by Addison Cooper, LCSW
In the anticipated year-end film Annie, a 10-year-old New York City girl is in the foster home of a painfully mean woman, but finds hope when she is taken in by Stacks, a wealthy entrepreneur with political ambitions. Annie has been in foster care for almost her whole life; she was found, left with a note, outside of a restaurant when she was only four years old.
The film centers around the growing relationship between Annie and Stacks. They are working on becoming a family. But along the way, their lives are affected by two different social workers. The first is a caseworker who visits Annie’s foster home, perhaps for an annual recertification. The worker is carrying some of the case history for each girl in the home. He doesn’t realize that he drops the paperwork. The girls recover it, and, using it, Annie heads to a social services hall of records where she encounters a second worker. This worker is dismissive and disdainful to Annie. She initially presents Annie with bureaucratic objections to Annie’s request for her history. When Annie circumnavigates those, the worker curtly provides Annie with some information.
Later, when the worker realizes that Annie is connected to the billionaire celebrity, Stacks, the worker puts on a completely different face and attitude. She comes out from behind her desk to personally complete the home study that will allow Stacks to take Annie in. The home study is very surface-level, and the worker even obeys when told by Stacks’ staff person that she is not allowed to examine one of his rooms. Later, this worker continues her less than diligent ways by releasing Annie into the care of people who are claiming to be her parents–but who actually aren’t.
The film’s sole social workers are either clueless or uncaring.
Annie is a fun, catchy, and generally uplifting movie. Annie exhibits many positive character traits (which are genuinely present in many foster kids)–hopefulness, persistence, and optimism. There’s a happy ending, and in the end, no harm comes from the social workers’ poor work.
But as a social worker, I do notice that we’re played off as unprofessional and unhelpful. Perhaps this reflects a stereotype that the general public has of social workers in child and family services–and, in truth, I have come across some (few) workers who were unprofessional and unhelpful. But most of the workers I interact with are professional, competent, and genuinely committed to the children that they serve. Many work long hours for relatively low pay in a field that they entered because of a desire to make the world a better place for a child in a vulnerable position. And most of them do that job well.
So what do you think? Do negative portrayals of social workers in movies hurt the public’s opinion of us, or do they reflect the beliefs, fears, or (heaven forbid!) experiences that people already have of us? How can we work to encourage and promote more positive beliefs about–and experiences with–social workers?
Perhaps the people who mistrust us today will come to see us as trustworthy tomorrow. That’d probably be soon enough. After all, it’s only a day away.
Addison Cooper, MSW, LCSW, is the creator of Adoption at the Movies adoption movie review website (www.adoptionlcsw.com). He is a foster care and adoption supervisor and therapist in Southern California. Find him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AdoptionAtTheMovies and follow him on Twitter @AddisonCooper.
Editor's Note: Read another review of Annie by Addison Cooper here.