The Wichita Eagle has taken it upon itself to review five years of disciplinary actions by the state board that licenses social workers. This review follows any number of articles by the Eagle and other Kansas media zeroing in on the presumed shortcomings of the social work profession in Kansas.

This would be all well and good were the media willing to apply the same pressure to other professional groups–teachers, say, or journalists, let alone abortionists–but they are not. The reasons that the media would offer as to why they have been directing so much negative attention at social workers differs from the deeper reasons. More on this in a minute.

High profile cases, like that of Adrian Jones, do not alone explain the media interest in social workers.

“A review of five years of disciplinary actions by the state board that licenses social workers,” reports the Eagle’s Jonathan Shorman, “shows it has issued few sanctions after high-profile deaths or injuries of children under the care of the Department for Children and Families.”

Yes, those high-profile deaths provided the media a legitimate reason to investigate. And although the focus of Shorman’s article is ostensibly on the Kansas Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board, the deeper reason the media have been eager to investigate these cases is because they took place during the years that first Gov. Sam Brownback and now Gov. Jeff Colyer have been responsible for the DFC, the Department for Children and Families. Governors are not responsible for the state’s teachers in the same way.

One unfortunate side effect of this fundamentally political attack is that the social workers themselves bear the brunt of the criticism. In the dictionary theirs is the photo next to the entry “thankless job.”

It is they who are charged with ministering to the state’s broken families. The supply of these families has increased over the years due both to alluring governmental subsidies and media encouragement of single motherhood–two variables over which the workers themselves have almost no control.

On average, social workers get paid only slightly more than teachers, but they do not get summers or Christmas breaks off to recuperate. Each day they face file on top of hopeless case file regarding families whose lives are spiraling out of control. In tending to these lives, social workers face the pressure to hold the families together but must then recognize the moment when the risks of keeping them together outweigh the benefits.

As is true in every profession, half the social workers in Kansas perform below average. But even the best social worker can misjudge a family situation, and he–or usually she–must live with the consequences.

“It’s been my experience that a lot of things that come across the desk are not blatant attempts to hurt or harm anybody or go afoul of the regulations, but maybe they didn’t use the best judgment,” Terry Pfannenstiel, a retired psychologist, told the Eagle. His is an empathy that the media might do well to emulate.

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