There’s always a lot of doom and gloom floating around the social work profession, sadly not only from those outside of it, but from plenty of social workers on Community Care, overworked, burnt out and cynical.
Most social workers, I think, enter the profession because they want to make a difference. I know that the impetus for my career change was to move to a more rewarding career, to make a difference, to work in the name of social justice and more specifically to engage with young people, who I think are always given a particularly bad name, not least since the riots.
When I first started conducting research into the career, I came up against lots of comments about the frustrations that social workers face every day, particularly when working in such a bureaucratic setting as a local authority and it caused me to question if it was the right career change and whether I really would be able to make a difference, however small.
Halfway through my final year placement, I can safely say that Social Workers can make a difference.
We can’t change lives overnight perhaps (although getting an Emergency Protection Order to remove a child might count!) but I believe in the long term, in my role in the Children in Care team, I really can help.
I have been working with one teenager. They have been failed by the system in a number of ways and for obvious reasons I won’t be going into too much detail. But they were left in their birth family for too long, they are not getting the educational support they should be getting, nor the emotional support, they are fairly isolated and find it difficult to make friends etc.
In the short time I have been working with them, I feel that there have been some changes, no miracles but some steps in the right direction. Through advocacy I fast tracked a CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) referral – something that was on this young person’s care plan for the last two years but for some reason had fallen through the gaps, partly due to the perceived difficulty of out of borough referrals. (I say perceived, as I called up the borough, asked them to send me out a form, and wrote the referral…but the perception is probably what sends it further down the to do list.) The young person has now started therapy, just a month after the matter arose during my first LAC review.
I have done lots of research into the local area calling up different youth clubs and found one that matched the young person’s needs particularly well, a single gender youth club. I chatted to the foster carer about it. She had never heard of it before but was excited by the prospect and the young person has now attended two sessions.
I’ve had regular conversations with our education team who are now putting a huge amount of pressure on the out of borough education team to make sure there are no more suitable provisions for this young person and I have spent a lot of time building a relationship, to the point where for the first time, they felt able to talk about many deep seated issues and cry, while telling me they had never been able to cry with a social worker before.
I realise these are all tiny steps, nothing groundbreaking. I also realise that as a student I have a protected caseload, so I am fortunate that I’m able to spend a day during the upcoming half term, making sure I can spend extra time with the young person, going out for an afternoon rather than the ‘tired, after school slot’ and that I have the luxury to leave the office for a half day to attend a therapy session with the young person when the therapist invited me.
I also have faced the frustrations and the bureaucracy that has driven me close to tears as I desperately try to advocate for permanency for a young person, whose permanency meetings keep getting cancelled as Ofsted reviews and the like take priority or as the price of the more expensive foster agency placements take precedence over making a child-centred decision.
But, for anyone wondering whether to make the change to social work, or for those fed up with the public attacks, for me this is just revelling in the feel good moments that come with the role. And they might be the naïve enthusiasm of someone yet to even finish their MA. But after having spent the year before I changed career, helping to advertise beer (!), I can tell you that the joy of finding out your CAMHS referral was fasttracked, or your young person attended the youth group you really weren’t sure they’d go to, is second to none.
Lets make sure we appreciate and celebrate the little successes, because if we don’t, no-one else will!