Social Work Leaders Write to National Media

Following the publication of advice and guidance for journalists reporting on the work of social workers, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and the Social Workers Union (SWU) have written to editors of national newspapers and major regional publishing groups

In the letter, and John McGowan, General Secretary of SWU and Ruth Allen, Chief Executive of BASW have urged editors to adopt the guidelines.

The SWU Campaign Fund supported development of these guidelines after members of SWU and BASW came forward with harrowing stories about the impact of poor media reporting about the profession.

In one case, a social worker had to have police protection after the names of social workers involved in a case were revealed by the media and local Facebook groups tracked him down. These groups then made repeated death threats to him and his pregnant wife.

Another social worker had her details also revealed in the media and she was then harassed whenever she came into work by a group with a megaphone and was followed home after leaving the office.

The five principles contained in the guidelines suggest that journalists:

  1. Maintain accuracy and take care to report on cases involving vulnerable groups accurately and in accordance with other standards relating to legal – or potential future – legal proceedings.
  2. Assess and ensure that coverage of issues does not create harm to the public and to individuals, by ensuring no social workers are individually named or identifiable as working on a particular case (unless authorised to do so by court proceedings).
  3. Ensure the right to privacy of social workers / mental health workers.
  4. Recognise social workers are not spokespeople or able to breach confidentiality so cannot defend themselves from allegations or misrepresentation, by responding to or correcting the record.
  5. Avoid portraying law-breaking as acceptable, excusable or showing the perpetrators as victims.

The guidelines have the support of charities such as Age UK and of the Chief Social Workers in England.

In the letter Allen and McGowan have offered a meeting to discuss the guidelines. They write:

“The guidance has been produced in consultation with the press regulator IMPRESS, but we appreciate that this only represents a small number of publications.

“We would therefore welcome the opportunity to discuss the further development of these guidelines with you and ask that you support their implementation.”