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Silent Witness – was it fair to depict social worker Louise Marsh as the villain?

The recent two part episode of Silent Witness created a bit of a storm on social media with social workers, and other viewers alike, complaining about what we agree was an unfair portrayal of social workers.

The crime drama focused its latest episode on child protection and social services with the estranged stepfather of a teenager, whose care social worker Louise Marsh managed, was found dead in his car.

While this is a purely fictional show, it served to reinforce the recent negative public perception of social workers. Unfortunate cases of vulnerable children have hit the media headlines in recent years including the high profile Baby P scandal where social services came heavily under fire.

The sad reality is that there are thousands of children who are vulnerable in this country. This can be due to a number of difficult circumstances including children born to parents who suffer alcohol or drug addiction, one or both parents suffering from a mental health illness, or families living below the bread line where the parents cannot meet their parental obligations of providing adequate food and shelter because they simply can’t afford to.

According to the most recent Government statistics published in March 2014, the North West region alone has 15 children in need per social worker. Children’s social workers arguably have one of the hardest jobs and work under extreme pressure. They don’t always get it right but in any profession, mistakes are sometimes made.

A children’s social worker’s duty is to the vulnerable child first and foremost. They are obligated to ensure that they carry out everything in their power to protect the child from any further harm. This is not without its difficulties of course, notwithstanding the pressure and challenges social workers will face from the parents who often are either incapable or unwilling to accept that their child will be better cared for elsewhere.

The UK is only one of four countries worldwide to implement what is commonly known as ‘forced adoption’. The use of the word ‘forced’ implies that children are snatched away from innocent families and simply given to adopters or placed into care homes on a whim.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. In a situation where a child has been identified as being vulnerable, perhaps they are severely malnourished or have mysterious bruises appearing on their face or body, social workers get involved with the family with a priority of keeping the child with the family by helping to resolve underlying issues where possible.

Only as an absolute last resort is a vulnerable child taken away from the family home and placed in care or ultimately adopted in some cases.

While this is a side of society that most of us wish didn’t exist, the harsh reality is that it does exist and social workers play a pivotal role in protecting these children from further harm.

If you have been affected by the latest episode of Silent Witness and have a concern about a vulnerable child, contact one of our child proceedings experts who are here to provide non-judgemental advice and guidance.

To find out more about ‘forced adoption’ download our guide.

Find out more about our Family department Read ‘The parent’s guide to forced adoption’

Written by Tony Broadley. Find out more about Tony here.

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