Happy World Social Work Day! A day to celebrate the joy of social work – I had an idea for a post planned but couldn’t let this occasion pass so my thoughts about the letter received by every registered social worker in the UK on Friday will have to hold for another day – oh the suspense!
Hilton Dawson, the incoming Chief Executive of the British Association of Social Workers, a former MP, writes a piece in the Guardian celebrating Social Work with much more eloquence than I would be able to muster pre-work but without doubt it convinced me that today should be for positive thoughts.
I have said it before and I will again, just for effect – I’m incredibly proud to be a social worker. I might not shout out too loudly about in when out and about in public because I quite like my nose the shape it is already thank you very much, but when I look more globally at the work that is done and the work that I have been able to do, I’m very very proud.
It isn’t always easy – in fact, it rarely is. If it were easy, it would be boring. I have an opportunity and a window to walk with people through some of their most difficult moments and to convince, cajole and encourage them through it. Sometimes we make it out the other side, sometimes we don’t but at least by ensuring that there is a place to turn to, a number to ring, an ear to listen – it can make sense of some of the more troubling shots that fate plays with us.
Sometimes it isn’t about walking through scenarios with people, sometimes it is about making decisions for them or bursting into their flats with platoons of police officers to cuff them and assess their mental health. No, it isn’t fun. No, it isn’t rewarding. But thinking of the longer term – being years rather than weeks or months – it is something that is measured in degrees of the whole. Sometimes the decisions we make aren’t the ‘right’ ones. We work with risk. But we cannot afford to be afraid of risk.
I feel honoured to have the opportunity to share peoples’ lives. I see some of the pain that lingers behind the twitching net curtains. But I also see some of the hidden joys – some of the unexpected recoveries.
I qualified as a social worker in 2000. With about two years out where I had nothing whatsoever to do with anything related to social work, I have been working for almost 7 years in the post of a qualified social worker.
The most valuable things I have learned?
Clearly humility. You gain nothing by status and no-one goes into social work for the status, obviously. You cannot assume you know anyone better than the client and/or the carer who lives in that situation. Respect is a two-way street – you cannot and should never expect it unless you willingly give it. That obviously holds for users of services but it needs to hold equally for other professionals, care staff everyone with whom you have contact.
Advocacy – we learnt about the importance of advocacy and particularly self-advocacy as I was training. I have found myself most effective when I advocate for myself as well. We can dictate to our own managers what expectations should be made of us. What expectations we have for support and supervision. If we can’t advocate for ourselves we cannot effectively advocate for others.
Social justice underpins social work. When you are sitting under mounds of papers that need to be filed in front of a computer with a database programme that needs to be compiled, it is good to throw a thought back as to why the job is important and continues to be so important. We can’t escape the paper work or the database systems. We probably can’t truly learn to love them either. Unless we actively engage with those who are responsible for making these systems – at a national rather than local level – we can’t expect change.
And so I’m back to the letter we all received from Alan Johnson and Ed Balls – the content being too predictable, it did end with an invitation to discuss and engage with the Social Work Taskforce – with those who are deciding the future of social work in the UK (and an agony aunt from The Sun). I engaged. In pretty strong language – but not offensive language, I hasten to add.
I would encourage others who received their letters to engage – and if the requested conference date is full (as the one I wanted to go to is) – write directly because they do leave an email address (and I, for one, even got a fairly speedy response!). It will not take long and it is important that we re-grasp the profession for what it is and not for what the media creates it to be.