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Reinforcing the Damaging “Take Your Children” Stereotype

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One of the most damaging stereotypes of social work is that of the social worker as a heartless government functionary whose primary job is to “take away your kids.” Anyone who is familiar with social work knows that this is a horribly inaccurate view of what social workers do. Yet every so often there occurs a case that underscores just how these stereotypes get created… and when they do, the whole profession suffers.

Olivia Rudgard, in the Telegraph, relates the disturbing story of a child taken from her grandparents and place in foster care after the child was locked in her room overnight. “The seven-year-old, from the West Midlands, was put into the care of the local authority after social workers found out that she had been locked in to prevent her from wandering around,” Rudgard writes. “The couple say that Judge Rosalind Bush, a senior family court judge, ruled that the child should go into care after a private hearing in Wolverhampton. But they have not had a written explanation or seen a judgment so don’t know why the decision was made… Earlier this month researchers said people were being left with a ‘patchy understanding’ of the family justice system because judges did not consistently following guidance on the publication of case rulings.

In other words, when bureaucrats and government functionaries take children from their homes in a seemingly arbitrary or capricious manner, it isn’t just the families who suffer. It’s the also the reputations of the social workers and family court personnel involved. Taking a child from a home is always a serious matter. Sometimes it’s obvious that this should be done. Sometimes it’s less so. But if a child is taken away for what seems like unreasonable cause, all social workers are seen as “child snatchers’ who are eager to abuse their considerable power.

This is a great time to point out that creating negative stereotypes of social workers isn’t just a matter of professional disrespect. Social workers have been targeted for violence and murder by clients and family members who felt the social workers were abusing their power. We cannot afford to allow these stereotypes to be reinforced. Cases like the one Rudgard highlights do just that, however… and they hurt everyone involved in the process.

Do you feel you have been unfairly stereotyped as a social worker? Do you see those in your profession behaving in ways that reinforce negative stereotypes? How would you address this issue if you had the power to make positive change… and what do you think you can do right now? Please share your thoughts with us now in the comments.

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