Friday, September 30, 2016

Social Workers Upset Over Portrayals of Profession on British Sitcom, "Damned"

Remember "Damned," that British television series that was premiering this week on Channel 4? It's a comedy about the social work profession that had many of my social worker friends excited about fair representation of our profession. Sadly, I've only been able to watch clips of the program. It's not licensed for broadcast outside of the UK. I haven't even been able to find bootleg episodes of the program -- which is just as well as I don't want to get in trouble! But I still really want to watch this program!

That said, I heard more negative reactions to "Damned" than positive. Keep in mind that I've only heard reactions from those who are social workers. I've heard nothing from anyone who isn't in the profession.

Here were some of the chief complaints:
The pedigree was there with a cast of familiar faces including Jo Brand and Alan Davies. Brand, whose mum is a social worker, talked the show up in her promotional interviews by sharing her worries about child protection professionals being demonised in the press. How disappointing it was to then see her character use the term ‘balls deep’ in conversation with a client, flippantly discuss her past use of Class-A drugs in the office and act in a terribly unprofessional manner during a home visit that reeked of collusion. 

When it comes to social work humour there’s a fine line between crass and clever. Sadly, the first episode of this show veered on the crass side by relying on swearing, unprofessional behaviours and inept workers to get a laugh from the audience. Watching it with a group of non-social workers, not one person laughed and their attention soon drifted from the screen to their mobile phones. When I found humour, it was in the familiarity of seeing the character ‘Al’ dressed like me and hearing the word ‘quorate’ (a term I’ve only ever heard used in child protection conferences) on the telly.
Reactions from an online social work forum generally agreed that "Damned" failed to portray our profession as anything resembling professionalism. It was noted that the characters were cookie-cutter concepts with little depth or originality ("the mean boss, ditsy secretary, jaded radical").

On the other hand, others pointed out that it wasn't a documentary about social work, but instead a sitcom. One comment noted that sitcoms typically highlighted "inept and failing" personalities.

One Facebook commenter made an observation earlier this week that hadn't immediately occurred to me -- but I find myself agreeing with her:
I found it refreshing that it was poking fun at us rather than the service users! I think it showed the humourous, confident and fun personalities of the people who work in this crazy but rewarding profession! The only time I thought "OK that wouldn't happen" was the full scale personal phone conversations in front of service users and taking on a visit to a family who are personally known to you, you'd surely flag that one as a conflict of interest from the get go?! But apart from that I thought it was enjoyable and I am interested to see where it goes
Personally, I think people were expecting too much about "Damned." It's clear to me that they approached the social work profession with good intentions, while also acknowledging the warts of this profession. However, these folks are also trying to create something that will entertain the public. Hopefully they will find a good balance over time as this show matures.

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