Sharon Shoesmith: raising the profile of social workers at Bradford College

Sharon Shoesmith with students at Bradford College

Social work students at Bradford College were given a unique insight into the career they are pursuing by visiting speaker Sharon Shoesmith.

Ms Shoesmith was controversially sacked from her post as director of children’s services at Haringey Council in 2008 following the death of 17-month-old Peter Connelly, known as Baby P.

Peter suffered more than 50 injuries despite being on Haringey's child protection register and receiving 60 visits from social workers, police and health professionals over the eight months before his death.

His mother Tracey Connelly, her lover Steven Barker and his brother Jason Owen were all convicted of causing or allowing the death of a child.

Ms Shoesmith, who won a case for unfair dismissal, spoke to the students about the political nature of social work, especially child protection, her experience of dealing with a hostile media and the need for the profession to better defend and promote itself to counter the scapegoating and vilification of social workers.

Following the tragedy, the former council boss completed a PhD and last year published a book, Learning From Baby P: The Politics of Blame, Fear and Denial.

She said she hoped that by speaking to future social workers she could encourage them to work to improve the perception and reality of the profession.

She said: “Social workers do a very important job with a very wide range of families, particularly children and older people.

“Many of us are dependent on the skills that they bring to manage different family situations.

“Sadly, they are too often vilified in the media and I would like to have social workers speak up for themselves and talk to the public more of about the importance of their work.”

Brian Mitchell, a social work tutor at Bradford College, thanked Ms Shoesmith for visiting the college and delivering a thought-provoking session.

He said: “The more we can have a broad dialogue about how many perceptions there are about social work the better it will be.

“Listening to Sharon would have given our students another perspective on social work and in particular the political pressure in which social work operates and the impact on the person when it goes wrong and the importance of communication.”

Bradford College offers a number of courses in social work, social care and community practice. Anyone interested is invited to attend the open day on Saturday March 18 between 11am and 2pm.


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