that most social workers truly wanted the best for their service users (for want of a better term) and wanted to work with us. One of them I really rate is Ermintrude’s blog and I would encourage everyone involved in social work to read this website.

However, more recently, I have become increasingly concerned about a blog by a practising social worker who calls himself “Social Work Tutor”. Initially, I was interested in what he had to say and quite buoyed by the addition of another dynamic, powerful voice. In fact, we even exchanged email addresses when he asked me to write a chapter in his book. This was not progressed, because the rehabilitation of my 12 year old son broke down and, after explaining this to the Social Work Tutor, I was ignored.
Around the Autumn of last year, I began to notice more and more posts from the Social Work Tutor about the emotional impact of being a social worker. I read many of them, and in the first instance, found myself agreeing vehemently and calling for more support for those particularly at the “frontline” of practice. But they continued, more and more were produced, now becoming “memes”, many of which were followed by lengthy justifications using very emotive language. There is a time and a place for this and my opinion is that publicly, where service users have free access to read it, is not always the right one.

There was a limit to my sympathy; this person chose to be a social worker, I didn’t choose to be sexually abused by my father and my children didn’t choose to be failed by me, their mother. This person could choose to leave their job and do something different with their lives.

I contacted the Social Work Tutor and asked him to tone these posts down as I felt they were creating an even bigger divide between “us” and “them”. It was everything I was working against. It was divisive. It was disrespectful. It did not encourage engagement. How on earth can you engage with a social worker after reading this sort of thing?
There followed an exchange I can only describe as “shocking” whereby this person used the fact that he worked in a neighbouring authority and knew social workers in my authority, the fact that a very distant relative of his wife was married to a friend’s daughter and that any criticism of him might upset their children (aged 3 and 1), and the fact that he would find any criticism extremely upsetting. This person also then twisted my words to suit him in a move which I have to say left me chilled, considering his position as a child protection social worker.

I understand others have criticised this person’s work too, and have been met with emotionally provocative language, threats of legal action and “blocking”. If you have a public profile as I myself do, you have to learn to take criticism. I get called a child abuser on a weekly basis. It doesn’t upset me any more.

The Social Work Tutor did not tone the posts down. In fact, they have escalated into something I find deeply distasteful, an example of which I have attached below:

SWT

As a service user involved in child protection, I cannot begin to describe how horrifying this is. This will sound ridiculous, but my instant response upon reading this is to feel protective towards the families I work with and represent. I know they would feel disempowered and feel frightened and intimidated by the power of a social worker. I know this, because I feel it, too.

Another upsetting “meme” created by this person seems to poke fun at large families, talking about the “awkward moment” the social worker is trying to remember everyone’s name. I have a large family. On court documents, my name is not spelled correctly, and social workers regularly mixed up the names of my children. A local authority trying to remove my children who can’t even call each of us by the correct name?

I could go on, but around 1300 words ago I promised to keep this short.

If you are a social worker considering writing a blog, by all means, please do. Other social workers, senior management, service users, and the general public need to hear your voices. Please do talk about the difficulties of the role, please do articulate the lack of support, please do write down how these things affect you as a human being. We need to understand how best we can all work together to build relationships, and a big part of that begins with being honest and being vulnerable with each other.

However. Please don’t poke fun at, nor shame service users for their choices. Please don’t construct veiled memes to highlight the mismatch of the power dynamic. Please don’t be downright discourteous to your fellow human being.

It is divisive. It is disrespectful. It does not encourage engagement.

 

Thank you for reading,

 

Annie

 

11 thoughts on “Division, disrespect and disengagement

  1. As someone who straddles both worlds (I’m a Social Worker but I’ve also had 18 allocated Social Workers in various roles through my front door). I find that Meme chilling and almost nauseating.

    Keep up the running!

  2. Great stuff Annie. There is a growing number of “serving” Social Workers who share your very real concerns about the tone of this blog. There are others, academics, students and indeed families who are worried also.

    It is beyond doubt that SWT will read your blog and associated comments, I hope he realises that this is NOT some personal vendetta and that what is happening is that people are disagreeing with him openly and honestly and that as a Social Worker he should be able to take it and not issue threats.

    He chose to make his work public, he expresses strong views but he is not a cult leader and therefore is open to scrutiny and challenge as we all are.

  3. I knew as soon as I started reading this that you would be discussing this particular blogger. I share your unease.
    I think his blog is a perfect example of unchecked self belief reinforced by his followers praise. Criticism creates an immediate over reaction that then leads to his followers telling him he is marvellous, ignore the haters etc. Which in turn fuels his elevated self belief.

    Sw need to challenge their beliefs and perceptions continually to ensure clear thinking. Healthy debate is a good thing and should be encouraged not dismissed. I worry about how he deals with criticism or conflict with his families.

    1. I agree with you Claire. I was just reading his facebook today where he is playing the victim and receiving praise from his innocent followers. I have seen the nasty things he has written to fellow social workers. There is something very very worrisome about his inability to take criticism and his lack of self awareness. Those that do support him- most of them- are unaware of his bullying behavior on other platforms. It’s quite sad. He started off with such an amazing initiative. Blogs that were thought provoking, meme’s that were funny ( not crossing the boundary) and appeared supportive of students and fellow colleagues. He has increasingly become desperate in an attempt to unblemished himself- that he is self sabotaging in a very public way. Sadly if he doesn’t check his public posts, his passive aggressive responses and angry blogs- he is going to hinder his career. I don’t normally agree with blogs that call people out publicly but in this case it is in the best interest of social work students and service users especially.

  4. Wonder if he overreached professionally?
    Could you write to the Director of Children’s Services where he works with the words ‘Formal Complaint -Misuse of Confidential Information’ or something along those lines in the strapline – state your concerns and ask for a response within 21 days. See what comes back and take from there? (MP, HPCE etc) You may not feel good doing this but think of his clients?

    1. This is the bit where he potentially crossed the line, legally?

      … and knew social workers in my authority, the fact that a very distant relative of his wife was married to a friend’s daughter and that any criticism of him might upset their children (aged 3 and 1), and the fact that he would find any criticism extremely upsetting.

      You told him none of this I imagine? He made it his business to find out – how?

      ..and he used this information to force you into acting in a certain way?

  5. I too share your concerns. The adulation I’ve seen Sw give when things that are being said show little respect and are overflowing in self pity has put me off. At a recen event he called those who follow his blog fans. I’m not a fan. I am interested to hear differing views but concerned and disagreement is immediately represented as an attack and so th cultish worship grows. Thanks you for articulating your concerns.

  6. Totally agree with you. I am daily made embarrassed and angry by social workers bigging themselves up by complaining about the people they work with, the stress involved in interfering with other people’s lives for a living.
    This threatening angry stuff by SWT or anyone else needs to be called out – I’m ashamed it had to be you who did it . I’m with you on it and will start kicking back at misery memoirs by social workers

  7. Hi Annie,

    I agree with you although (disclaimer) I like to use the facebook page he has created to interact with other social workers. I don’t find any of his memes particularly cleverm original or funny and as an adult social worker I found the one you pictured to be inappropriate but also quite odd. My job isn’t to “find shit out” it’s to support people to maintain their dignity and rights. The whole thing feeds into the whole “All social workers are child protection and all child protection social workers are the parent police”.

  8. Well said Annie. Its time for SWT to reflect critically on all the feedback he’s getting. Not just the ‘fan mail’ that his posts inevitably receive. I’m sure many SWs appreciate the blog and that the humour is intended to to relieve stress rather than offend. BUT intention and outcome/effect are often different. Just like for the parents and children that he and others are working with. Very few parents intend to hurt their children but the effect of their behaviour is often harmful. Knowing that allows for empathy and a different type of conversation. The effect of the meme featured in your post highlights will undoubtedly enhance distrust and fear, and make the work of those who desperately want to work ‘with’ their service users ten times more difficult.

  9. Hi. I think that it is vital that your views get out there. A major concern of my is how following various serious case reviews in the media and promises of ‘never again’- social workers can be encouraged to view all parents through a ‘Baby P lens’.

    Linked to this are broad patholigising terms such as: ‘disguised compliance’, ‘domestically abusive’ and even ‘putting the child first’- all of which can be distorted to create an anti-parent/ ‘parents are the enemy’ ethos. None of which helps the child or the parent.

    Moreover, I feel that Lord Laming is misinterpreted- he never said ‘try to catch the evil parents out’, what he actually said was far more reasonable and inline with working in partnership with an enquiring mind, see below:

    ”Social workers are not ‘passive recipients of information’. Instead: ‘respectful uncertainty” should lie at the heart of the relationship between the social worker and the family. It does not require social workers constantly to interrogate their clients, but it does involve the critical evaluation of information that they are given”.

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