‘Social Workers Failed to Heed Warnings’: A Text-Based Study of How a Profession is Portrayed in UK Newspapers

Leedham, Maria (2021). ‘Social Workers Failed to Heed Warnings’: A Text-Based Study of How a Profession is Portrayed in UK Newspapers. The British Journal of Social Work (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcab096

Abstract

Previous research has indicated that social workers are portrayed negatively in the UK press, particularly in child protection cases. But what is the nature of this negativity? And are social workers also mentioned in more positive contexts? To explore these questions, a collection of three months of newspaper articles was compiled (early May to early August 2019), using the seed term ‘social worker(s)’. Almost 1,000 occurrences were located and categorised as ‘positive’ (6 per cent of instances), ‘negative’ (25 per cent) or ‘neutral’ (69 per cent). Further classification of negative instances indicates these concern social workers’ perceived failure to act rather than perceived over-zealous behaviour (ratio 5:2). Findings also suggest that the press tend to hold social workers to a higher moral standard in their everyday lives than is the case for other members of society. Understanding how social workers are portrayed in the press is important for practitioners in terms of recruitment, job satisfaction and retention. In addition, as newspapers are the major source of information on social work for members of the public, greater awareness could reduce the societal tendency towards finding individuals to blame.

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