The Truth About Social Work Tutor – Part II

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.

 

 

11 thoughts on “The Truth About Social Work Tutor – Part II

  1. Thank you for your insightful post. Having been a ‘fly on the wall’ in some FB social worker groups, for a long time, I am completely unsuprised by the tone of SWT’s book, its lack of applicability to social services’ client base, and the lack of response by SWT to your invite of right to reply.

  2. Thanks for the review! As a recently qualified SW I have been increasingly concerned by SWT and associated Memes which Have a negative impact on the profession in terms of how others perceive us. Making a mockery of people’s lives and social issues for a quick laugh is truly unprofessional…

  3. Writing as a Trainee Solicitor shortly due to qualify into Care law (private practice, not Local Authority), whose fiancée is a Local Authority Social Worker (what a pair we make), we are united in our distaste for the tone of SWT’s work. I bought and read the book. She refused to read it on principle.

    I have read both your posts with interest – and broad agreement. Not so much the “Truth about Social Work” but “An Opinion on how being a Social Worker is unbearably awful”. I tend to take a simplistic view that if you don’t like your job you look for another one. It’s probably fair to say that being fed a diet of self-aggrandising misery won’t do Social Workers very much good as a profession but then maybe it helps them get through it. Perhaps he performs a service by leading a chorus of whinging, so everybody vents and then gets back to work. Who is to know?

    Ultimately, I would judge SWT by his intentions. His book reads as somebody who genuinely believes he sets out every day to improve and safeguard and believes in the value of his profession to do that. I’m not sure I believe that silly memes are are harmful to service users as you do but your recent blogs imply that you have explored some of the stuff said by parents on the internet and you might be better informed to pass comment. I should be interested to hear if you have seen parents commenting on the stuff shared and what those comments say?

    Finally, I like the idea of using the ‘What would a client say if they read this?’ litmus test for your blogging. If I ever start a blog I might use that one, as well as “How much would I be blushing if this was read out to the SDT or High Court?”

    • Thanks for your comment Adam. In answer to your question I have seen some service users react with horror to his posts, but in fairness there is limited cross over between the membership of social work facebook and parent facebook. But for my part its not about how many see it and are offended by it, but about how many social workers are influenced by it and take the attitude / tone subtly into their interactions with parents. Certainly many parents have told me how hurt and angry they have been to see social workers (and lawyers) joking and huddling at court, or talking disrespectfully to or about them. If we are not mindful of our impact on people on social media there is a risk we are not mindful in our real lives either.

      The blush test is a good one, but I find as I get older I blush less easily. Anyway, I thought long and hard before publishing these posts – and so far nobody has told me I’ve got it wildly wrong. I hope you are right about SWT’s intentions. If you are he will reflect and change and become the force for positive social work and social work advocacy that he has the power and potential to be.

      • The alternative, that he is a cynical businessperson peddling his pessimistic commentary on his profession for profit and status is disturbing in the extreme.

        • It is. I hope that is not it.

        • Disturbing but not neccessarily suprising to me. Given how many LA SWs seem to also be working for themselves in private practice as as ‘independent’ SWs, concurrent with and around their LA jobs, undoubtably giving rise to conflict of interests. There appears to be a lot of ‘in it for the money’ attitudes when it comes to Family Law public and private law cases across all the professional sectors involved. We even had to write to the LA’s solicitor after he rocked up at two seperate court hearings and warn him that as his law firm of whom he was principal, had been involved in our case before it had ever gone to court, he was in CLEAR conflict of interests and that he should withdraw immediately or we would contact the SRA. It was appalling…. If he had read the case notes prior to attendance then he could not possibly have missed the fact that two of his junior solicitors had already been involved in the case initially as OUR solicitors when it was strictly a private family law case before LA involvement. As well as being the LA’s legal representative in their FC cases, he widely advertised including posters in the local supermarket store, that solicitors from his firm hold fortnightly free legal advice sessions at the local women’s aid charity on domestic abuse and violence issues… personally I call that a massive conflict of interests given that he is involved with the LA taking children away from victims of DV (normally the mother – and often sibling after sibling) and into fostering for adoption – what a way to get useful insider knowledge on the mothers….. I’ll leave the LAs earning income from the Govt for each child they get adopted (without parental consent) for another day….. ….

    • Adam, [edited]. Maybe not as simplistic as a business man but rather someone who has an unhealthy need for praise and positive self regard. This leads to a rejection of all other views and an unequivocal shut down of anyone who dissents from his narrative. He has become increasingly harmful in the way he interacts with social workers/service users/other professionals/anyone who disagrees and I am heartened to hear that you and your partner are dubious about his output and his agenda

  4. BTW he withdrew from our case but has since repeatedly refused under Data Protection requests to give us any copies of any our records from his firm….. (note to self…… MUST CHASE that one up again!)

  5. Nice to see a blog that addresses what I’ve been thinking for sometime! I am a social worker and have been for 10 years in a variety of roles and SWT is in a great position to promote this wonderful profession. I do not agree with his constant negativity and his constant memes that are offensive to everyone I work with but me as a professional. It’s a wonderful career that I choose to do and even in the midst of minimal resources and no money – amazing work continues and amazing workers continue to work alongside families.

  6. Two very thoughtful and reflective blog posts, Familoo, thank you. As a practising social worker, I too am dismayed by many of the memes posted by SWT and, each time, resolve to remove myself from the thread. However, there is part of me that has to stay engaged so that I might check myself, ensuring that I don’t reflect such harmful stereotypical attitudes towards the children and families with whom I have the privilege to work.

    It pains me to have to line the pockets of SWT so that I might wallow in his self-aggrandisement and ‘pity-party’ for social workers. However, before I can comment on this literary folly, I must read it… If it proves to be the ‘pity-party’ so many have described, it will be money wasted. The profession of social work, like so many others, can be a thankless one, at times. Although, it has been my experience that, for every dark day there are a number of counterbalancing bright days. Obviously, mine is biased view, just as those of SWT and his contributors are.

    We are all laden down with our personal perspectives and there is a place for these but that place is not a book touted to guide the experiences of newly qualified professionals. At least, not without a counterbalance of views from service users and ancillary professionals. As you and Adam suggest, such an approach simply embeds the stereotypes.

    Before I do The Truth About Social Work and SWT any disservice, I will get a Kindle version of the text and make up my opinions. However, before I do, it is worth noting that the people really on the ‘frontline of social work’ ARE the service users. We social workers are ‘bit players’, we come in and we go out, we walk the proverbial ‘mile in the other person’s shoes’, then take the off, put on our own shoes, and allow the lender to put their shoes back on. Soldiers on the ‘frontline’ didn’t go home at night, sometimes worrying about what the morning will bring or whether those left behind will be okay (I know colleagues do that). Frontline soldiers lived in the squalor and mud day upon day, night upon night, just like our service users do. THEY are the ones living on the ‘frontline’, they are the ones deserving of the bulk of our thoughts and wishes, not ‘hard done by’ social workers. We get paid to get involved in the crises, we have leave and TOIL to enable us to protect our sanity and we have supervision and team meetings to maintain our perspective; benefits NOT available to those really fighting the fight on the ‘frontline’.

    We social workers need to maintain perspective, so respect to those with whom we work and move away from the ‘protector’, ‘superhero’ image propagated by some ‘populist’ writers.

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