Community Care has published this story about social workers’ fears of being named in the media. This reminds us that it’s not just children who worry about this prospect, but also professionals. The article is sponsored by Unison, the trade union, on behalf of their members who have responded to a Community Care survey on stress in the workplace.

New research by Community Care shows that almost 80% of social workers are thinking of leaving their jobs because of stress. UNISON has growing concerns that one of the contributors to this stress is the pressure surrounding social work in the courts.’

Unison is now conducting its own survey on members’ views about media access and court work in general. This can be accessed here. Presumably, it includes a check that it is being completed by genuine Union members, so the results should be helpful in contributing to the debate.

Unison is recommending:

  • More awareness raising and debate within the profession
  • Proper risk assessments ahead of court proceedings and applications for anonymity for social workers where there are specific risks
  • Ensuring court report writing and evidence are covered to a high standard in training and CPD
  • Workload management measures including protected court preparation time and support
  • A comprehensive media and social media strategy in every employer to protect social workers
  • Health, safety and welfare support measures
  • More liaison and engagement between social work services and the judiciary

All good points but there has never been automatic protection of social workers’ identities in family court cases. This can only be successfully argued when identifying the social worker might identify the child, or there is evidence of direct risk to adults concerned. Unison is a bit late to the debate.

Ironically, the shocking treatment of social workers (and a paediatrician) by the media following Peter Connelly’s death is partly a result of the laws which protected his siblings from being named. As the Panorama TV programme broadcast in October showed, if the media had been able to name and show pictures of the three adults who were charged with the offences (Peter’s mother, partner and another man living in the household) then they may have left the Haringey staff alone. But the media (including BBC and ITV) were so desperate for a picture of someone to blame, they turned on Sharon Shoesmith et al (with a little political help).