Our Chair of Trustees, Peter Hay, blogs about the power of stories and why they matter so much right now.
As we have moved through the pandemic, the hero narrative has been strong.
We have rightly paid tribute to key-workers across all manner of roles who have supported us through the lockdown. From those working in the NHS, to the drivers of transport and supplies, workers in food production, teachers, those who kept our utilities working – even our broadband – and those who have delivered food, shopping and mail to our doors. Social workers, and especially those working in the care sector, have been a huge part of this collective effort, and we remember those to who have contracted infection, been ill or lost their life.
Of course, there have been acts of courage and there are heroes. Yet if we built a library for just heroic tales it would be a small one that would miss so many stories . If we just collect heroic narratives, we downplay the profound isolation and loneliness that has been some people’s experience and skip over the deep rooted inequalities and racism that the disease has laid bare, particularly in the UK and the USA.
A heroic narrative can be used to divert our attention, which when combined with our natural desire to want to move on, can silence those voices from which we need to learn most. Human rights and social justice sit at the heart of social work and should be the warp and weft of our narrative.
What I have heard
Lockdown reminded me that one of the privileges of my ‘portfolio’ career is the range of people that I meet and the time we are able to spend together. I have heard stories of struggle – of social workers taking on issues that have been hitherto unknown. These are not people who see themselves as heroes, rather they see themselves as often limited mortals, desperately trying to assemble some response to the overwhelming odds facing people.
Their stories are powerful opportunities to learn and grow professionally in offering compassionate, kind social work. Some examples include:
- The sorrow from a senior leader after she had admitted an elderly man with dementia to residential care. His previously innovative package of community support had included meals at the local pub. Dementia left him unable to process the changes that have taken place in his community and he was apprehended trying to break into the shuttered pub. He ‘just’ wanted his meal.
- Amazing efforts made to communicate with children from videos, pictures and photos. One social worker set a child in care daily tasks with a video call each afternoon to see how this was going. When this became mutual, the social worker suddenly had to find out whether she could match the number of keepie-uppies!
- Social workers giving evidence to courts via video link and patiently moving through their evidence to allow parents to fully participate.
- Dealing with the fear that people have of seeing masks and the ways in which people have devised materials to support people with limited communication.
- Team mangers going to extraordinary lengths to support social workers, to hold their teams together and to recognise the complexities of issues facing their social workers from adjusting to new work patterns, child care, health status or bereavement.
I have also heard from people with direct payments who appreciated the call from their social worker ‘just to chat’. I have heard and acknowledge the pain of those who feel left alone. There are also plenty of worries about what we will find as we move through the easing of restrictions – the pressures that have fallen upon carers, upon people’s mental health; an anxiety that people with dementia will not be able to adjust to new norms in communication or social distancing and a worry about the sustained strains upon families.
Your stories matterThese stories – and many others – matter . They tell of a reflective and thoughtful profession that is trying to find ways to practice in accordance with clear values at a time when many people are experiencing great stress and pressure combined with systemic injustice.
Each of us is holding a story. It might be heroic, it might be of struggle and uncertainty. It doesn’t always have a happy ending. It might be a story which speaks truth to power. The point is that the stories that each of us is holding matters now more than ever.
So, the Social Worker of the Year Awards wants to hear those stories. Our purpose is the recognition of social work and in response to COVID-19 that recognition needs to be broad and deep. It’s not going to be about ‘winners’ – this is not a time to separate people through judging – but it is a time and opportunity for the voices of the profession to articulate its many stories. We look forward to hearing your story.
Tell us your social work story at email@example.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).