‘Kiri’ Faces Backlash From Social Workers Over ‘Negative And Inaccurate Representation’ Of The Profession

While Jack Thorne’s latest drama ‘Kiri’ has been applauded by critics, the characterisation of social worker Miriam has drawn criticism from viewers who work in the care sector.

The show soon started trending on Twitter when episode one aired on Wednesday (10 January), but as well as comments from viewers who were enjoying it, there were numerous posts from social workers disappointed with the way their profession was being depicted.

Among the scenes that garnered negative reactions was one where Miriam was seen swigging from a hip flask while working. In another, she took her dog to work, prompting many to point out this is unrealistic. 

In a blog published on HuffPost UK, social worker and director of One Stop Social, Matt Hughes, pointed out that while Mariam “is passionate and dedicated to her work, […] demonstrating good person-centred and active listening skills”, certain aspects of the show left him feeling “deflated”.

“I cannot accept (as it is procedurally inaccurate) that Miriam, as a social worker, would be left solely responsible for allowing unsupervised contact between Kiri and her paternal grandparents,” he wrote. “For this to happen a detailed assessment would be required with an up to date care plan.

“Whilst I accept it is a TV drama series and should therefore be taken for ‘what it is’, we must also be mindful of the influence this could have on our current and future workforce.”

The British Association Of Social Workers (BASW) has also weighed in on the show, telling HuffPost UK: “We know social workers are very passionate about their professions and care about how they are portrayed in the media, so it’s perfectly understandable that there has been a glut of strong reviews from social workers already.

“First and foremost, it is very welcome that very complex subject matters such as child protection and adoption are being explored on TV over a number of episodes. BASW wants more representation of social work on TV, with accurate storytelling, to give a richer portrayal of the complexities of the profession.

“We hope by the end of the mini-series that ‘Kiri’ will have represented the profession and child protection in a nuanced way.”

Adding that “there were many things in the first episode which Miriam did – such as bringing a dog into the workplaces, drinking on the job – that we didn’t think were particularly credible”, they also pointed out “the programme brought to life the complexity around risk and risk taking in terms of decisions that social workers have to make”.

“Perhaps this will turn into a clever narrative, as rather than getting the sterile, wooden version of a social worker that many of the soaps faithfully churn out, Channel 4 seem to be heading the other way in depicting Miriam as oozing empathy from every pore,” they said. “We will be watching the rest of the series to see how the plot develops.

“For now though, this could be some of the public’s first taste of a drama about social work with a strong human interest story where the central character is on full display, warts and all, played by a talented actor in Sarah Lancashire who has a knack of keeping the vast majority of viewers in her corner – this is not necessarily the worst thing in the world that could happen to the profession.”

Prior to the episode’s debut, writer Jack Thorne penned a blog about how his mother – “one of those people who cares quite easily, possibly cares too much” – partially inspired the drama, and he also consulted a social worker during the research stages of writing.

In response to the general criticisms from those within the social care sector, a Channel 4 spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “‘Kiri’ is a complex and entirely fictional 4-part drama populated by fully-drawn, three-dimensional characters, each with their own human flaws and personal difficulties.

“The drama explores, among other topics, the vast pressures placed upon social workers and the very difficult job they do.

“Extensive background research was undertaken to ensure the themes explored within the drama were accurately and authentically portrayed and social workers, various departments within the police and charities were all consulted during the scriptwriting and development stages.”

‘Kiri’ continues on Channel 4 next Wednesday (17 January).