I have been a social worker in child protection for seven years, moving through a number of different frontline jobs during this time. Child protection social work is challenging, stressful, emotional and tiring, but I love it.
There have definitely been days when I wanted to give up, days when I felt that nothing I could do for a family would change anything and days when just the printer breaking or running out of paper felt like the final straw. However, there were also days when I felt that I was making a difference, days when spending time with a child was the most important and enjoyable experience, and days when I felt that I was very privileged to be involved with such amazing and strong families.
Looking back, some of my most striking and inspiring memories are about one of the first families I worked with. A few days after being allocated the family, the situation deteriorated and sadly I had to remove the young girl from her mother’s care. I knew that it was the right decision for the child and that her mother needed to get help and support as she could not keep the child safe. Yet this did little to make me feel any better.
I met the child for the first time that day and took her from school to the foster carers. After showing her round, playing with her in the living room and encouraging her to play with the carers I tried to leave, but the young girl clung on to me in floods of tears and would not let me leave for almost an hour. I’m pleased to say that after a few months, lots of work with the family and other professionals the girl was able to return home to live with her mother.
This particular case taught me that sometimes, it’s the little things that can really count. Whilst at the foster carers the girl had particularly enjoyed going to the park, a fairly normal activity for lots of people, but something she had never experienced at home. When I explored this with the mother I found out that she had never been to a park and was anxious as she did not know what to do once there. So while it may have seemed like a small thing amongst all the crucial work of keeping the child safe and ensuring she could live with her mother in the long term, I felt that this was something important.
I ensured that I made time to accompany the mother and child to the park so that the mother would feel confident going on her own in the future and that they had something positive to do together. Shortly after this the case was closed as there were no longer any concerns for the child and the mother was accessing support from the school.
A year or so later I was back at the child’s school, attending a meeting in relation to another family. As I was waiting in reception I felt a tug at my sleeve. The child I had worked with right at the beginning of my career, who had only ever said one or two words to me in the months I had worked with her, was stood there. ‘Miss, I’m ok now’ was all she said before running back to join the rest of her class.
I recently left frontline social work – something I had never planned to do – and have moved into academia. I miss working directly with children and families and making sure children’s views and interests are central to any decision making. However, working on the Frontline programme, I am now able to influence a large number of social work students and support them to develop their practice. Seeing their developing skills, their interactions with families, their ability to promote children’s rights and the new and creative ideas they bring into child protection social work is just as rewarding.