Melissa Caslake, Divisional Director of Targeted Services for Harrow Council, explains her social work journey…
I’ve been a social worker for 14 years. After graduating from University with an English degree I was always determined to move into a career where I could make a direct difference to people’s lives. I initially explored Law and Education; it transpired that Law was too detached and teaching was just not for me. I then volunteered at a women’s refuge and this confirmed my desire to move into social work where I could have a direct positive impact on children’s lives.
Social work is an active job, you are not sat at a desk all day and the variety of work you do keeps it interesting as well as rewarding. Moreover it is a real privilege to be in a position of trust and with that privilege comes responsibility. My aim is to ensure children find the best outcome in the care system whether that’s fostering, adoption or a residential home. As Divisional Director, I am responsible for the Leaving Care Team who help children become functional adults and improve their life chances. This falls in line with the part of the job I really love. To see a child in care going to university and coming out with a degree is a fantastic feeling, but perhaps better still; seeing a child coming out the other side of the system and becoming a good parent, to know you’ve broken that generational link of disadvantage being passed down through a family is the ultimate achievement.
As well as having a positive impact on children’s lives I get to work with impressive and powerful people. As a successful social worker I have worked closely with the police, health workers, adult services and people from the voluntary sector. As Divisional Director I am responsible for, amongst other things, Child Protection, Children in Need, Children in Care, Fostering and Adoption, Youth Offending and Commissioning Placements. I’m also a member of various strategic boards including Domestic violence, Safer Harrow and Safeguarding Children.
In my time at Harrow Council I have also been lucky enough to train some fantastic social workers. Turning a newly qualified social worker into a great social worker is an incredible feeling. Seeing people grow and develop in their jobs is another powerful opportunity for me to influence and change things for the better.
There is a huge amount of scope for growth and progression as a social worker. I qualified within one year and quickly mapped out my route to becoming Assistant Director. I did this by always being open to new training and networking effectively in the field. In the ten years prior to my promotion in 2009 I worked in child protection, children in care, managing teams and services. Practice educating a student also really helped my professional development.
Social work is a fast paced, challenging and rewarding career that has helping others at its centre. To be able to protect children from harm and give them life chances that they may not have had provides a real source of pride that is unique to the profession.