“Social workers suck.” That about sums it up.

4 11 2010

The term “social worker” doesn’t arouse warm and fuzzy feelings in most people. The search terms that direct people to this blog are a pretty good indication: “bad social workers,” “social workers suck,” “social workers don’t know anything,” and “what to do about a bad social worker?” are some of my favorites. (Aside from “black guy from Yo Gabba Gabba” and “elderly tracksuits,” but those are really off topic.)

I blame the damn media. (This is where my similarities to Sarah Palin begin and end.)

We get it in news reports. The death of a child at the hands of an abusive caretaker is horrifying, infuriating, and also rare. It rightly causes outrage, and finger-pointing.

Without delving too much into what is no doubt a very complex issue, there is a lot of failure that goes into a child being so horribly abused. Parents, schools, the bureaucratic child welfare system as a whole, and child welfare workers–that includes caseworkers, social workers, and supervisors.

Listening to commentators on the subject (I think we all know that there’s no better way to drive yourself to tear your hair out than to listen to opinions on talk radio) the only people who need to be held accountable are those lazy, disinterested social workers. You know, the ones who take children from good parents, and leave kids to rot in abusive foster homes? Somehow they always get it wrong.

Where does this stereotype come from?

I remember watching ER in college. My roommate was a nursing major, and she couldn’t get enough of it. It almost started growing on me, until the first social worker appeared.

She coldly insisted that a child with a couple of bruises be removed from his loving parents’ home, while the dashing Dr. Carter begged for her to see reason. She explained, still with no emotion, that she “had no choice.”

You see, social workers get caught up in red tape. Interns in public emergency rooms? They just follow their hearts.

Then there are the movies.

I Am Sam? Poor Sean Penn Sam just wanted to win an Oscar raise his daughter with no reliable assistance even though he was ill equipped. Then that evil social worker shows up. And let’s face it, all social workers know that child removals simply don’t count unless they are done at said child’s birthday party. It just wouldn’t be as fun, otherwise. Thank goodness for lawyers! They show us the way back to our humanity.

Cartoons aren’t even exempt. Lilo & Stitch? OK, so Cobra Bubbles is a badass name for a social worker, but he is also rigid and judgmental. Apparently he comes around at the end, but he’s not really a shining example.

There are a lot fewer positive examples of social workers in the media. There are almost none that do anything other than remove children from their homes. My personal favorite was Detective Lacey Tyne Daly on Judging Amy. A flawed character on a flawed series, but she portrayed a social worker who loved children and consistently went above and beyond for them. It was always comforting for me to be able to see that, to remind myself of why I was working to become a social worker.

There aren’t many places I get that now. I was intrigued to see Maryann on season two of True Blood described as a social worker, and honestly, she’s my current favorite. Sure, she’s manipulative, dishonest, supernatural, and she caused a nice small town to erupt into spontaneous orgies.

But who hasn’t?