Yesterday, I met a old friend for lunch. She is also a social worker – in fact, she was the person who persuaded me to do the MA in the first place. We don’t meet as often as we probably should (work, distance, children) but it’s always a good chance for reminiscence.
It brought back to me some of the reasons I decided to be a social worker in the first place though and they aren’t necessarily the same reasons I gave in my interview for the course!
a) 9am – 5pm Mon-Fri work. I’d been a support worker in residential care for about 6 years. I was tired of shift working.
b) Some kind of mental stimulation. In a lot of ways, I enjoyed the hands-on care work – indeed, I did it for long enough to have had the opportunity to change if I didn’t and sometimes, even now, I miss it. The feeling of having a positive effect is much more real in a sense and you build very strong relationships with people for whom you work and the power dynamic, although still present, is much less intense- but sometimes, I felt that the intellectual challenge was missing.
c) Pay. As much as I liked being a support worker, I lived on my own in London. My pay quite literally doubled when I qualified (so you can imagine how low my salary had been!).
d) Vague and woolly helping people and social justice notions floating around in my head. I was more of an activist (not really politically but socially) coming out of full time education the first time round. I think I did genuinely want to make the world a better place (I still do, of course, but in a less flamboyant manner!).
e) My friend said it would be good to do (possibly this would come higher up on the scale)
f) I would have some kind of ‘professional qualification’. I had notions of moving abroad/travelling the world and wanted to have some kind of ‘professional status’ that might make it easier. I wanted to be more adventurous than I actually was (as an afterthought, I actually did end up doing this – best thing I ever did!).
So in reflection, most of the reasons have changed more or less along the way. I am so glad I did it though. The course itself changed me in a lot of ways even before I started practising and possibilities have opened up that I hadn’t even known were possible previously.
I have been and continue to be involved in my local Care Ambassador scheme where I go out into local schools and universities and assist with career days usually and try to explain the joys of a career in social care to people who are still at the planning stage.
It has been an incredibly enjoyable experience and I’d definitely recommend it. In some ways, I have been surprised by the responses and how positive they are.
One time when I went to one of the more traditional old-school (so to speak) universities at a careers event which was sponsored by a Merchant Bank in the City of London. All smoked salmon canapés and champagne.
There were representatives of some of the major banks in the City, legal firms, management consultants – and there was my stand, with a teacher who was standing with me in solidarity, I think!
I really was genuinely surprised at the amount of interest that was expressed and even if none of the many people I spoke to that night actually go into the field of social care – at least they have an idea of what the work involves that I hope they’ll take with them.
So although the reasons for doing this job might change but there are still reasons. I just need to refocus on them from time to time.
One time, when I was fronting a Mental Health Act Assessment during my ASW training, I was sitting in the ambulance next to a women whom I had just assessed and opposite us, was a police officer.
She turned to me, and asked me directly ‘What do you enjoy about being a social worker?’ while looking me directly in the eyes and leaning in towards me, her face just centimetres away from mine.
I said something vague and rambly about ‘helping people’ – realising the horrific irony in the fact that we were transporting her, against her will, to a psychiatric hospital under a section of the Mental Health Act.
I cringe slightly when I think about it still. I need to come up with a better and snappier answer.