Helping journalists understand the importance of social work title protection is a step in the right direction, according Julie Drizin, director of the Journalism Center on Children and Families at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
She said the whole profession can easily get blamed when a news report decries general mishandling of a child welfare situation.
“I think journalists need to be educated on this question of who is a social worker and who is not a social worker,” Drizin said. “I think it is a mistake that journalists need to be very careful of whenever they investigate systematic failure. They need to make sure they are not tarnishing an entire profession.”
NASW and its chapters are working to educate members of the media on the importance of social work title protection. The effort aims to highlight the need by editors and reporters to correctly discern professional social workers in their news reports.
Drizin said the Journalism Center on Children and Families is devoted to inspiring and enhancing media coverage of issues that affect children and families, particularly the disadvantaged.
“I think what you are focusing on is very important,” she said of NASW’s media education campaign. She said she is open to the idea of working with NASW to develop tools that could be used as an educational aid to other schools of journalism.
On a more personal level, Drizin suggested that social workers do their part by reinforcing their social work education when they are interviewed by the media, and to particularly express that education as a basis for their answers.
That suggestion is echoed by a social worker who is often quoted in the media.
Frederic Reamer is a professor in the graduate program of the Rhode Island College School of Social Work. His research and teaching focuses on criminal justice issues, corrections, public policy and social work, and professional ethics. He also serves on his state’s parole board.
To help journalists get the information they are seeking, Reamer highlights his education and training at the beginning, middle and end of the interview.
“I will typically say, before we begin, let me bring a perspective to the interview —I have done this or that,” Reamer said. “I bring up my social work education and during the interview look for opportunities to reinforce that perspective.”
He tells his students that after they graduate there may be times when they are interviewed by the media. “Use these interviews as an opportunity to say you are a clinical social worker,” he said.
NASW national staff is also working with other organizations to promote the campaign. Members of the association met with representatives from the Fostering Media Connections (www.fosteringmediaconnections.org), a group that seeks to harness the power of journalism and media to improve the well-being and education of children experiencing foster care.
FMC journalists are working to change the national foster care narrative, and the group reached out to NASW in October to better understand NASW’s public policy and public education goals. The California-based organization has been successful in placing op-eds and making presentations to fellow journalists about how to cover child welfare systems and affected families differently.
NASW plans to engage more organizations like the Journalism Center on Children and Families and Fostering Media Connections in its effort to educate more journalists about social workers.
One surprise to FMC reporter Ryann Blackshere was the low percentage of social workers hired in many local and state child protective service systems. She said she did not know, for example, that professional social workers make up only 10 percent to 30 percent of the workforce, some in child welfare departments.
This statistic is the basis of one of NASW’s messages to journalists through its campaign, said Gail Woods Waller, NASW communications director.
“We know that many reporters are writing and broadcasting stories about ‘social workers’ without knowing that their subjects and sources have never had any formal training in the profession,” Waller said. “We think one way to ensure that more media professionals understand the difference between social workers and others is to appeal to their desire for reporting accuracy.”