Changing the Public's Perception; Social Workers Make the Deadlines Only When There Is Bad News. However, a New Fly-on-the-Wall Documentary Being Screened Tonight Aims to Address Negative Attitudes about the Profession

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Byline: Niki Chesworth

[bar] AMNED if they do, damned if they don't. This is the title of the first programme in a new BBC2 fly-on-the-wall documentary series, Protecting our Children, about social work which starts tonight. The title sums up the poor perception of social workers who hit the headlines only when there is a failure in the system such as the tragic Baby P case.

However, rather than deterring people from wanting to join the profession, exposing just how challenging the role of a social worker can be is expected to do the opposite -- and lead to a rise in interest in social work courses.

This is what happened when a previous series, Someone to Watch Over Me, was screened a few years ago and the Open University, the production partner for the series, has prepared a range of resources to go online to coincide with the transmission.

"When previous programmes have gone out showing just how difficult and stressful being a social worker can be, more people seem to want to become one," says Owen Davies of The College of Social Work.

Social work has also become the subject of a new play, Shallow Slumber, which has just opened at the Soho Theatre.

Written by Chris Lee, a social worker for more than 20 years, it is set in the wake of the Baby P case when the social work profession was being vilified.

Lee chose to become a social worker because he believes that "if you are going to do a real job, you might as well do something that would be socially useful".

He draws on this experience for the play, which aims to capture some of the fear, panic and sense of persecution that all social workers felt in the weeks the Baby P story was in the headlines.

TOUGHER THAN EVER There is no doubt that social work is a challenging job, with social workers sometimes having to deal with aggressive and menacing clients, but the economic downturn has made it even tougher. Reforms should mean that social workers are freed up to spend more time in face-to-face interaction with clients and less time bogged down by bureaucracy. While this is welcomed by the profession it comes at a time of budget cuts.

Last week, the Commons Health Select Committee published a survey showing that two-thirds of councils are cutting social care budgets by an average of 6.6 per cent. The profession is now pushing to move social work higher up the political agenda.

Following lobbying from the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), an All Party Parliamentary Social Work Group has been formed. Hilton Dawson of BASW says: "Social Work has the skills to help people achieve change in their lives."

NEWLY QUALIFIED NEED HELP It is a myth that there is a shortage of social workers. There are shortages in a few specialist areas, but at the entry level there are far more candidates than jobs.

"We estimate that around a third of newly qualified social workers are struggling to find work, because of budget cuts and because employers want to employ people with experience," says Joe Godden, professional officer of BASW.

One way to address this issue is to give the newly qualified an additional year of on-the-job training and later this year the Assessed and Supported Year of Employment will be introduced.

However, it will not be compulsory and not every newly qualified social worker may be able to find an employer to take them on.

"Some social workers have been finding it hard to find that first job," adds Davies of The College of Social Work. Some employers want more life experience and at 21 it is very frustrating to have qualified but not to be able to find a job. …