The hounding of social workers by the press for being "baby-snatchers" if they take children into care is a predictable story. But now such persecution has taken a new twist with online campaigns by families protesting about child protection intervention.'Hounding'..? ‘Persecution’..?
They really don’t want to be held accountable for anything, do they? How dare anyone question their authoriteh!
A proliferation of blogs and pages on social networking sites have sprung up.Oh noes! The grubby unwashed can have their say!this is unprecedented!
In some cases, the blogs make for uncomfortable reading. Social workers and managers are named and vilified, accusations are hurled at councils, and court injunctions banning the identification of the families and children are flouted.Hey, if you’ve got nothing to hide, right..? Or does that only work for other people?
According to Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, websites devoted to attacking social workers are a growing problem.Yes, it was so much easier for minions of the state to do their dirty work in secret, wasn’t it? When the only hope they had of getting their side of the story told was to convince a reporter or BBC tv crew that there was a human-interest story in it...
"They illustrate the difficulties of the social workers who are damned when they do and damned when they don't," he says. "We get many complaints from people who feel very threatened by the publication of sometimes vitriolic criticism of them, and really very unpleasant personal abuse."Oh, it’s the ‘damned if we do, damned if we don’t’ whine again, nicely summed up by DumbJon:
“See? They're fair-minded: they don't just ignore the guilty, they also persecute the innocent.”And they seem to know there’s no closing this particular floodgate:
Managers are almost powerless to stop what Simon White, director of children's services in Suffolk, describes as "floods of information about the council that is completely false and misleading".What's your problem, Simon? The competition with the bilge that your council's PR department pumps out?
Some of the blogs are hosted in the US, where the constitution's first amendment, guaranteeing the right to free speech, makes them all but untouchable.Ah, if only people could be forced to register them in this country, where we don't go in for that free speech stuff, eh?
White's concerns about the content range from the impact on the targeted social workers and the reputation of the council to the effect the content of the sites may have on the cases and the families involved. "There's quite a lot of abusive and personal stuff aimed at named individuals," he says. "Some is clearly defamatory, and obviously we have duties to those staff. And when you get into the wilder edges of it, you are sometimes worried about their personal safety."Oh, of course.
They've figured out that whining about people being mean to them might not garner the sympathy they feel they deserve, so how about inventing a spurious threat of violence - even though there's no evidence that any social worker has had to face anything more threatening than harsh language...
White also fears that an online campaign might be contagious. "If it started to become commonplace that whenever we did a pre-birth conference, families would consider leaving the country, it would force a change in practice," he says.You mean you'd stop whisking away the babies of young mothers who'd done nothing to...
Oh, right. Of course that's not what you mean:
"We'd have to be much less open with families."Wow, that's a convincing argument, there. Along the lines of 'Shut up, or your civil rights get it!'
One Suffolk employee who has been named on a blog says the experience is not just personally upsetting but has a knock-on effect on other cases. "Other families are aware of what's being said and they will bring it up, and that's difficult, especially when people may be making sensitive decisions," the employee says.You mean other families might become aware that any promises or assurances you may give them might be worthless?
So what? We hear all the time how people need to be made aware of dangers, don't we? Dangers from terrorism, dangers from conmen, dangers from sexual predators. All warning of the possibility of misrepresentation and false promises.
Suddenly, that includes the authorities themselves, and you don't like it one little bit, do you?
But you know also that you can't put the genie back in the bottle (yet - though if Labour get a fourth term...), so what's that leave?
Spin, of course:
White does not think there is much that can be done about the way information spreads, but he would like action beyond the individual local authority when allegations about conspiracies or financial inducements are made. "The profession, or the government, needs to respond," he says. "They need to defend the arrangements and processes, and put right mistakes and misapprehensions."They already do their best at this, but that pesky Freedom of Information Act keeps turning around and biting them where it hurts...
The BASW works constantly to address the myths about social work, Dawson says. He has recently written to every local authority in the country offering to help them communicate to communities and the local media what social workers do.Hint: people know what they do. They know what they don't do too. They don't like either.
Publicity isn't going to help you here...