Who’d be a Social Worker?

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.

el ramon el ramon @flickr

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.

4 thoughts on “Who’d be a Social Worker?

  1. I was once told by a multinational corporate consultant in HR – that there are three kinds of government employees.
    a) the idealist – who has hopes to make the world a better place and genuinely wants to help people. They usually last less than a year before they quit because they see how warped the system is.
    b) the long term employee – who stays only because of the pay and benefits. They become the robots – doing everything by the book – and having no heart.
    c) the sadistic. He gave an example of someone who worked at a prison who used to bait the inmates – to “set them off” and then watch the films from the camera, of the “incident” and laugh along with their co-workers at the prisoners being beaten.
    And they call this civilization. . .
    So sad. There should be a sign above all Social Service Office that says: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here. . .

  2. Ana – interesting perspective. I don’t agree though. With that paradigm you maintain that there is no possibility of anything changing. There are some very good, committed workers who want things to change for the better and are working towards that. Without that, i wouldn’t be able to stick it out myself.

    Some parts of the system are difficult to work with but not enough to abandon the systems entirely as often they are all that someone might have to turn to. It is up to the people placed within to provide a positive framework.

  3. cb
    Respectfully – I disagree. As a person who has lost three children to this system – for no reason other than the FOR PROFIT money making motives of the Social Service Agency – I simply do not believe there is a “host of concerned people” working for these agencies. Once they get their hands on a child – that child is GONE. And – the money keeps rolling in for the Agency and its cohorts. Cry for these lost children. . .

  4. Ana – I can’t engage in extended debate at the moment as I have to go to work and certainly cannot comment on a specific example, in a different country, with a different government and different experiences and expectations of social services.

    Again, I think we have to agree to differ on this. I am sorry for your experiences and hope that you are able to challenge those who have acted in bad faith.

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