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British social workers angered over soap opera’s plot

Social worker Trish Barnes (right) and a policeman arrive to take custody of baby Lexi from mother Lola Pearce. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

The British Association of Social Workers is protesting a plotline on the BBC’s popular EastEnders soap opera that has an oppressive social worker removing the baby from the home of a teenage mother, according to this statement.

“It is disgraceful to see a publicly funded broadcaster deliberately spreading misinformation about the child protection process because it is too lazy and arrogant to get it right,” acting BASW chief executive Bridget Robb said in the statement.

EastEnders follows the lives of residents in a gritty, fictional East London borough. Since premiering in 1985 the top rated and award-winning program has covered many controversial issues, including rape, homophobia and racism.

In the October 5 episode social worker Trish Barnes (actress Tessa Churchard) took custody of baby Lexi from mother Lola Pearce (Danielle Harold) in an emotional scene.

Lola is a capable mother but the social worker was around only when negative things occurred, such as the apartment being dirty and when Lola used a tea towel as a makeshift diaper. Lola had also been arrested for assault.

So critics said the episode leaves the impression the social worker overstepped her boundaries and took the baby without just cause.

BASW said the episode did not accurately portray social work procedures in Great Britain. BASW, which is the largest professional social work association in the United Kingdom, also said they advise television programs but were not consulted about the EastEnders plot.

BBC defended the episode in a statement, saying they did not believe the plot disparaged social workers.

“There was no suggestion that the social worker’s actions arose from anything other than a genuine desire to protect Lexi, or that her concerns about Lola were unreasonable given the picture she and the previous social worker had formed over a substantial period of time,” BBC said.

BASW acting chief executive Bridget Robb. Photo courtesy of YouTube.

The Huffington Post United Kingdom edition ran an article and poll to gauge viewer’s reaction to the Baby Lexi episode. As of this morning 38 percent said the portrayal was unfair, 31 percent said it was just a soap opera and viewers should know the difference between fact and fiction, and 30 percent said EastEnders got the plot right.

Social workers often get a bad rap in the news in the United Kingdom. For instance, the profession was widely criticized in the news and Parliament after 17-month-old Peter Connelly, or Baby P, died in 2009 after being abused for months while social service workers visited the home.

BASW is worried the EastEnders storyline could further erode public confidence in the profession. BASW is urging members to vote against EastEnders winning a National TV Award unless BBC changes its stance.

“EastEnders’ shabby portrayal of an entire profession has made a tough job even tougher,” Robb said. “Social workers don’t court popularity but they also don’t deserve to have their work misrepresented and the people who rely on their support made fearful of social work involvement in their lives.”

Q: Do you think the portrayal of social workers on the news and on television shows is worst than in the United States?




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  1. Hate to say it, but the perception of social workers as “baby snatchers” exists worldwide. The last time I was in the Philippines, there was a popular soap opera which had children being mistreated by social workers in an orphanage. When I asked about the show, my family told me that it portrayed reality and that social workers in the Philippines often snatch children away from families, only to neglect them in orphanages. I suppose it’s not a surprise that my mom told everyone that I “worked in a hospital” instead of telling them what I really did for a living. Social work unfortunately has THAT poor of a reputation.

    I’m stumped as to how we social workers can repair our image on a GLOBAL scale. Anyone have any ideas?

  2. I too have been extremely offended by the negative depiction of the role of the social worker in family welfare. I am a social worker and have worked for many years in this field, and I’ve never met such a ham-handed social worker. The job of the social worker is to support the young, single mother, through her difficulties – not to hover over like a threatening spirit, looking for any opportunity to remove her baby from her custody. On the contrary, home visits, should provide understanding for the mother’s youth and inexperience, and help with practical resources. The only person in the show to give support to Lola is Tanya’s mother, who plays the real role of the social worker. And while we’re about this, it is not credible that a guy like Michael would be left without any support whatsoever, or even concern from the welfare authorities, for if there is a baby at risk in the series, it is his and Janine’s baby.
    Permit me to infer that your script writers have never met a real social worker.
    Sadly, this is not ‘just a soap’ – you create stereotypes in the minds of your viewers and shape their attitudes and expectations so that young mothers like Lola must shiver in their shoes at the thought of their intervention.
    Sharon Bacher

  3. I wish the social workers complaining about inaccurate portrayal had been present when I had my first and last experience with the social services.
    I find that the social worker could have easily been portraying the social worker that turned up at my house 10 years ago.
    From the refusal to give support, the constant threatening, the sly comments made to crush confidence I could go on…..
    I don’t doubt that there are plenty more people in this country who have had the misfortune to have had contact with the social services and who have also found that the BBC’s portrayal to be accurate.
    To Sharon Bacher…perhaps I could introduce you to the ham handed social worker who stood in my front room after my ex-husband had beaten me up yet again and told me to “take him back you can see he loves you.”
    I kid you not. Social Services have a negative reputation for a very good reason and unfortunately (and I wish it was different) it is one that is deserved.

  4. ….as a kinship carer i agree with the statement below….come on BBC get it right, if you showed a fifth of the heartache, stress, emotions, assessments, Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks, medicals, meetings we attend, the constant trail of people in and out of our homes and walking through lives and our pasts, you would have a best seller on your hands.

    What judge or social worker would have given Phil a baby to be a kinship carer of. Kinship carers know all the assessments that are done CRBs medicals references etc I know it’s a soap but if they want to portray real life situations then get it right , If you want to help please write a complaint to the BBC saying how factually incorrect and damaging the storyline is.

  5. First and foremost, the entry level requirements for the practice of clinical social work is an earned graduate degree of sixty credits in social work (MSW) accredited by a social work education governing body and a State-issued professional license to practice clinical social work, the latter credential requiring 2,000 hours of clinically-supervised client psychotherapy within 2 to 3 years after earning the MSW. Clinical supervision must be provided only by a licensed clinical social worker. Biennial licensure renewal must require a minimum of 40 clock hours of continuing education instruction, including 6 hours in ethics, 6 hours in cultural competence, 20 hours in clinical seminars, and 8 hours of non-clinical seminars. These are the stringent requirements of the State of New Jersey, Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Consumer Affairs, Board of Social Work Examiners.

    The State’s child protective services agency historically has hired only civil service employees, not professionally educated, trained, and license to practice clinical social work. The child protective service agency is primarily a law enforcement entity, not a social work services agency. As such, child protective services caseworkers are authorized to move a child into State custody without a court-order which is tantamount to having the power of police to arrest someone. Until the child protective services agency is separated from its law enforcement authority and is reconstituted as a family service agency staffed exclusively by licensed clinical social workers, the public’s image of such caseworkers as heartless “baby snatchers” will remain unchanged.

    Although the State child protective services agency has linked up with graduate schools of social work to fast-track its caseworkers through an MSW degree program, it is mere disingenuous window-dressing and an exercise in futility if the institutional mentality remains unchanged. The mission must be to promote family permanence by exhausting all possible options to place the abused, neglected or abandoned child with extended family members or in the guardianship care of close family friends before pursuing foster and adoptive home placements.

    Competent licensed clinical social workers are empathetic and attentive listeners to their client’s expressed needs and respond in a genuinely caring manner to support the client’s goals of satisfying unmet needs. Competent social workers approach their assessments and services to enable the clients to become more self-confident, self-reliant, and hopeful of coping successfully with the challenging demands of their life space situations. To provide quality services, social workers need a manageable caseload and insightful and supportive clinical supervision due to the intensely emotional nature of working with children and their parents in dysfunctional family systems. The salaries of licensed clinical social workers should be able to support a middle-class lifestyle so as to attract, employ and retain the best of them.

    Any caseworker or social worker who presents as crude, crass, intimidating, condescending or uncaring person should be reported to the worker’s immediate supervisor and, if necessary, to follow the agency’s chain of command until the complaint has been resolutely addressed.

    In the town in which I live,a professional social worker is on-call 24/7/365 to accompany police officers on domestic violence cases, so that social work is the first option to settle the family situation. Local volunteers are trained and supervised as are the police detectives to work together as a crisis response team for spouses and children who have been victimized by domestic violence. The decision to file for a restraining order is the victim’s right to make. The goal of the crisis response team is to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who feel helpless or hopeless.

    Licensed Clinical Social Worker
    Certified School Social Worker
    Diplomate Emeritus in Clinical Social Work

  6. I dont understand how social services can say they are nothing like this, a similar case happened with my cousin and also when I was five years old a neighbor reported to the police i was being “harmed” the police came with social services didn’t even think about asking what was going on walked in and told me “my job is to take away naughty children” to which the police officer replied “I take away naughty parents” my mother was doing a good job as a single parent it was just the tantrums young kids have.

    Now they social services are butting there nose in my brothers’ lives yet again and over my dead body will they be treated how i was. An absolute joke Eastenders got it right for me!

  7. I was unable to see Lexi being taken away. However I have seen the story line which really annoyed me. I have had a situation with the social services with my children. All because of my partner but we went through the process and the children were never put on the at-risk register or taken away. Mostly because we worked with social services and argued our case. As much as I was annoyed with social services because we got picked on after 1 mistake by my partner it took two to five years of meetings to get them off our backs. But the joke of it was it was the child protection team that was pushing it by the third time where we had taken our son who had a mark on his hip which we didn’t know how he had done it he was just starting to walk and walking into tables etc. Social Services admitted to me that they didn’t want anything to do with us because they knew that we weren’t abusing our children but their hands were tied by the child protection team. By the 5th time they then decided that it had gone to far and knew I would take them to court. My point is the social services don’t operate the way that you have misled the case. They work with the family and only take children away from the family if they feel the children’s safety is at immediate risk. They also try their hardest to keep families together as it isn’t in anyone interest to take children away from their families unless they are at risk. Normally Eastenders are good at showing sensitive story lines but on this subject they are and have made a very serous mistake. Sort it out Eastenders give Lexi back as at the moment with your story line you are putting children lives at risk because any families that might have a dealing with social services might be scared of them by your story line and do something stupid not knowing that Social Service intention is to keep families together as much as they can and work with families to help improve them.

  8. This storyline was the reason I stopped watching EE. I had social workers for over 10 years as a child. Some I liked, some I hated. This is not how they work. Unfortunatly we only need to look at baby P for that. I quite like the idea of Lola using a tea towel for a nappy at least the baby had a fresh bum. If the nappy had been called terry towelling there would be no problem. As for a bit of washing up in the house and a bit of a mess. Have EE seen how some people live. The truth is Social services would offer help in the form of home start and parenting lesson etc ( where is this research) A socila worker doesn’t just come in and whip a baby away. They have child protection meetings where family members and outside agencies like the health visitor have meetings to put in structures to help the mum cope. It is laughable that Phil would get anywhere near that baby. He wouldn’t be making the decisions about when Lexi sees her or the decisions about the christening. EE have become very lazy with their research.
    The evidence BBc

    Phil mitchell
    Violent alcoholic
    Crack dependency
    Abducting a child
    The statement they had from Bens shrink.
    The CRB disclosure

    On tag for stupidity
    Was in care
    used a tea towel for a nappy
    A bit of washing up
    Didn’t go to mother and toddler group
    Billy told a lie

    Where is the urgent need for protection here?

    BBC, your response to BASW is pathetic. This type of storyline deserves accuracy. You should be encouraging those in difficulty to seek help not scare the living daylights out of them. The social services should be given a public apology and a quick rewrite of the script. Everything about this story is disgusting.

  9. The whole storyline is pathetic. Would Social Services take a baby away from a good mother and give it to a known thug and bully. He has a son in prison for murder and belongs to the biggest dysfunctional family in the world. I do know that this is just a soap, but if they want to use such strong controversial stories, they should at least make it realistic.

  10. social workers are nasty and are trained to see the worst in people.everyone can say that speaking from personal experience of themselves or from someone they know. they really should be re named as baby snatchers or family wreckers.i would put social workers up there with traffic wardens as the most hated group of one trusts them and most people have a good reason not to trust them.sadly in real life ,people have had kids took off them for much less than on eastenders

  11. I am a Clinical Psychologist and have treated child protection workers as patients and consulted them for help in certain cases I am treating. Patients describing their work appear to be very conscientious professionals who try to keep children with their parent(s). My patients would complain about supervisors who are more concerned for the agency and care less about helping troubled parents care for their children. On the other hand when I have asked for help for patients I have found a mixed bag, just as in any other profession.Generally the worst offenders were male workers who hated women and female workers who hated men and were therefore unable to have objectivity or compassion. I did think the workers on EE tended to favor men with money over impoverished vulnerable girls, and I was shocked by the way they removed Lexi from her mother. I attributed it to the style of soaps… shock, suspense and tune in next time. It is just a soap!

  12. first let me say I loved this show and every Wednesday night I would watch, but now with the young
    brats . and their trailer trash family who are dirty, lazy husband, rude mother and a pregnant daughter, is lowering the standards of this great show. I know you are losing viewers from what I hear from my friends. this longs soap opera was very intelligent, funny, exciting with all that was going on with honest people, but this family is lowing the standards of this great soap. I must say i’m not the type of person to even watch any soap, but this one was done so wonderful and expertly created I think it is now going down the tubes this is not only my opinion. I will say from now on I will not make time out of my life to watch trailer trash, their is enough of that on the other stations.
    shame on BBC for changing the high standards of tv. I also watch channel 21 and the bbc news.


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