Over the last couple of years, social work jobs have become somewhat less popular as a career path for young people, as a few high profile cases have drawn attention to the negative side of social services jobs. More specifically, in the case of the tragic death of the infant known as Baby P, the social work team was landed by the press with a significant amount of the blame for the events that lead to the child’s death. However, the recent decision of the Sun newspaper to apologise unreservedly and pay undisclosed compensation to the social worker involved in the events concerned may give some hope to those who are anxious about the likely effect of the press’s coverage of the case on anybody interested in social worker jobs.
Sylvia Henry, who worked as a social worker in Haringey, London for 23 years, was accused in articles published in the Sun of having been ‘grossly negligent’ in her handling of the Baby P case, and the newspaper stated that she was ‘thereby to blame for his appalling abuse and death’. The newspaper had also stated that Henry had shown no remorse for her oversights, and had ducked responsibility for the child’s death. The litigation challenged a run of articles published in the newspaper over four months from November 2008, which also claimed that Henry was lazy and had often shown disregard for the safety of children. As anybody who is employed within social services jobs tends to be motivated by a strong concern for the welfare of the children under their care, these allegations were surely particularly upsetting for Sylvia Henry.
The Sun also ran a ‘Justice for Baby P’ campaign, which named Henry and called for certain Harringey social services staff to be fired and blacklisted from any future work with children. The newspaper gathered 1.6 million signatures for its petition, which was passed to Downing Street. After court proceedings between Henry and the newspaper, a spokesperson said that the Sun ‘unreservedly accepts that there is no justification for any of the allegations’, adding that she was not to blame in any way for anything done by the local services that may have contributed to baby Peter’s tragic abuse and death. What is more, they accepted that she had done her very best for Peter, even making efforts to have him placed in foster care.
Many people with an interest in social work jobs have seen this decision as a positive move in terms of the tendency of the media to conduct witch-hunts against those in social services jobs in high profile cases such as this. When a tragedy occurs, there is surely enough misery and heartbreak already, without having to drag those in social worker jobs through a professional and personal trial by the media.
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