From their trade journals and everyday discourse, it is evident that social workers’ fear of hostile news media coverage is powerful and pervasive. As we have seen from earlier chapters, the anxiety generated by the most highly publicized trials following the death of a child has produced an inclusive mythology. Crucial—and potentially reassuring—questions about which media, in what circumstances, about what clients, of which agencies, are not thought through. It is already clear (and will become more so when the probation service and voluntary agencies are considered in later chapters) that, where there has been aggressive news treatment, it has focused on local authority social services. Does this mean that all national daily papers have an automatic predisposition to be at least critical (in the case of the centre left press and the broadsheets) or condemnatory (in the case of the Tory tabloid press) of everything that social services does, simply because it is social services? If so, we should expect that, when mistakes are made or controversial policies pursued in respect of client groups other than children, then the national press would use similar templates of coverage.
Of the many responsibilities of local authority social services, work with elderly people is the most significant competitor of child protection in terms of resources, especially as the major changes involved in community care policies are installed. With this in mind, I tried to find instances where social services could be seen as having failed in work with elderly people, or were being campaigned against, to compare the extent and style of press treatment. This of course raised in a more acute form the same methodological problem as the case studies of child protection work: how does one know of episodes which are not covered by the news media? Inevitably, then, the three examples of national news coverage considered below had received some media attention. The insight they provide comes from its scope, compared with arguably similar circumstances involving children.