Of course, being a social worker, I'm more observant of how the media screws up depictions of social workers.
First, social workers play many roles in the professional world. While most people think of child protection workers when they think of social workers, we can also do clinical work; work in schools; do case management; work in the corrections field; work with kids, elderly, veterans, or people with developmental or physical disabilities; as victim advocates in court systems; as policy analysts/advocates; in the international arena; as agency administrators; as professors (hello!); and the list goes on.
In other words, we aren't just the devil who takes away people's kids (or don't take them away when we should have). In fact, in most cities, to be a child protection worker, you don't have to have a degree in social work specifically -- you can have a bachelor's degree in any helping profession.
So far, I'm aware of only one show that got the social worker role correctly -- for a specific field within social work -- and that would be the series Judging Amy. Amy's mother, played by Tyne Daly, was a social worker in the child protection field, and she played it like it is in the field.
But the movie Precious does it again -- depicts a social worker inaccurately.
First, when a social worker visits the family at home, the movie suggests that it's to keep them eligible for welfare. But then the social worker asks questions that make it appear that she is actually a child protection worker. A welfare financial services worker is a completely different job than a child protection worker. In fact, most welfare financial services workers are not social workers -- that job doesn't require a bachelor's degree.
Then the Mariah Carey-as-social worker role also seems to combine the financial worker with a child protection worker. Precious first goes to see Mariah supposedly to get welfare. Later on, Mariah is facilitating a meeting between Precious and her mother. It doesn't work that way -- as I said, they're two different jobs. If Mariah is a financial worker, she wouldn't be facilitating family meetings. If Mariah is a child protection worker, she might be supervising family meetings, but she would not be determining eligibility for welfare checks. She wouldn't be saying "Okay. Well, I'll see you next time then. Or maybe you'll see someone else. But you're going to have to talk to someone if you want your check, sweetie."
Then, there is the way that Mariah acts during the meeting between Precious and her mother. Most people not in the field will think that she was great -- she supported her client, held the mother accountable, etc. Whoo hoo. The problem is, the methods she used are not appropriate social work methods; she was judgmental, confrontational, interrupted, lost her cool and yelled, and lost control and cried. I assure you, that's not what we teach our students. I'll definitely be using that particular clip as an example of what not to do in my direct skills course.
Does it ever occur to any of these shows/movies that they might want to consult with a local chapter of the NASW to be sure they get it right? Or don't they care if they get it right?
Disclaimer: I haven't read the book, so I don't know if these inacurracies are from the original.