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Fictional Social Workers

July 22, 2009

Some would say that social workers are divorced from reality and live in a fantasy world but there are also fictional social workers. The title of Social Worker only having been bestowed during the 20th century those doing similar work in earlier times had different titles. In Dickens there is the Beedle, Mr Bumble caring for the poor of the parish, Mr Squeers and his family providing residential care and education to boys at Dotheboys Hall and the unforgettable Fagin running his voluntary sector peripatetic home for urchins. Unfortunately those workers seem to have been unacquainted with the sort of ethical standards urged upon us by today’s General Social Care Council.

A rather nicer social worker was Trollop’s Mr Harding who cared fondly for the old men in the Barsetshire almshouse. However, he was forced to resign his post when a sensationalist newspaper exposed the great disparity between his lifestyle and that of the bedesmen he was responsible for. Was Septimus Harding a forerunner of the modern social worker – well meaning but pilloried in the press?

There is at least one social worker from the future in literature. That is Mr. P.R. Deltoid, Alex’s parole officer in Burgess’ Clockwork Orange. He possibly meant well in warning Alex that he’d be headed for prison soon if he didn’t straighten up but emphasising that warning by smashing his fist into poor Alex’s testicles was a tad over enthusiastic.

You will have noticed that all my examples of fictional social worker so far leave something to be desired in their standards. Trouble is that the idea of reading whole books about good social workers is extremely yawn inducing. I am lucky in that Kiersten Marek has done some of that work already. She searched for, read and reviewed a number of books and gives an excellent account of modern social workers in fiction. In the novels reviewed by Kiersten social workers are either the protagonist or at least a main character although Kiersten bemoans the fact that she was unable to “find any [books] that feature Master’s level social workers as their main characters”. Can’t wait.

There is also fiction written by social workers. I think Marina Lewycka must count as a social worker because she has written a number of books for age concern about providing care for elderly people as well as A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian and Two Caravans that are joyously funny bestsellers and nothing to do with social work. In her third book We Are All Made of Glue, she has unfortunately let a social worker slip in amongst characters but at least this one fits into the stereotype of being devious and conniving.

I suppose the final category (allegedly) is fiction written by social workers about their clients but that is called case recording.

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