I have attended a number of meetings and training events recently that have been either borough-wide across social workers in many different teams or across different boroughs. These events have put me into contact with a lot of other social workers I wouldn’t otherwise have met – in my office there are three others, one of whom is my manager.
At one of the events, I was the least experienced by about a decade (and I’ve been qualified for 10 years myself). All the other participants had been working in the field or in management for 20/30 years, some were recently retired or about to. They bemoaned the state of social work in general and how difficult things had become, how paperwork was overwhelming and face to face contact was not given the priority that the job deserves. When it was my chance to ‘introduce’ myself, I expressed surprise at some of the negativity because I’m fortunate to be in a position where I enjoy my job and perhaps despite some of the endless reorganisations and reconfigurations, the positives far outweigh the negatives. It is very easy to revert to the ‘wasn’t like that in MY day’ type rhetoric.
Another training course and a different group of people. Again, we were talking about social work and being a social worker in quite general terms by means of an introduction. The facilitator said that she felt it was so sad that no-one was proud of being a social worker anymore and that people didn’t tell others their job for fear of a poor response.
Participants nodded sagely and sadly.
I was confused. I have never not told someone I’m a social worker and am immensely proud of my job and my profession. Is that really so unusual? I didn’t think it was, especially. Maybe it’s the friends I mix with..
Processing these thoughts, I figured if we are so negative ourselves and show no sense of pride, is it any wonder the contempt that we are able to be held in more widely?
Yes, there is a media agenda and the government won’t get much political capital from pushing money or praise into social work but surely self-pride, respect and strength is what emanates outwards?
Personally, I think there is an overemphasis on ‘status’ and being ‘considered professional’ which reeks of self-indulgence and lack of confidence. It is almost like the profession is trying to look for reassurances from the ‘general public’, the ‘press’, other ‘professions’, in order to put ourselves on a par.
But often respect is as respect does. Yes, we have had to deal with some rather bizarre chopping and changing to regulation/training/function over the last decade or so – but sometimes we, as a profession, don’t always help ourselves.
We can look jealously at the esteem that other professions may be held in but that doesn’t mean we must expect automatically that the professional title we hold will be enough to garner that respect.
Professional independence doesn’t always have to be granted, sometimes it needs to be claimed.
We are in a precarious position at the moment. Local government is shrinking. Anyone who thinks social care or social work is exempt from the forthcoming cuts is living in an illusionary world.
A few neighbouring boroughs in London have been looking at sourcing joint services between them which is an obvious way to reduce staffing costs.
A good social worker is and needs to be an advocate in a broad sense – for the people that the service is intended to serve.
A good social worker is a confident social worker.
Is being proud such a rarity in the UK that the matter was brought up again and again to me in various ways and means? Maybe.
I sometimes have waves of negativity. I have no doubt it is evident in my writing. I get angry at some politician or journalist who might show an extreme lack of knowledge in the sector or the environment. When I get into one of those fixes, I find the best thing is for me to recall why I wanted to be a social worker and what I love, not just about being a social worker but about my job in particular.
I wanted to fight societal injustice and still do. Social services are entrenched in social policy and social policy adapts quickly. We have to be able to think on our feet and think independently. Perhaps some of that independent thought has been ‘managed’ out of some of us by an encroachment of Performance Indicators and constant outcomes measurements.
Of course these need to be done because there has to be some measure of efficiency. Most people can probably think of a few in any office who might be less inclined to hard work than others. The ends cannot however, justify the means.
A good social worker is compassionate, competent and confident. Compassion without competence or confidence will not be enough. Competence without compassion is not enough. There is a need to actually care about individuals and the results of interventions. That doesn’t mean we have to like the people we work with but we have to offer an equitable service regardless of personal feelings and opinions.
Compassion and competence without confidence may result in being led by potentially poor management.
How are these skills developed? Not just through university courses but by good examples and good supervision in practice. A confident and competent manager will, as often as not, have confident and competent staff.
So to anyone thinking about the profession who might be put up by the malaise of negativity that sometimes engulfs us, don’t be.
There is a lot of work to be done still. There are a lot of inequitable systems that need to be fought and they can be fought from within, indeed, they need to be.