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SHARE YOUR SOCIAL WORK STORIES

Miranda – I became a social worker because…

March 4, 2021 | Written by Miranda Johnson

Written by Miranda Johnson, Strengths-Based Social Care & Research Team Manager, Birmingham City Council.

I chose social work because it is a profession that is constantly evolving to meet the needs of society and the people that it helps. Social work is always varied, it’s challenging, it allows for creativity and requires a vast amount of transferrable skills all while helping people and making an impact on their lives.

I undertook my social work training in the USA and in my previous life I was a hospice inpatient unit social worker. While hospice care will always hold a special place in my heart, I travelled to the UK where I am now a strengths-based social care and research team manager.  My role involves managing 2 non-statutory teams that work across the whole life course at the individual, group, and community level as well as holding responsibility for collaborating in and contributing to social care research.

These are exciting times for social work, we are seeing the profession evolve here in the UK right now with the passing of the Care Act 2014 and the on-going adoption of strengths and asset-based approaches to practice. Recognising the strength of the profession there is also now a new focus on working beyond the confines of the traditional statutory sector. This shift is opening more opportunities for social workers to place themselves in positions where they can apply their professional values, ethics and principles to ensure better joined up systems and enacting system wide change.

Social Workers are everyday leaders

Social Workers quite often downplay the impact and importance of the work that they do. I have on more than one occasion heard, “I am just a social worker, not the _____” enter in whatever their manager title is. Social work is being able to work with individuals, groups, and communities, understanding human behaviour, and recognising power differentials. Social work is multi-disciplinary; seeing things from various perspectives and consensus-building. Social work is political, respecting diversity, understanding hidden agendas, and helping others to develop and succeed.

Social work training could be valuable for leaders in many different fields as the working values of a social worker are often the same qualities that you find in good leaders. It resonated with me when I read once that, ‘Some of us may be called to lead from the front and others as a member of a team, but neither form of leadership is less important than the other, they are just different.’

I am a Social Worker

Social work has not only provided me with the opportunity to work internationally, but it has also enabled me to affect large-scale change and advance social work values and principles within other practice areas. I love being a Social Worker!

“If we, as social workers, do not step into the fullness of our potential as leaders, others will take the place we have chosen to forfeit, and the gifts that each of us bring to the role of leader in our work, team, community, and society will be sorely missed.”

Karen S. Haynes, PhD, MSW, is president of California State University, San Marcos.

Tell us your social work story at stories@socialworkawards.com telling us your name, job, contact details, and social care number (just so we know you’re a social worker, we will keep it private).

Not every superhero wears a cape…

March 4, 2021 | Written by Anna Cullen

Written by Anna Cullen, Principal Child and Family Social Worker, Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council

Going into lockdown

I’ve been a social worker for a really long time now, but nothing in my training or experience prepared me for the impact of what is, effectively a natural disaster on how I view social workers. Like everyone else, I had to continue my work whilst considering what could befall me and my family, and at first, everyone was afraid and no-one knew what was going to happen.

We could see the amazing NHS step up to the plate, and be lauded – quite rightly – for their bravery and professionalism. But something amazing started to happen in the offices and teams I visited. Wherever I went, I could hear social workers calling families to find out if they were OK, to ask them if they needed food, toilet roll, a chat, or a visit. I could see them go out on a visit armed with cereal and milk for a family breakfast. I could hear the love and care for their job and the clients they work for in their voices, their case discussions, and the practical things they did to help – even though they were all scared for themselves and their own children, parents, loved ones.

Supporting children and families

Most of us were asked to work at home from March 23, and as councils, we worked hard to ensure our staff were looked after and supported to work as effectively and safely as they could. But that didn’t stop us from wanting to protect children, and, with a carefully considered risk assessment for each visit, many of our social workers continued to visit children and families face to face. 

During these times you can find it very easy to forget that the workers have their own family and social issues. My worker has been amazing at keeping me updated with information and just looking out for me.

Quote from a young person

Children were placed, reunifications happened, safeguarding visits were carried out, children were seen and spoken to. I don’t think you can underestimate how important this was for children and families when we were all being asked to stay at home, and that meant many of us didn’t see a ‘live’ person from one week to another. I think we’ve often been told as social workers that we don’t care, we’re ‘only doing it for the money.’ Being in touch, seeing people, chatting on the phone, and asking ‘how are you?’ started to prove to our children and families how deeply social workers really do care about them. And it made me proud all over again to be in this profession.

Keeping in touch

Faced with the challenge of virtual visits, my colleagues tapped into their inner creativity like never before to build that relationship if they couldn’t actually sit down with them in real life. We had art exhibitions, virtual cooking classes, spoken word/rap workshops, and virtual museum tours. One colleague devised a game specifically for a child in care who loves nature, involving taking close-up photos of birds and objects in her back garden for the child to identify just using reference books. And then the child started setting her a photo challenge back! Not that they were both competitive, you understand…

Other colleagues worked with local companies to provide laptops, food parcels and clothing for young people and care leavers living independently, with virtual drop-ins to check each young person had what they needed and could just have a chat if they felt like it. It felt as if colleagues took the pandemic as a personal challenge to put their values into action as creatively as they could, and the force of their determination took my breath away.

My SW has been there for me whenever I have needed her. She contacted me straight away once we went into lockdown and has checked in on us regularly. I send her updates on how things are going. We’ve also had many video calls where she’s engaged with all the children in the house.

Quote from a foster carer

What’s next?

I think it’s fair to say that things will never be quite the same again. We won’t all work in offices together all the time, we’ll be doing more virtual meetings and we’re all starting to get weary and feel a little isolated as we move in and out of different social distancing measures. Despite all this, I can’t help feeling inspired each time I speak to a colleague or read a thank you from a parent or child to their social worker.

Social workers continue to lead, care, and support their clients practically and emotionally regardless of what is thrown at them, and it makes me incredibly proud of each one of my brilliant colleagues.

My worker is brilliant!!! Lots of respect for her for what she’s done in this tricky time!

Quote from a care leaver

Tell us your social work story at stories@socialworkawards.com telling us your name, job, contact details, and social care number (just so we know you’re a social worker, we will keep it private).

Covid, coffee, and keeping families connected…

March 4, 2021 | Written by Suzie Hawkins

Written by Suzie Hawkins, Senior Social Worker & Assistant Service Manager, Bottisham Children’s Centre, Cambridge

Back in March 2020 when the country ground to a halt and I set up my HQ at the kitchen table with a coffee and the cat for company, I contemplated how my staff in the Reunification, Placement Stability, and Supervised Contact Service would continue to support our families across the county.

Little did I know that behind the scenes everyone was busily thinking of ways to ensure our most vulnerable children stayed connected with their families, return young people home to birth families and enable carers to continue caring through what has proved to be one of the toughest times for those working in children’s services. The pandemic has squeezed into every part of our work, home, and social life and necessitated us to re-evaluate how we work and live our lives; personal and professional have collided and required us to dig deep to recognise our own fears whilst supporting others to manage theirs.

When I finally got to grips with Microsoft Teams, I started to hear about my workers putting together books, videos, and pictures to help manage children’s anxieties during the pandemic and the ongoing transitions which were taking place in their lives. Pictures of teddy bears (Bert the teddy bear below) popped up and taken in workers’ cars, new homes, and with carers to support with placement moves. Family pets outshone workers in pictures taken of staff to introduce themselves when face-to-face visits were restricted.

Bert the teddy bear

When a call was made to support our young people at a local activity centre off went three adventurous souls squeezing into wetsuits and enduring gruelling bike rides in the blistering summer heat. Whether on zip wires or Zooms, these guys just did not stop! Workers continued to travel up and down the country to Bradford, Carlisle, and beyond, supporting young people and their families. Local restrictions and tier levels navigated and pushing their own worries aside, compassion and care continued in resourceful, flexible, and creative ways.

The introduction of virtual contact between families saw hastily bought toys and books so that families in various locations could partake in the same activity as their children, whilst supported by their foster carers. A sparkly new bike bought to a virtual contact by a parent who mistakenly thought she was seeing her young son was a cruel reminder of how this pandemic has prohibited the simplest of acts. The bike – tantalizingly close but untouchable – was swiftly collected by the boy’s carer so he could enjoy his special gift. A joy that Covid-19 could not take away and a reminder that we are all human and all striving for the best possible outcomes for our children and young people.

Team meetings have proved essential to debate modern social work theory, team targets, and hold action learning sets but what also became vital was sharing tips on mindfulness, hairstyles, and how to keep up with The Body Coach, Joe Wick’s increasingly energetic workouts!

I can foresee a highly skilled team of workers keeping safe, keeping stable, and keeping our families connected in imaginative ways over the coming weeks. This time round I don’t need to contemplate how they will continue to support our families I know what they will do; they will keep calm and carry on!

Tell us your social work story at stories@socialworkawards.com telling us your name, job, contact details, and social care number (just so we know you’re a social worker, we will keep it private).

Sammie – I became a social worker because…

March 4, 2021 | Written by Sammie Corcoran

By Sammie Corcoran, Social Care Officer, student and Trustee for the Social Work Awards.

When people ask me why I got into social work, I feel spoiled for choice because there are so many reasons. That is one of the massive positives to this line of work – the possibilities are endless, and outcomes differ from person to person. There is so much to be achieved, overcome, and celebrated!

When I really think about it though, I realise that many of the reasons have developed over time, as I have learned more, experienced more, grown in confidence, and met so many more fantastic young people and their families.

My family experience

The heart of the reason I have always wanted to work in this profession, however, is my younger brother.

The truth is, he is the heart of everything I do and has shaped the person I am today. My brother is 19, has autism, learning difficulties and complex health needs.

Growing up I saw first-hand how difficult that can be for the individual and for the family/carers supporting them. Often, it feels as if there is always something to worry about, always something to plan for and always some sort of ‘battle’ to prepare for. Sometimes, you just need someone to talk to that understands what you are going through and who is equipped to help you understand things a little more and help you through the process.

As a family, from the very beginning of our journey to the current day, we haven’t always had all the information. We haven’t always had someone to talk to and on hand to help us. We have often felt lost, which leaves you wondering in hindsight if you made the right decisions for the future. 

Transition

From a very young age, I knew I wanted to work with young adults with learning disabilities, and I knew I wanted to work within the field of transition. I could see there were gaps in that area and that people were struggling. I didn’t want people to feel lost any more. I didn’t want people to fear their social worker ringing as they associated them with bad news. I wanted to be that light in the dark that I felt we often needed. I wanted to be there to help and guide individuals, their families and carers to prepare for the next steps and talk about what the future looked like for them and how we were going to get there together. 

I wanted to empower young people to believe that anything is possible and encourage them to follow their dreams and aspirations.

I wanted to offer more than just the paperwork side of it, I wanted to celebrate individuals’ successes with them and console them in their time of need. I wanted to know the whole person and what made them tick to enable us to navigate the road ahead together.

I fully understand the transition from children’s services to adult services, and how all the additional changes that coincide with that are stressful for everyone involved. I do, however, feel that if the time and effort is put in leading up to this, then great things can be achieved by all. 

With collaborative working, effective communication, honesty and consistency, our young people can break barrier after barrier, and being there to see that journey and the progress made is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put into words. It’s certainly not something I will ever tire of seeing! Those are the moments that give you butterflies in your stomach and remind you how lucky you are to truly love what you do so much.

Tell us your social work story at stories@socialworkawards.com telling us your name, job, contact details, and social care number (just so we know you’re a social worker, we will keep it private).

Ana – I became a social worker because…

March 4, 2021 | Written by Ana Popovici

Written by Ana Popovici, Director of Children’s Services at the London Borough of Wandsworth.

I am proud to be a social worker. I always have been.

I began my professional life as a teacher and I made the change to social work to be able to make a difference to the whole of their lives for children who needed support, change, and empowerment.

I have been comfortable in this skin for over twenty years, and every day I wake up ready and committed to go again. Every day is different. I bring with me the skills I have learned over time, plus my own passion, yet I can only rely on them to get me to the starting gate. Each child and family is unique, and I have to listen to their story and their story alone, to be able to connect with them and help them.

I speak as if I am still a social worker and that is what I am as a Director of Children’s Services – still a social worker. I find it helps me with leadership if I see it through a practice lens and that way, through the lens of children.

If I have learnt one thing, it is about the importance of social work.

Of course, much of the time we are administering a complex legal framework that over more than 50 years has built-in additional protection and support for children. We know so much more now. About the impact on children of domestic abuse, about the risks they face in the community as well as at home, and about groups of children and young people who were hidden in plain sight for centuries who are now a little more out in the open – SEND children and young carers are just two.

I know in my head and my heart how important our support as social workers are to those children and their families. It is impossible to overstate the importance of support. Sometimes, it means a child or a parent is being heard for the first time. At other times, it means a child or a parent, or both feel that the problems they face are being shared with someone who understands them and what can be done to improve their daily lives.

Ours is a stunning and rewarding profession. It is also a profession with a great future. Now is a great opportunity to expand the social care workforce family with people being made redundant in other businesses and professions. The pandemic has brought about devastation but as the economy changes gear, for example, with far fewer retail jobs, it is a great opportunity to offer re-training to people who want it, in social work. as a second career.

It is never too late to start out as a social worker and you won’t regret it. It is one of the greatest jobs in the world, to be in a position of caring for and supporting our most vulnerable citizens. A healthy social work profession is the hallmark of a civilised society.

Tell us your social work story at stories@socialworkawards.com telling us your name, job, contact details and social care number (just so we know you’re a social worker, we will keep it private).

Ellisha – I became a social worker because…

March 4, 2021 | Written by Ellisha Karssemakers

By Ellisha Karssemakers, student social worker at Bradford.

First Impressions

My first involvement with social workers came almost fifteen years ago, I was in the midst of an abusive relationship, with two children to raise and no family to turn to.  My previous impression of social workers was of a two-headed dragon that swooped in to take children away, so when one knocked on my door, I was understandably terrified. 

Yet this one was different, she looked normal, almost nice, pretty.  She didn’t snoop through my house, she simply sat down, looked at me, and said, “you are better than this, don’t let him drag you down, you don’t have to stay with him”.  

“She saved my life.”

Such a simple thing, but it rocked my whole world view, she gave me the permission I needed to get out of my situation. She empowered me to take control of my own life and here I am today.

I became a social worker because…

I wanted to become a social worker to do the same for someone else, to go to those families who are struggling and make their lives a little bit brighter.

For some families, it is a constant fight against an under-resourced system to get the help they are entitled to and I hope to be the person that makes that fight a little easier.

The best social work takes place behind the scenes, with the service user at the front, making their own decisions and choosing their own paths. 

Social work is only recognised when things go horribly wrong, but when things go right, lives are saved, changed for the better and that should rightly be a cause for celebration. Not because social workers are heroes, but because the people we work with have found the strength to do that for themselves, we are just the cheering section.

Tell us your social work story at stories@socialworkawards.com telling us your name, job, contact details and social care number (just so we know you’re a social worker, we will keep it private).

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