In light of the controversy surrounding the EastEnders’ storyline, PSW put some questions to the show’s executive producer, Lorraine Newman. Here are her answers.
Is it important to EastEnders that you accurately reflect the reality of professions depicted on TV?
Yes, it is important that EastEnders accurately reflects the reality of professions on TV. However, Lola's story is not intended to be representative of everyone in the same situation.
Why did you choose to portray the social work intervention in the manner shown?
As with all of our stories that tackle social issues, EastEnders took great care when researching this storyline and worked with many professionals, including a registered senior social worker, who has over 20 years’ experience in local authority children's social work. It was never our intention to portray social workers in a negative light, in fact, as any regular EastEnders viewers will be aware, there was no suggestion that the social worker's concerns about Lola were unreasonable, especially given the picture she and the previous social worker had formed over a substantial period of time. In this storyline we follow Lola as the protagonist but the character does not feature in every episode. This storyline has been running for the past six months and during this time Lola had referred to other meetings and a variety of care workers but we do not see all of these meetings/discussions as, when you are following the lives of 40 characters, it is simply not an option. As a drama we focus in on the dramatic points of the storyline and whilst we strive to ensure meticulous research is carried out right across the show, we are unable to show every detail of every process.
Did EastEnders work with social workers or social worker representatives when developing this storyline?
EastEnders researched the storyline extensively, and sought guidance and advice from experts throughout the process, from the planning and development stages, through to scripting and filming. For this particular storyline we consulted the following:
A child protection coordinator
Child protection unit
A CAFCASS officer (court & legal procedure advisor)
A crime scene manager
Met police (police procedure advisor)
A solicitor from Coram Children's Legal Centre (legal advisor)
A solicitor, specialist in family law
A midwife (parenting classes advisor)
All of those involved were happy that our storyline was accurate.
To what extent can you understand or sympathise with the concerns expressed by social workers about the way this negatively shapes the public's perception of the work they do?
We believe that EastEnders audience fully appreciate this is a drama and therefore understand why every aspect of the social worker's work (and the detailed processes associated with it) have not been shown.
To what extent can you understand that such a glib and crude depiction of a social worker in such a prominent drama will have an impact on real professionals entering the homes of families where they are already feared and mistrusted?
We believe the EastEnders audience will appreciate that this particular social worker, 'Trish Barnes' is not intended to be representative of her entire profession. Indeed, Lola's previous social worker developed a much stronger rapport with her. What the audience has seen is the desire of both to always act in the best interests of Lexi. Over the course of this storyline, we have (and will continue to) introduce a number of social workers, all with varying personalities, as is the case in real life.
In hindsight and in light of complaints received about the portrayal of the Social Worker, would you have done things differently?
No, we are happy and confident with the research we have undertaken to tell this storyline.
Would you expect a social worker to vote for EastEnders in the National TV Awards?
Voting for awards is an entirely personal decision and EastEnders would never assume support from any given profession.
Would you consider working with BASW in future when developing story lines involving social workers, to ensure that your programme more accurately reflects real life, and causes less harm to important professionals, while still ensuring that the drama necessary for a popular soap is not diminished?
We have a senior child protection coordinator at a child protection unit who regularly advises us and are always happy to add further experts to our research contacts database.