“Hookers, it seems, are the new social workers and they are demanding respect.”
~Des Houghton, Australian Courier Mail
When you look at the image to the left, do you think “social worker”? No, me either. So it came as a bit of a shock when I received the link for a recent news article run in the Courier Mail entitled, Dark underbelly to sex industry spin and read Des Houghton’s above quote.
I’m not going to speak today about the content of this article as much as I am going to speak to the one line contained within it that raises a whole bunch of questions for me about social work in Australia, public perceptions and the steady decline of qualified social workers we are seeing across the Child Protection sector.
I have spent most of the last couple of weeks working to establish a Child Protection Social Worker reference group through PeakCare and the better part of the last week looking at the current Australian Social Work Education and Accreditation Standards (ASWEAS) review, and writing a submission. I’ve been talking and writing about:
- seeing a decline in the number of qualified social workers working across the child protection sector in Queensland
- seeing ongoing significant issues with recruitment and retention of social workers who work in the child protection sector
- seeing de-professionalization of the child protection workforce in general
- hearing that social work students do not see child protection work as “desirable social work”
- hearing that the practice environment for social workers is difficult and sometimes downright hostile.
I read this Courier Mail article and Des Houghton’s statement and I shake my head. I have a pretty good idea why he put “hooker” and “social worker” in the same sentence. Maybe he sees that both groups are marginalized. Maybe he sees both groups struggling to gain recognition and professional standing. Maybe it’s about the under-valuing of ” women’s work”. Or maybe he thought it was a provocative “joke”. I don’t know. I do know that many people in the general public will not ‘get’ the comparison.
What I also know is that social work is still considered the qualification of choice for child protection work in most areas of the world. I know that we bring incredibly important values, ethics, practice frameworks and skills to the table. Social workers speak the language of social justice, anti-oppressive, emancipatory practice and critical reflection. We understand the difference between personal problems and political ones, systemic issues and people problems. We work across systems and we understand “joined up working”in practice as well as in theory. We do incredibly complex and challenging work, and most of us do it incredibly well. Our work matters.
Social workers matter and this one demands respect … for all of us and for all the vulnerable children, young people and families that we work to support.
Fiona McColl (Social Worker) – Training and Sector Development Manager, PeakCare