Oct 10 2012
An EastEnders storyline featuring a baby being removed from a teenage mother by social services has been branded "disgraceful" by the body that represents social workers.
The head of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) accused the BBC of being "too lazy and arrogant to get it right" over the story.
The plotline, which saw teenage mum Lola Pearce's baby Lexi taken from her, prompted a furious reaction on Twitter, both from those critical of social workers, and care professionals defending the social worker features.
But the BBC said it had not intended to portray social workers in a negative light, and there was no suggestion the worker's actions arose from "anything other than a genuine desire to protect Lexi".
Bridget Robb, acting chief executive of BASW, accused the BBC of spreading "misinformation". "It is disgraceful to see a publicly funded broadcaster deliberately spreading misinformation about the child protection process because it is too lazy and arrogant to get it right," she said. "We regularly give advice to programmes about social work storylines, we would like to know who advised EastEnders so badly.
"Social workers don't want to hear patronising excuses from the BBC about the use of dramatic licence. A badly written and poorly acted portrayal of a car mechanic does not have the same effect on the public as a poor portrayal of a child protection expert. Social workers have a difficult enough job as it is. Unlike the writers and actors on EastEnders, they have to step through those front doors that no one else wants to step through, and they do it on a daily basis, to protect children, not to target families.
"EastEnders' shabby portrayal of an entire profession has made a tough job even tougher. Social workers don't court popularity but they also don't deserve to have their work misrepresented and the people who rely on their support made fearful of social work involvement in their lives. We know that this issue has created real anger among a profession well used to a less than accurate public and media perception of their jobs, showing just how badly wrong EastEnders has got this character and storyline."
But an EastEnders spokeswoman said they had worked with a social worker on the storyline. She said the BBC received 556 complaints over a period of the last two and a half weeks - nine episodes - compared with more than eight million viewers per episode.
The BBC issued a statement saying: "It is not our intention to portray social workers in a negative light. Whilst the audience has seen how much Lola loves Lexi, and seen her behaving responsibly in caring for her baby, her social worker has not. Each time the social worker visited, she regularly saw worrying behaviour that concerned her. The social worker also witnessed a series of other incidents and, under these circumstances, we believe the audience will have understood why she had to act quickly to remove Lexi when Lola was arrested for assault.
"There was no suggestion that the social worker's actions arose from anything other than a genuine desire to protect Lexi, or that her concerns about Lola were unreasonable given the picture she and the previous social worker had formed over a substantial period of time. Although EastEnders tackles many social issues and always carefully researches the details, it is a drama and Lola's story and that of the social worker are not intended to be representative of everyone in the same situation."