11/01/2018 11:43 GMT | Updated 11/01/2018 11:46 GMT

Social Work Is Already Under Enough Strain And Negative Portrayals Like Channel 4's 'Kiri' Do Not Help

Negative and inaccurate representations fuel a culture of low self-esteem

Spencer Murphy

For those that missed it, episode one (four in total) of the new social work drama ‘Kiri’ aired on Wednesday on Channel 4 at 9pm.

In a nutshell, Sarah Lancashire plays Miriam, an experienced social worker who starts the day off by pouring contents from a hip flask into her morning ’brew. Following a brief walk with her dog, some humorous exchanges with a fellow dog owner and after dropping off some sausages for an ex-service user, she arrives at Kiri’s foster placement. Kiri is one of Miriam’s cases. She is a nine year-old black girl on the verge of being adopted by a white foster family.

Miriam takes Kiri for an unsupervised contact with her paternal grandparents. During this visit Kiri is abducted by her birth father. As the allocated social worker, Miriam finds herself involved in the middle of a serious investigation and is left feeling isolated and unsupported by her line manager and service. By the end of the first episode, Kiri’s body is found on the Bristol Downs and Miriam is suspended.

Firstly, it must be acknowledged that Sarah Lancashire is a fabulous actress. But this I already knew! Overall, I enjoyed some elements of her humour and ‘quirkiness’ as a social worker (minus the hip flask and drink-driving incident). It was clear from the onset that Miriam, like 99% of social workers, is passionate and dedicated to her work. I liked how Miriam demonstrated good person-centred and active listening skills. She was attentive, firm, honest and advocated on behalf of others; something which I think most social workers can relate to. It was also clear that she tried to work in partnership as a shared journey.

Yet, I cannot help but feel slightly deflated. It is not lost on me that this is a TV drama series and, as such, it will be heavily sensationalised. However, there are a number of significant inaccuracies depicted that I believe will only serve to further harm or distort our already embattled profession.

Firstly, I cannot accept (as it is procedurally inaccurate) that Miriam, as a social worker, would be left solely responsible for allowing unsupervised contact between Kiri and her paternal grandparents. For this to happen a detailed assessment would be required with an up to date care plan. Also, such a decision would not be made in isolation by the social worker; it would be agreed at a Child Looked After Review Meeting and on a multi-disciplinary basis. Most importantly, any line manager (worth their salt) would have had 100% oversight of this case and would agree (or not) in principle to the arranged unsupervised contact.

Spencer Murphy


Now, I appreciate that perhaps I am being a touch hypersensitive here. However, I am for good reason. This is because there are systemic recruitment and retention issues within the profession. Yesterday we reported on how there has been a rise in social workers taking ‘sick leave’ due to work load pressures contributing to their emotional wellbeing and mental health . Whilst public perception of social work has improved, there still exists a culture of low self-worth and self-esteem. I believe such negative and inaccurate representations of our profession only feed this inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy.

I acknowledge that there are some real issues that need addressing here; Such as the lack of support some social workers experience in frontline practice and how quickly things can go ‘wrong’. I am also aware of senior officials using social workers as a scapegoat. However, we work with those assessed as the most vulnerable in society at their time of need. Our work is not benign or stationary, it is one that is a fluid process and of constant change. Therefore, we must accurately depict social workers for what they do if we are ever to achieve parity and better influence the profession.

Finally, I will end on this note; there will be those in the profession that will have enjoyed this first episode and there will be those, like me, who were not convinced. Whilst I accept it is a TV drama series and should therefore be taken for ‘what it is’, we must also be mindful of the influence this could have on our current and future workforce.

This blog first appeared on One Stop Social.