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To social services it seems all publicity is bad publicity

28th Mar 2009 | in Social Care

Some areas of the media undoubtedly like nothing better than to criticise social services. So a glowingly positive story by SocietyGuardian would surely be welcomed, wouldn’t it?

Social workers discuss case

Social workers discussing a case. Photograph: Martin Godwin

During the Baby P case many people involved with social services complained – with some justification – that the media only takes an interest in them when things go wrong. Why, they asked, do newspapers not write about social services’ successes? Well, if my experience of the last few weeks is anything to go by there is a reason other than the vulture-like tendencies of the press.

A couple of months ago I came across a remarkable young man. He arrived in this country as an unaccompanied minor, a refugee from Afghanistan, at the age of 15. He had lost his father and his stepfather, not to mention his education, to the traumatic events in Kabul. Now he is reading medicine (and, in his spare time, TS Eliot) at Cambridge University. He is involved with social services trying to help improve the chances of other unaccompanied minors and he eventually wants to work for one of the international humanitarian organisations. Asked who had been the greatest help to him in turning his life around, Mohammed named a Kent social worker.

Here was a truly positive story about social services, and SocietyGuardian thought it would be great to interview Mohammad and this social worker together about how they had achieved such success and what could be learned from their experiences.

I tracked down the social worker and telephoned, but was diverted to the press office. The press officer was charming, positive and said she would call me back in a day or two. Nothing happened. A week later I called again. Still charming and positive, she said she would definitely get back to me … Not a squeak.

This pattern continued for several weeks until finally the press office said that it was fine with them if I did the article but that they hadn’t been able to speak to the social worker’s department. The press officer would, um, call me back. One more call (from me) established nothing further, so I called the elusive department myself – getting straight through.

I explained the problem and a delightful lady at the other end said she understood that a senior manager was unconvinced about the article. I offered to speak to this person or anyone else concerned at their convenience to explain what is it was I was trying to do. I also pointed out that SocietyGuardian is hardly the tabloid press. This most understanding lady said that she hoped it didn’t take this much time and effort to get each of my stories!

Another silence. I had now been chasing this story for seven weeks. Despite being promised a response every time I spoke to them, I had yet to receive a single call from anyone at Kent county council. Mohammad was still keen to tell his story in the hopes that it might inspire others, so I decided to have one last try. The press officer is now becoming almost as frustrated as I am (though still not actually phoning me back); they DO want positive coverage she insists, but the manager remains adamant. After two months of to-ing and fro-ing, the answer is “No”.


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