Promoting Public Understanding – Guest Blog, Jane Devine, Social Work Scotland

Work is underway to take forward the actions recommended in Social Services in Scotland:A Shared Vision and Strategy.  Over the next few weeks we will use Alan’s Blog to invite the members of the Social Services Strategic Forum who are leading one of the four workstrands to say more about the work they are taking forward with others on the Forum.  This week Jane Devine, Business Manager at Social Work Scotland writes about Promoting Public Understanding.


Jane Devine

“Last year I was asked to chair a work stream on promoting public understanding as part of the work that led to the publication of ‘Social Services in Scotland: A Shared Vision and Strategy 2015-2020’.

As I started this work I was minded of a conversation I had with a BBC journalist a number of years ago. She had called me about a horrific case where a mother, terrified that the court would award residence of her children to their father, killed her 3 children and then attempted to take her own life. The journalist called me for a reaction and when I asked why she had called me, she said ‘well, where were social work in all this’?

Over the years, in dealing with the media, I have found this to be a fairly typical of many journalists when it comes to social work: jumping to the wrong conclusions, making the wrong assumptions. And it is not exclusive to social work, all parts of the social services sector are affected: care workers can be portrayed as uncaring during short visits; and fly on the wall documentaries about care homes for older people or adults with learning disabilities have given residential workers a bad name.

When such things happen, reacting to them by pointing out that social work might not be involved, or that there are people who do bad things in all walks of life, is something we should always do. We have to actively challenge the wholescale denigration of our workforce by the media because of the actions of a few. What we should never do though is to give into a sense that this is somehow inevitable and something we must accept and endure.

We need to take exception to negative assumptions that can surround our sector. We do a great job, every day. We need to stand up for that. And we need to be smart about how we do it.  Those in the sector can feel vilified, their moral can be low, they can feel ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t’. That’s not good for them, it’s not good for the people they support and it is not going to encourage people into the sector.

Promoting the public’s understanding and working to get a public appreciation of the sector will take commitment from lots of different people including those who work in social services. We’re going to firstly assess what people’s view are of social services and if there are negative views we will find out who holds these views, why people hold have them and which part of the workforce they are focused on. Once we have a clear understanding of the issues we will work across the sector, the media and with the pubic to try to turn these views around and build support for the sector.

It’s an exciting project and there is lots to be positive about. The huge array of people employed in social work services do a fantastic job for the thousands of people who rely on them every day. We’re starting from a good place.”

Jane Devine, Social Work Scotland