The Woeful State of Our Debate: the Social Work Tutor

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

The Social Work Tutor is an anonymous practising social worker who runs a very popular Facebook site. At the time of writing it has 352,016 ‘likes’.  The site purports to offer “News, comment, debate, education and humour for the worldwide Social Work community”.

There is also a website which offers ‘shopping’ opportunties where you can buy T Shirts for £16 and a variety of mugs for £7.

I will make it very clear at the outset that it is obvious that Social Work Tutor has a powerful voice in the social work community, and he hasn’t gained that by offering nothing of worth. There are obviously many who take comfort and inspiration from what he posts, who enjoy his funny or inspirational pictures and quotes.

However, I have noted a clear trend over the past year for a number of posts and comments that appear to be promoting a very ‘them and us’ divisive line about social work. The Social Worker is recast as ‘hero’, or metaphorically battered and bruised by the heavy demands of the job, requiring our ‘pity’ because they have to interact so frequently with dangerous parents.

I, and many others,  have felt uncomfortable by this narrative. Social work – like the law – is not something you ‘do’ to people. It is not about treating the people who come into contact with social work (or the law) as worse or lesser beings. That is a very dangerous road to go down, as the lessons of history repeatedly show.

But I, and many others, support entirely the right of others to have a voice, to speak up, to argue for what they believe in. All that is asked in return is that they are willing and able to explain their position if challenged. Because this is how we grow and develop – not just our ideas but as people. I am now a much better lawyer (and a better person) since I started this site and began to let myself be open to challenge. If you start from a position of honesty and integrity, challenge is nothing to be feared. It is to be welcomed. If your position is not quite as honest and authentic as you hoped, why would you shy away from efforts to understand this?

On July 23rd 2016 I published on this blog a guest post from a social worker who wished to remain anonymous, called ‘Social Workers speaking out – what should they say?’ This was mainly a comment on an earlier post by Social Work Tutor in June 2016 on his site, about Ben Butler as an example of a ‘monster parent’ from whom children must be rescued (this particular post caused significant unease for many and has now been deleted). I published the guest post because I thought it was a fair and balanced piece about something very important; how social workers speak out and what can they say. Their voice is crucial in this debate and not often heard, due to restrictions often placed on the ability of social workers to engage with social media by their employers.

The response from Social Work Tutor was immediate – I must remove the post or he would take legal advice regarding defamation. This lead to my publishing this post ‘So you’re thinking of suing me for defamation?’ on July 24th as – sadly – Social Work Tutor is not alone in thinking that threats of legal action are sufficient to end debate.

I make the point again, as it doesn’t seem to be getting through. It is NOT ‘defamation’ if someone says something about you that you don’t like, or find annoying. You must show ‘serious harm’ to your reputation by the alleged defamatory comment. Truth is a defence to defamation. It is going to be very interesting to know the result of the Jack Monroe versus Katie Hopkins legal action, arising out of insults posted on Twitter, as I am hoping for a clear judgment from the court to reinforce what I already know.

Social Work Tutor and I exchanged some emails and he appeared to reach an understanding; that there was nothing defamatory in my post and I would not be removing it. I did however remove one sentence at this request. There, I thought the matter had come to and end.

But sadly not. From Twitter exchanges on 27th February 2017 it became clear that Social Work Tutor’s understanding had been either illusory or very short lived. He described my July guest post as a ‘shocking’ example of the ‘lack of decency’ in the debate around social work then blocked both my personal and CPR Twitter accounts.

I remain delighted to offer Social Work Tutor a right of reply to this or any other post of mine. I am always willing to listen to and to respond to requests to edit or remove material. Threats of legal action however are highly unlikely to achieve anything other than to reinforce my position and exacerbate my concerns about the person making them.

 

Conclusions

I am not the only person who has had such an experience and I have been contacted by others who are concerned by the reaction of Social Work Tutor to what they have seen as genuine and reasonable comment. It is not for me to comment on their experiences here – unless of course they would like me to – but what I have heard has caused me serious concern.

What I would hope to see from anyone who claims to be an important or significant voice in their field, is that they respond to challenge by seeing it as an opportunity rather than a threat. It isn’t difficult to distinguish the grunting of trolls who just want to destroy, from someone who genuinely wants to understand more about why you say what you do. If someone insults your appearance, your sexuality or uses foul language – block them, move on, they aren’t worth your time.

But if someone raises a genuine concern and you respond immediately with threats of legal action, or demands for an apology or silence – what are you? And what are you trying to do?

I think this is particularly important when someone anonymous professes to be a voice of a particular profession and who appears to be getting some financial advantage via their activities by selling mugs and T shirts.  Just what is being protected here?

I’ll leave you with the wise words of Ryan – a great example of nominative determinism…

17 thoughts on “The Woeful State of Our Debate: the Social Work Tutor

  1. Kirk Lewis

    I have just been blocked by the self styled guru of social work – The Social Work Tutor. Blocked and banished from his FB page & group and twitter too. The reason? I made a negative comment on a post of his. Bored of constantly seeing negative portrayals of social work my comment was “another negative social work story”. This comment not particularly directed at him, not abusive, threatening or offensive was obviously too much for the Social Work Tutors ego to take. I noticed quite quickly that my comment had been removed, and that I could no longer comment – I’d been blocked.

    I emailed the SWT who in an exchange of emails admitted that this was the only comment he had seen of mine and, based on this single statement, blocked me and stated in his emails that “my work is clearly not for you”.

    This situation is ludicrous and totally against social work values. I feel very oppressed by his disproportionate and punitive actions. How does he handle real life confrontation when service users or other professionals disagree with him? It seems to me that the Social Work Tutor Is fuelling his ego through this page and revelling in the adoration. Hilariously, on his page is an event in Belfast where he bosts being the keynote speaker on the subject of ‘uniting social workers’. Well I don’t feel very united!

    In fact, as I stated in our email exchange, he is accountable for what he writes and how it makes people feel, this is a serious matter. As a newly qualified social worker I have been completely put a career in local authority social work because of such negative press, its constant and he contributes to that realm of profession bashing. Some people find it funny, I find it unhelpful.

    Here’s what the SWT had to say…..

    “Your comment about ‘another negative article’ offered no constructive feedback, no solution and no offer to help address this issue you raise.

    In light of that, it appears as if my work is not for you.

    This is the only reaction of yours I have seen on the page and, as such, I can only base the suitability of my work for you on what I have seen tonight.

    Best wishes,

    Social Work Tutor

    …….unbelievable attitude from an a practicing social worker that quite clearly cannot take any criticism. Dare to disagree with the Guru and face eternal banishment.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I am sorry to hear this, but sadly not surprised.

      I simply do not understand why he cannot engage with even polite criticism.

      It’s really very odd and very sad.

      I’m not quite sure what to say! he’s blocked me on Twitter and I don’t bother with his Facebook page. I find his reactions completely disproportionate and very bizarre.

      Reply
  2. Kirk Lewis

    I forgot to say that the only other group tFB group that I have ever been banned from is far right group – Britain First. Same tactics of removing comments they don’t like and blocking dissidents.

    Reply
  3. Christian Kerr

    I am a social worker and i wholeheartedly agree with this post. There appear to be pockets of reasoned criticism dotted about the net regarding this fellow and the way he is feted by certain media as some kind of unofficial voice of the profession. I came across this post because I searched SWT after reading a short piece about a SW who was disciplined by their employer for using practice guidance gleaned from social media and put up by someone of limited practice experience and with no academic credentials, which immediately put me in mind of SWT. I do wonder. On a related note, SWT’s appropriation of the title ‘tutor’ is to my mind a pernicious attempt to evoke some kind of experiential/academic credentials and, sadly, it seems to have had the effect of contributing to the creation of a considerable social media following and, were it not for that, i would be content to ignore SWT and his musings. However, given the following, these things must be challenged openly. It is unfortunate that SWT’s main defence appears to be to shut down all criticism, which as has been said is extremely concerning even if only from an individual practice perspective.

    My personal dealing with SWT concerns the fallout from a comment i made on an article he wrote about a book he intended to write (seemingly with a view to again casting social workers as ‘heroes’) for a well known online social care news source, his response to which was to accuse me (and others) of being ‘nasty’ to him. Over successive comments we appeared to reach and understanding and he invited me to email him to discuss the substantive matters further in order to promote his understanding of alternative views. I subsequently sent SWT an email outlining my position and my view that SWs could be united by rediscovering their common purpose through the reclamation of a human rights agenda. I received no response, which was a bit rich given he had expressly invited me to contact him. But then, i shouldn’t have been surprised. My views clearly didn’t fall into line with the established SWT narrative nor do they chime with the commodification of social work which gives oxygen to the SWT brand.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I am afraid I see SWT as a clear example of the corruption that often follows attempts to ‘monetise’ a brand.
      It’s a great shame.

      Reply
  4. looked_after_child

    I’ve been thinking today about what an Ethical Adoption would look like – this article in Community Care brought me to this point
    http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2017/04/06/council-investigate-social-worker-criticised-judge-care-proceedings/
    I found the comments of many SWs alarming – concerned more about the ethics of the judge in the face of alarming ethical failings by the LA, Adoption Agency and SW in the case. Is this complacency or is it a case that you don’t need ethics when you know you are right?

    Is this where the child rescue narrative brings us to?

    Reply
    1. HelenSparkles

      I wouldn’t be alarmed that the SWs have chosen to have a discussion of covert recording, that is up to them, Community Care is a space they can use to do so.

      I also wouldn’t say that this is where the child rescue narrative brings us to, it might be where confusion about various judgements have brought some SW to regarding adoption https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/12/10/adoption-law-illustrated-by-way-of-passive-aggressive-post-it-notes-on-a-student-fridge/

      In the CC article, it seems clear that the judge agreed the parents were unable to look after their child safely, or to effect change in the child’s timescales. It is the LA’s job to state their view about the plan for the child, that they think will best meet their needs, and they do this using a balancing exercise. There is new SGO guidance which makes it very clear what the expectations are of family/friends who make such an application. Having ruled out family members, the LA’s plan was adoption. The independent social work assessment found otherwise, that doesn’t actually mean that either of them are right. This is why courts make decisions not SW.

      That is not to condone bad practice, it is of course absolutely fair of the judge criticise SW statements which are not borne out by evidence, or anyone ‘gunning for adoption’, and quite right that this should be investigated. I hope those supervising the SW, including the manager, are also investigated.

      Reply
  5. Anon

    As a practising social worker, I do find SWT a positive source (but not without negatives).

    I am an adults worker, so a lot of what is said/posted resonates less with me than my children’s services colleagues.

    However, what strikes me about your blog is the criticism of SWT’s “negativity”. Whilst I concede, there is negative posts, for me, they help me realise that my feelings aren’t invalid. Being a social worker IS hard. It IS tiring. Caseloads ARE high – dangerously so. Resources ARE scarce. These are the realities for many (I believe) and having worked in 5 counties and 5 LAs, I feel I have a fairly wide perspective (as much as an individual can have anyway!)

    I love being a social worker, I love my job. But I also find myself working 8am to 6pm most days to make sure service users get what they need in a timely manner, I feel guilt when I take annual leave.

    You may decide that made me a bad, ineffective, not very emotionally resilient social worker. I think it makes me human!

    The long rambling is essentially to say, I can understand your criticism, I just think it’s good to be aware that his work often does help some social workers out there.

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Of course, and I hope I acknowledged that SWT has clearly provided information that others find inspiring and helpful.

      When I criticise his negativity it is not so much that he comments on the ‘negative’ aspects of social work (but calling parents monsters is a step too far, I think) but that his response to any challenge or criticism is so very immediate and so very strong. This has lead him to being very rude and even intimidatory to a number of people. To threaten to sue me in defamation which he has now done on two separate occasions is a worrying over-reaction.

      I am afraid I do question his fitness to work with vulnerable people. And it is a real shame as he clearly does have some talent and ability to engage others.

      But of course, your comments about the difficulty and stress of social work are very well made. It’s just a great pity that SWT couldn’t have used the controversy about his ‘monster parents’ post as a spring board for more of a conversation about that – SW ARE overwhelmed, under pressure etc. How are they helped to handle this? What happens to all the difficult and negative emotions that their work must surely expose them to?

      Reply
  6. anon

    So glad to have come across this article…

    I jumped off the social work tutor site before I was pushed…the bullying came a little too close for comfort especially when sympathetic posters were posting screenshots of others that they disagreed with, giving details of where they live and threatening to contact care registers..

    Very oppressive site,highly one sided and not at all unbiased despite the use of inspirational quotes..

    Appraisal notes should read ‘more self reflective practice required’..

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      O dear. I am sorry to hear that. But sadly, not surprised. If you are not mature enough to take challenge as something to be welcomed, from which you might learn – but instead see it as an attack against which you must defend yourself…. then I think you have no business being a social worker.

      Reply
      1. anon

        Totally…

        The behavioural patterns of the blogger were amazing to watch however…peaking late at night around election time…obvious social work hat off…

        Lots of talk of beating racism and embracing difference…no evidence in the bloggers more personal responses of any insight into cultural differences outside of the writers personal frame of reference…gaslighting would be a good deduction..

        Anyhow..thanks for the response. .good to get it off my chest!

        Reply
  7. TamM

    I spoke against his simplistic assessment of what actually ended up being a fake news article (I was right – there was NO evidence for his assertions) – him and his followers attacked me by saying I was sticking up for the Tories blah, blah, blah…. I was trying to make a point of evidence based practice. Interestingly a few people on the site backed me up and we all got harassed, had very personal attacks made about us for example I chose to reveal that I was an informal carer to my gran who had sadly died (I am also a social worker) and when he questioned me over the Dementia Tax, I actually explained that the poorest would not be disadvantage under it but actually homeowners – NOT that I agreed with it but he went on a wild rant about me just being selfish and ‘I am alright jack because my gran wasn’t effected!!!!!’ I had a few social workers contact me via personal email to say how upset they had been by his comments and everyone that disagreed with him were bullied by him and his cronies and then we were deleted off his website. I suggested he not call himself SWT as he is not representative of our sector and hence perhaps he should have a different name….. it did not got down well – he says ‘My social workers’ – I am not ‘his’ social worker! He says ‘I am for the truth and honesty’….. yes, as ‘he’ sees it and only as he sees it. I genuinely think this SWT should be made to change his name because he is not representative of our profession and I think he is on a personal ego agenda which is fine – its a democracy but in my professions name – the last time we looked we have professional standards.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I am really sorry to hear this, but once again not surprised. This man has problems. He does not represent the profession and I grow increasingly concerned about any contact he has with vulnerable parents. His reaction to being challenged is extreme and aggressive. These are not positive qualities to work in his field.

      Reply
  8. TamM

    I genuinely think this SWT should be made to change his name because he is not representative of our profession and I think he is on a personal ego agenda which is fine – its a democracy but not in our professions name – the last time we looked we have professional standards. (apologies typos!)

    Reply

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