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PSW: Social work needs positive narrative to highlight its worth to the public

Social work must get ‘smarter’ at telling good news stories about the difference it makes to people’s lives and wider society.

The message came from a Social Work Summit organised by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).

Speakers at the event said the profession must form alliances with the people it works with, the media and others who can help communicate a more positive narrative and win public support.

Brid Featherstone, Professor of Social Work at the Open University, said: “This is not about presentation and spin, it is about finding better ways to be heard. We need to craft good stories.

“Good stories appeal to people’s values. In this country there are values around fair play, around equality, around decency and a decent society. If we think about it, we can find those stories in social work.

“You have to tell the story in a way that makes people really think about equality or about life chances. We need as a group to get smarter at that.”

Dr Ruth Allen, who will take over as BASW Chief Executive in April, added developing “the new stories around social work” was key to influencing public opinion.

“We do that co-productively with the people we serve and work with; the families and individuals. That joint story about what great social work has achieved, what it needs to achieve and indeed has already achieved in making a difference to people’s lives.

“It is through that lens that we can challenge the injustices that we see everyday.”

Dr Allen added that the profession needed to be “in an alliance with the public at large” to show it was part of improving the “wider constituency” of society.

Dr Terry Murphy, Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Teeside University and member of the Social Work Action Network, highlighted how a campaign in Los Angeles successfully changed the public’s perception of social work.

“They had social workers walking down the street with crowds cheering and hundreds of new workers were recruited. Before that, local government was refusing to increase the number of social workers and traditional protest strikes weren’t working, so the union changed strategy to using infomercials to tell the public what social workers do.

“Massive support followed. We need that kind of new thinking here.”

Dr Murphy said lobbying MPs had proved “ineffective” so MPs must be made to feel it is: “in their best interest to support social workers”.

That, he said, involves forging alliances with activists and sympathisers within mainstream political parties to get across the profession’s voice.

Read BASW Chair Guy Shennan's blog post about the day 'Social work practitioners and service users at the summit'