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BASW speaks up for social work over EastEnders depiction of poor practice


BASW has led a fight back against a “disgraceful” EastEnders storyline featuring a social worker it says is portrayed acting illegally and in a way that could put off people in need from seeking support.

The soap showed distressed care leaver Lola Pearce having her baby forcefully removed by social worker Trish Barnes in scenes that sparked 556 complaints from viewers to the BBC.

Social workers appalled by the way their profession was being depicted expressed their anger at the inaccurate and damaging depiction via Twitter and email.

On the back of widespread concern, BASW issued a statement from acting chief executive Bridget Robb condemning the storyline and defending social workers, which was widely picked up by the media.

In the strongly-worded statement, Ms Robb said: “It is disgraceful to see a publicly funded broadcaster deliberately spreading misinformation about the child protection process because it is too lazy and arrogant to get it right. We regularly give advice to programmes about social work storylines; we would like to know who advised EastEnders so badly.”

Ms Robb added: “Eastenders’ shabby portrayal of an entire profession has made a tough job even tougher. Social workers don't court popularity but they also don't deserve to have their work misrepresented and the people who rely on their support made fearful of social work involvement in their lives.”

BASW main objections were that a programme viewed by eight million people showed a social worker acting illegally and insensitively in a way that could put off other young mothers in need of help from contacting social services.

The Guardian’s respected media commentator Roy Greenslade was first to highlight BASW’s concern and the story was picked up by other print press, including the The London Evening Standard, The Metro, The Daily Express, The Daily Star, Community Care, What’s on TV, the Huffington Post, which ran an online poll on the story, as well as many regional papers.

Broadcast media followed, with BASW officials appearing on BBC Breakfast and Radio WM and Channel 5 News to speak up in defence of social workers.

The BBC issued a statement in response to the furore, in which it said it had consulted a “senior social worker” in developing the storyline.

The statement said: "It is not our intention to portray social workers in a negative light. Whilst the audience has seen how much Lola loves Lexi, and seen her behaving responsibly in caring for her baby, her social worker has not.

“Each time the social worker visited, she regularly saw worrying behaviour that concerned her. The social worker also witnessed a series of other incidents and, under these circumstances, we believe the audience will have understood why she had to act quickly to remove Lexi when Lola was arrested for assault.

"There was no suggestion that the social worker's actions arose from anything other than a genuine desire to protect Lexi, or that her concerns about Lola were unreasonable given the picture she and the previous social worker had formed over a substantial period of time.

“Although EastEnders tackles many social issues and always carefully researches the details, it is a drama and Lola's story and that of the social worker are not intended to be representative of everyone in the same situation."

On BBC Breakfast BASW professional officer Sue Kent said social workers were “horrified” at the way child protection was being portrayed. Responding to television writer Lisa Holsworth, who said that showing things being done properly “is not good drama”, Ms Kent stressed that the BBC still had a responsibility not to misrepresent professionals.

“Eight million people saw that programme. It may be fiction but they appear to be offering a true picture of what social work is like. The BBC has been very good at being social work issues of late, with programmes such as Protecting Our Children but we are extremely concerned that this is giving a deeply inaccurate picture of our profession.”

Speaking on Channel 5 news, BASW professional officer Ruth Cartwright said EastEnders had given “fuel for those who oppose social workers”.

“This kind of thing plays into the hands of these kind of people. At BASW we get regular hate mail from these people. Our members are up in arms about this and they are looking to us as professional body to respond.”

Below is just a selection of Twitter comments sparked by the EastEnders’ storyline:

Eastenders' portrayal of social work left me in tears'

If eastenders portrayal of social work was accurate, its not a profession i would have trained to enter!

Knew there was a reason why I don't watch Eastenders! @BASW_UK how do they expect SWs to be help service users with such a bad portrayal

Eastenders had the chance to break down the stereotype of SW's being cold hearted child snatchers but chose the opposite

If BASW handle this eastenders thing well and stand up for #socialwork might consider joining

#eastenders story makes me so angry. #socialworkers are not like that and that just would not happen.

@BASW_UK The social worker on @bbceastenders is getting on my nerves! Demonising us so that people feel hostile towards us thanks eastenders

There's no one I hate more right now than Lola's social services worker from Eastenders. Grr! Damage needs to be done to her bone structure

Wouldn't be throwing some papers across the room if i were Lola, i'd throw the social worker across the room

Lola's social worker needs a punch

This social worker needs to die

The social worker actress on @Eastenders is playin her part well. Acting the big I AM and deservin a smack in the mouth!

The social worker from eastenders needs to get shot

Feel for Lola if that was my baby that social worker would have some teeth missing

That social worker on eastenders is a right bitch.Social workers ruin families many times

I actually hate the social worker in #Eastenders I know she's just acting but after this role I hate her in real life too!