Today Jenny tells us about her experiences of social work, what Frontline’s applicants and participants need to know, and why the success of her daughter is testament to the dedication of her own social workers.
“When I was growing up I had the same social worker for seven years. That was unusual then, but almost unheard of now. I felt like I could trust that social worker 100%. Our relationship wasn’t easy, but she stuck by me through thick and thin. I always looked forward to seeing her – she was my special person. She worked with my family at the same time to protect me from my mum, who wasn’t easy to work with, and she was always available to me. I didn’t even realise there were other children on her caseload – it didn’t even occur to me that I wasn’t the only one because she was that good.
“By contrast my next two social workers rarely made me feel special. The second was once an hour and 10 minutes late. The third was the social worker who gave me my Social Services files when I turned 18. For children in care these files are our lives – I was obsessed with them. That’s what turning 18 meant to me. But my social worker gave me these files in a cold, dark room and left me there. The information in these files was incomplete (with lots of papers missing) and very traumatic. I was waiting and waiting for my social worker, partly to see how upset I was and partly to come and rescue me; I didn’t even know how to get out of that awful building.
“I think it’s really important that social workers show us that it is possible to love us, and to hold high aspirations for us. They also need to get to know you and to gain trust. For instance, my favourite social worker gained my trust by telling me when she was going on holiday and when she would be back. Because every time someone went on holiday I automatically thought, ‘right – that’s it – they’re not coming back.'”
“I absolutely loved my day at Frontline’s Summer Institute. It was buzzing. I confess, before I met Frontline’s first cohort I judged them. I made an assumption that they’d have no insight into our lives. Yet they were the absolute opposite of what I’d expected. They were so interested. They asked challenging, interesting, intellectual questions. They just ‘got it’. I never realised my story would have such an impact. They were so open and so kind. Also, there aren’t many people who could have come out of a five-week Summer Institute like that still buzzing about social work. I mean, during that time they were taught the worst case scenarios. I came out of my day there with such hope for the students. I can’t wait to see them again at the recall days.”
“When I met the Frontline participants I gave them advice on how to work with children in care. I told them not to over-promise or you’ll lose trust. I told them to fight the child’s corner – but also to show the child you’re fighting their corner by recording what you’re doing (without being judgemental, of course). That way, when we go to pick up our files when we turn 18 our healing from our childhoods can continue. We need to know which people were behind us.
“To applicants I would also say it is essential that you care about children in care. If you don’t, then don’t bother; go and do something else. I’d make it clear that compassion from gifted high-achieving students, often from comfortable backgrounds, is every bit as valid as compassion from those from less well- off backgrounds. Finally, I would also say that rewards of social work are far more spiritually rewarding than anything you’ll get from a commercial career.”
“I was in care as a child, and so were both my parents. Two generations. My daughter didn’t go into care – we’re not repeating that pattern. Turning 18 meant one thing for me – getting my hands on those files I mentioned earlier. I’m so proud that, for my daughter, turning 18 simply meant an amazing party and a day to feel special.
“In fact, my daughter is now training to be a social worker herself.
“My children’s upbringing and success is a credit to my social workers; they were the ones who gave me the ability to break out of that cycle. Parents usually take the credit don’t they? Well my parents lost that right, with my social workers gaining it. Social workers don’t always see the impact, but boy can they make a difference. I have got to where I am today because of social workers.”
Interview and words by Joe Jervis. Photo by Mark Harrison.