World Social Work Day

Tomorrow is World Social Work Day. As I am taking a break from updating the blog this week (apart from today!), I am writing my post for the day now.

I wanted to consider a few things in relation to the ‘celebratory day’ such as it is although celebration seems a bit raw in the face of the  humanitarian disaster taking place in Japan. I don’t want for there to have to be these disasters to provide context. People do not need to suffer in order for me to learn. But my human reaction to those pictures is to look inside myself for ways that I can console my own thoughts. Part of human nature is to look for answers. We have enquiring minds. I am not religious although I toy with agnosticism. I thought the Independent’s piece was thoughtful though.

Back to World Social Work Day. I’m not doing anything special to ‘celebrate’ apart from going to work. Which I think, in this economic climate and amid the vagaries of chance and an angry earth, more to celebrate on this Monday morning than I might credit.

I am going to spend World Social Work Day not celebrating as such. I think for me, the day will be more about inward reflection and consideration of what it means to me to be a social worker. What the job has provided me with and the areas which I am still lacking in.

How can I learn to be better at my job? How do I reconcile the tough days when I arrive home exhausted with the good days when things fit together? How do we become more confident as a profession to the extent that we don’t need external bodies to ‘speak for us’ and we don’t rely on the morsels that the media throw at us but we can stand among ourselves and have enough confidence to be proud of being social workers without having to claim a need to be like doctors, or nurses, or occupational therapists or teachers.

I see an issue of a lack of professional self-confidence. We are, in the UK, generally, servants of the state and often despised. But we also buy into it and just as I would tell an adolescent that she needs to learn to love and respect herself before anyone else will – so I feel a need to tell our still, in some ways, adolescent profession, that we need to learn to love and respect ourselves – as social workers – before anyone else will.

Regardless of media interviews, regardless of social media campaigns. If we are not advising our children to become social workers, we should work on creating a profession that everyone, including our children, will strive to join.

This is no time to be bashful but before looking outwards for approval, we need to seek it internally – amongst ourselves.

So for those social workers, on World Social Work Day, it’s worth looking on what it is you want to achieve and how being a social worker will help you. And if it won’t, consider what needs to change in the profession for you – for us – to be able to realise our goals.

I love my job. I’m proud to be a social worker. I heartily recommend the profession and anything else I have done has not been as stimulating and challenging. I  have found qualities that I never knew I had and have been able to develop them  but now I see a flailing and unconfident profession.

Not helped in the UK by the bickering over the identity of social work by the professional organisation and the nascent College. My message to BASW would be to listen to your members rather than the Council and treat democracy seriously – while remembering you only represent 13,000 social workers – some of whom are not English (so wouldn’t be part of the College) and some of whom are members for the insurance benefits. You can’t take a unilateral decision and palm it off as ‘democracy’. My message to the SCIE ‘college’ would be to take listening seriously if you want to gain credibility.

As Social Workers we shrive for social justice and providing a voice for those without one. So a College for Social Work needs to consult and provide channels for the voices within the profession that don’t always shout the loudest.

Finally, I’d recommend this post by JaeRan Kim. Watch the videos. And reflect on why we do this and what we need to do to make our profession stronger. It isn’t about colleges and unions and professional organisations (although they all have a place) – it is about self-confidence, a strong moral and ethical compass and strong reflective practice.

Happy World Social Work – I’ll be back at the weekend!

 

NB Tomorrow, The Guardian Local Government Network are having a Q and A session between 12pm – 3pm about achieving a work/life balance in social care. Very topical for World Social Work Day!

Happy World Social Work Day!

I know, I was having a break and all but I could barely let the day go by without note!

Today, the focus is on Making Human Rights Real.

Oh, and did I mention it is the day to give all your social worker friends lots of chocolate and other useful gifts.. I expect my desk to be overflowing by the time I get to the office!

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World Social Work Day

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.

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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.

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