A review of The Truth About Social Work, by Social Work Tutor
This post was intended to be a post about a book, but its grown like Topsy. I have therefore split it into two posts, the first is about Social Work Tutor, the author of the book, and the second about the book itself. You can read the first part here. This is the second part.
So, why a book review?
I wanted to see what this book was like. I wanted to review it with an open mind and NOT judge it by its cover or my pre-existing worries about SWT's other output. Others have faith in SWT and I wanted to be proved wrong, to find that the book was the best of SWT and the best of social work. As my first two requests for a review copy were ignored, and the third resulted in: "Unfortunately I've already lined up a review distribution and press release list and you're not on this", I ordered a copy myself. The description of what the book contains actually sounds interesting, and I hoped that it will offer something valuable to the much needed debate about social work.
I read the book in two sittings. It isn't all bad. But it isn't all great either. The Sharon Shoesmith interviews were interesting enough. Alongside those are a series of interviews with various social workers which would have been better if not written up in the style of a Caitlin Moran Melody Maker interview (but without the fags). There are some heartrending accounts of what it is to be a social worker, either written by the social workers themselves (sometimes with a top and tail from SWT), or in the form of a SWT muso-style interview - of the impossible workload, the strains of bureaucracy, and the emotional and physical toll on the social worker and their family life. But we know that already, right? This book is billed as a book to tell the truth about social work, "not as told by journalists, observers or academics, but by the people on the frontline of this profession themselves". Mainly what it is, is a book about how difficult, awful, self-destructive it is to be a social worker, rather than about social work itself or the power it has to change lives. Some of the individual posts (none attributed) are well written and thought provoking. Sadly only one is by a service user, and the framing by SWT emphasises the Hollywood-esque idea of redemption through the love of a good man in a way which I found uncomfortable (whatever happened to two years of therapy and the Freedom Programme on loop?).
But it is the curation of this compilation by SWT as much as his amateurish writing style that bothers me the most. The choice to focus almost exclusively on the travails of the heroic and misunderstood social worker rather than social work or its subjects. Almost completely absent from the book were the stories of good, effective, innovative social work that changes lives for the better - the leit motif was of well meaning social workers battling but always frustrated in their every effort by the system. I've seen that, it rings many bells with me and I sympathise (and goodness only knows we lawyers complain about our lot, too). But it is merely one "truth" or one part of the "truth" about social work. I was left utterly depressed. And I was left wondering who this book was written for. Not for the public, or the punters being social worked.
No. I wasn't left wondering who this book was written for at all. It is pretty damned clear that this book was written for social workers. To make themselves feel better. To make themselves feel part of a community of the oppressed and put upon. Good for solidarity, but not good for reflective social work - which should always always always be about the children or adults with whom a social worker is engaging. I'm not a social worker so perhaps I'm not qualified to have an opinion but I'm an outsider who read this and this is what I saw of your profession through the lens of SWT : this book is a great big fat whiny "But you don't understand!" This is not advocacy. It is self pitying Misery Lit.
I am conscious here that I write a blog about life in my own profession, and that from time to time in doing so I write about how tough it is, how stressful, thankless, depressing, underfunded the bar is... Am I being hypocritical? I don't think so. I hope that I am always mindful that what I write is seen by not just lawyers but all sorts of other people too - and the many comments I get suggest that overall I generally strike the right balance with both other lawyers and others, in particular those litigants who are often service users to a social worker. Indeed many, but not all, of my posts are specifically directed at or written in a style intended to be accessible or useful to litigants in person or those with a lawyer but who want to find out more. Of course there are some readers who just think all lawyers are mercenaries without heart, and they will never be satisfied with anything I write, just as there are those who will never give credence to anything coming from a social worker. But whenever I write a little voice is saying "What would your client next week think if s/he read this?" And if the answer to that question is "They'd be horrified or offended by my attitude" then its probably something I shouldn't be publishing. What I'm not sure about is whether SWT is really asking himself those questions often enough.
As I concluded writing this blog post I noticed this meme on SWT's public Facebook page. The first comment on it reads : "True story! That’s because we spend so much time being a social worker and being in other people’s lives we neglect our own!" Sadly it compounds my view that SWT is tone deaf to the impact of his words on those his profession aim to help, and others who follow him are as oblivious.
A moment's thought about how this would be received by a parent involved in care proceedings (particularly one who has been told by others all about how social workers lie and fabricate "concerns") will tell you why this should never have been published. I hope I don't need to explain why to those who read this blog. What sort of advocacy for social work is this?
This post has been sent in draft to SWT and he has been offered a right of reply. He has not responded.