This weekend I met up with a friend of mine whom I first met when I started my MA in Social Work roughly 12 years ago.
Since graduating and qualifying, our careers have taken different but in some ways parallel paths. She works in childrens’ services and currently works in a fostering and adoption team.
We’ve both spent a couple of those years ‘out of the workforce’ for various reasons (travel, family).
When we met, I was trying to persuade her to come to the SWAN event in London next weekend. We discussed the way some of the idealism that we had had back in the day when we were students had gone and how easy it was to become distracted from the ‘bigger fight’ for social justice on a societal level when you are struggling from day to day in a job where sometimes it’s difficult to see beyond the ‘care and control’.
Some days, at work, it might not feel that we are making a change for the positive but it needs to remain absolutely key to the process of the work and we need to draw on the spirit that took us into this profession in the first place. With a little bit of prodding and perhaps more importantly, active reflection, we can uncover those roots.
I remember, and we discussed this, how much I wanted the world to change 12 years ago. How much injustice there is and how much more I have seen since qualifying. Society has a whole lot of changing to be done before my head can rest easy on the pillow at night. It’s just sometimes, at the end of a day when I’ve been rushing around and an preoccupied with primarily ‘fire-fighting’ crises in practice, it’s hard to free up those parts of the brain for the ‘bigger fight’.
This is why it was refreshing to meet and discuss where we are at – a decade later. The political climate has always marginalised the ‘dependent’ but the lines of battle are more sharply drawn now. The differences are that we have far many more weapons in our arsenal for the ‘fight’ ahead.
On reflection, I was fairly ambitious as a student. If someone would have told me 10 years ago that I wouldn’t be in a management position 10 years after qualifying, I would have been sorely disappointed. I had struggled hard to get to the point of actually taking the course, it hadn’t been a smooth path – but I was so determined that in some ways I would make a mark and make a difference to more people than those whom I directly worked with.
As it is though, I’m not remotely disappointed. Perhaps I’ve got a better insight into where that management leads and I’m not sure I want to ‘buy into it’. If I thought I couldn’t make a difference for the positive and good, I wouldn’t last in this job. Yes, I need money to survive but there are easier ways of making enough to live on. I’ve got a healthy disrespect for money.
Last week, the National Skills Academy for Social Care initiated a consultation about the role of leadership in adult social care. I haven’t yet read the Consultation Document but I will. I fully intend to submit a response having worked in adult care for well over 15 years now (gulp, that ages me!) . For me, leadership and management are absolutely not analogous and it is an important distinction to make. Management positions don’t make good leaders and good leaders are not by necessity, good managers. If anything, management is a functional role. It has left its inspiration behind it but more of that when I actually read the document.
You see, I feel that we have more ways at our fingertips to lead outside of the management role and that is the way to form opinions, grow roles and make a difference to a wider range of people. Perhaps even to change the world.
Through various ways and means, I am more radical though than I was when I was a student. Perhaps because I have been exposed to more injustice and am more au fait with the systems that create injustices.
I am having something of a reawakening of my radical soul and it is coming back stronger.
I do think I can change the world again. I am returning to my postmodern/social constructionist theoretical bases and it can explain to me – as all good theoretical models should be able to explain – the way that not only the modernist structures and assumptions are breaking up but also the modern modes of communication and perhaps the modern roles of ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ as cohabiting the same identity and space.
Information and the power behind information is fragmenting. Anyone can gain a presence on the web and use the voice piece to find and contact people who might be either of a similar mind or in other similar organisations.
We can organise ourselves without waiting for permission from management.
We can reach larger audiences without having to necessarily shout louder.
And the role of the social worker as advocate can really come into the fore at this point.
To do this though, we, as social workers need to get to grips with new media, new technology and most importantly social media.
There are many more ways to change the world.
I’m still convinced, no, in fact, I’m more convinced I can do it now than I was ten years ago.