There and Back Again

As I finished yesterday, I had left my first job and embarked on my little (well, it was two years) adventure and I decided to return to London and join the ranks of gainfully employed social workers again.

London Eye
I knew it was what I wanted to do. I had grown a little tired of living out of a suitcase/rucksack.  First thing I did was look for somewhere to live. I’d managed to secure room on a friend’s floor for the initial ‘return’ period.

I didn’t have too many boxes to tick regarding accommodation. I was looking for a shared flat ‘somewhere as central as possible’ because I didn’t know where I’d be working and of course, good transport links.

I registered with the social work agency I’d used before going. I needed to work as soon as possible so I thought I’d try and get an agency placement and could apply for permanent jobs in the meantime.

It wasn’t the flood of offers that I had been used to on graduation but a few noted signs of interest. I was concerned at how my two year break would look to employers. I didn’t have a massive range of experience but I got an interview and not only was it in an area ( adults services) that I was familiar with, it was also, by coincidence, in the same borough I had randomly chosen to live in. Walking distance – but just in case there was a useful bus and tube route I could hop on for speed.

I was nervous during the interview with the team manager while I was asked about a fairly standard scenario. I kept thinking about things I’d forgotten to say while I left and the manager didn’t exude any natural warmth, indeed, I could detect a hint of ambivalence at best.  At some points she almost seemed to snap at me. It was not one of those interviews you come out of with positive feelings.

Off I went on my day to day path to wait for the next calls. To my surprise though, they wanted to take me on as a ‘care manager/social worker’ in a much smaller adult services team than I had worked in previously.

I remember saying specifically in my interview that although I had a years’ experience, I had two years ‘out of the field’ and would need some support to get back into my stride. I didn’t want to be expected to pick up the baton immediately. I am glad I mentioned it but I realised in retrospect how hopelessly naive I was. Of course they nodded and smiled but they were paying high agency rates and I was given a caseload of things that had clearly been waiting for allocation for a while.

I was baffled by FACS (Fair Access to Care services) which seemed to have appeared while I had been gone. Direct Payments were beginning to permeate through the systems as had Carers Assessments although no one could really get any services from a Carers’ Assessment so it was just another piece of paper although I’ve tended to find the process of the assessment and discussion can be useful.  Charging was more widespread and the types of services offered where quite different from my previous place of employment.

Each desk had it’s own computer by this point and a new database system  had just been introduced – much to the chagrin of most of the staff.  All reports were expected to be typed up by now. I was also the only agency worker in the team which  had been so different from my previous job. Not only was I the only agency social worker but all the other social workers and care managers (qualified and not) had been there for a good few years. It wasn’t a transient kind of team. People rarely joined and always stayed. A good sign perhaps.

Saying that, they were the friendliest and most welcoming team that I’ve ever worked in and there was not a hint of any thought of me being ‘different’ because I worked through an agency. I was immediately taken under the wing of some of the more senior staff members who were the easiest people to ask questions of if a manager couldn’t be found.

And the rather ambivalent manager who seemed to scare me during the interview? She was one of the best managers I’ve ever had and then some more. She had a way about her of making people think she didn’t like them but when push came to shove, she would support her staff up to the hilt and seemed to rather savour arguments with more senior management. As I learnt, she had a fierce reputation throughout the borough but all the staff who worked for her were very protective of her. She spot-checked files when she was walking round the office to check notes were up to date and papers were filed in the right place.

She was also the manager who insisted we never refer to ‘cases’ and ‘files’ when talking about other human beings. Files were the physical paper documents, not the people and not the families. No-one was a ‘case’. They were individuals with hopes, dreams and aspirations. She was very strong on language and did not tolerate and thoughtlessness as she felt it reflected sloppy thinking.  Cases were not ‘difficult’  but rather ‘complex’. People are not ‘difficult’ just because they may not respond the ways we may want or expect to them. They take time or they have complex issues. I still refer to her use of language as a model to ways of thinking and interpreting things that I might find troubling about working in particular routine ways with particular people and families.

They say when you find a good manager, you hang around. Hang around I did.

I applied for the permanent job that my post was covering when I came up and am still working for the same borough although I moved into Mental Health services.

The manager I had, she retired a while back as have some of the people that shared the office with me, but others are around and we bump into each other from time to time.

They were difficult days and I struggled a lot at times, especially getting back some confidence in working in a field when I had been doing so many different things in the meantime but the time out of the country also taught me a lot about resourcefulness and self-belief.

I learnt about living in a different environment and culture and ‘being a foreigner’. I learnt another language. I learnt that there is a difference between solitude and loneliness and that being comfortable with yourself is inherently important. I saw amazing things, went to amazing places, met some amazing people and did amazing things.
Big Ben

Then I came home