Normally, I enjoy watching "Once Upon A Time". It's a (somewhat) family friendly show and a creative take on the fairy tale characters I saw in Disney films as a child. For those unfamiliar with the show, here's a one sentence summary: "Once Upon A Time" is the story of what happens when the evil witch from Snow White sends fairy tale characters into our world with no recollection of their previous lives. While I don't normally watch much TV, the story was entertaining enough to keep me coming back each week. Also, unlike medical dramas, I figured I could watch it without cringing at certain professions being portrayed inaccurately... until tonight.
Each episode of "Once Upon A Time" seems to feature a different fairy tale characters, and tonight it was Hansel and Gretel. In short, the protagonist of the story (who spent 16 years in the foster system), Emma Swan, discovers that Hansel and Gretel have no parents. To "save" them from the foster system, Emma finds their father and magically convinces him to take his kids back. If things were that simple, social workers would have much easier and less stressful jobs.
There were two things that especially irked me about this episode. The first was protagonist Emma Swan's rant against the foster system. She basically tells Snow White/Mary Margaret that based on her experience in the foster system, she knows that social services will not help and that children will bounce around unwanted from home to home. While I can't remember the exact quote (or access a copy of the episode/script at this time), I couldn't help but think that Emma's poorly scripted and over simplistic statement mirrored the stereotypes associated with child protective social workers.
The second thing that bothered me was the fact that the wicked witch ended up calling social services. If social workers weren't associated with evil before, then they are now - by one of Sunday's top rated shows, no less. The only redeeming part of this episode was that the cannibal trying to eat Hansel and Gretel ended up not being a social worker!
I've already written to Social Workers Speak about this matter. I understand that there are issues with the foster system and child protective services. However, I do not think that is an excuse to allow the media to continue getting away with bashing our profession. If anything, tonight's episode only demonstrates that the general public (and Hollywood) has little knowledge of what social workers actually do. Social Work Month is coming up, so maybe we as social workers can use the occasion to educate people and work towards improving our image!