1.1 Complex issues: social work, risk and the media
It can be argued that, on many occasions, social workers engage with some of society’s most complex issues, often being called on to intervene alongside other professionals or when a series of interventions have not been effective enough to keep a service user supported or safe. For example, many young people coming to the attention of social workers may already be known to teachers, school counsellors, health professionals or others, before their situation arrives at the point of needing social work action.
At this point, social workers do not make decisions about how to respond to perceived risks alone. Their judgements are made in conjunction with service users, their kin and networks, and in discussion with other significant professional people – for example, doctors, teachers, other health workers, lawyers and the police. These professionals will have important information that needs to be considered. Also, social workers can only act where the law permits. They do, however, have significant power given to them by law, and this has to be exercised ethically.
It can be argued that politicians and especially the media – in the shape of newspapers, radio and television – demonstrate little understanding of the complexity of the social work task. There often seems to be an unrealistic expectation of omniscience, when in fact social workers can only work with the information and resources available to them.
When social workers are blamed for ‘failures’ in particular circumstances, there may be some errors of social work practice to learn from, but it is also important to consider the complexity of the wider picture and the way in which a ‘blame culture’ is not helpful to the profession. You now focus on child protection and a five-minute extract from a BBC documentary – Baby P, The Untold Story (broadcast in October 2014). This footage shows some aspects of events surrounding the death of Peter Connelly in August 2007.
Activity 2 Can all risk be managed?
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