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Celebrating social work

To celebrate this year’s World Social Work Day, social workers from across the Frontline network have come together to share their experiences and some of the standout moments they’ve enjoyed during their careers.

 “Rule no. 2: Mum to come to my dance shows if she’s not drunk the day before or the day of the show”

This was the second rule from a seven-year-old girl’s guidelines determining how contact between her and her Mum should take place (her first rule prioritised TGI Fridays and Nando’s as the favoured venues). We worked them out together ready to be presented to her Nan and, of course, to her Mum. And so she began to redefine a relationship marked for so long by distress and disappointment, to one shaped by learning, humour and encouragement. Rule two was about a little girl asserting her right to have Mum watch her in admiration and joy, rather than her having to watch her Mum in fear and apprehension.

When we had agreed the seven rules she wrote them out in her neatest, joined-up handwriting. She asked me “how do you do a signature?”, because “…this is my first form”. Then we laminated the document to give it extra strength and its words extra force. Her daughter’s manifesto for change felt heavy with hope as we handed it to Mum.

Paul, Frontline fellow

I’ve fallen back in love with social work

As we approach World Social Work day, things in Gateshead are buzzing. This is my social work home of 15 years and now is the best of times for our relationship. I’m buzzing because I am full of hope and determination. As a consultant social worker here with Frontline for 18 months, I’ve been able to adopt so many new positions while staying exactly in the same place. I’ve fallen back in love with social work and that has to be a privilege.

By a combination of design and chance, I’ve come to a stage at which I feel most useful to this authority. Right now I’m able to see the impact of our relationship with Frontline and the unit model on social work practice. I somehow manage to be useful while mostly giving priority to relationship, conversation and collectivism.

I spent an afternoon with other practice leaders the other day and realised I am part of a secure group of professional peers, who can steady one another so that we feel able to take a risk. We share a vision for the future of social work in this borough and we’re brought together by our shared moral purpose. It’s time to start writing our ‘story of now’.

Lesley, Frontline fellow and Consultant Social Worker  

“Thanks for making me realise that not everything’s bad in life”

Several experiences come to mind when I think about moments that have made it all worth it. However, the one that stands out most was my work with a 13-year-old boy and his family.

The teenager was suffering from severe anxiety, which was compounded by diagnoses of autism and ADHD. He was struggling on a daily basis and was at risk of losing his place at school. My initial visits were very difficult as he refused to answer my questions and told me how much he hated social workers. Despite this, I continued to visit him, both in school, at home and in the community.

As our working relationship progressed, and we both learned that our perceptions of each other had evolved into mutual respect and shared interests, he began to open up about his difficulties. He allowed me to discuss strategies for anger management and completed a genogram and ecomap to explore family relationships. As time passed, his behaviour began to change for the better, enabling him to keep his placement at school.

The moment that made it all worth it for me was when I received a card from him which simply read “Paul, thanks for everything you’ve done, thanks for making me realise that not everything’s bad in life”.

This was truly a standout moment in my career so far, and although it was difficult to get to that point, it was a privilege to be such a positive influence on his life.

Paul, Frontline participant, 2016 Cohort

Improving the lives of disabled children

I manage a team of social workers who work specifically with children with disabilities. It’s an area of social work that is misunderstood and often marginalised, mirroring society’s attitude to disabled children. Austerity has hit this area of social work hard and there isn’t the money to support families in the way there once was.

Social work with disabled children is very important because often the support we give can prevent the most vulnerable children coming into the care system. Social workers can be much more supportive to families, rather than just having an emphasis on safeguarding. If there are child protection issues, the case can be more complex as the children may be unable to speak to us and the issues may be more difficult to define.

The social workers in my team are trying to change a culture and declare that all disabled children matter! We want better services to support families and more diverse placements to safeguard the most vulnerable children. Social workers are often criticised, but in my team every worker is passionate about trying to improve the lives of disabled children and to promote their interests, giving them a voice.

One of the best examples of the work we do is a child called Jerry, who has ASD and challenging behaviour. His family were really struggling to manage him and keep his sister safe as he could be aggressive towards her. Family life was a daily challenge. His social worker listened to the family and observed Jerry to coordinate the correct services and create an assessment of what was needed, including some creative solutions to help the services go further. As a result of this support, Jerry has stayed out of the care system for many years longer than most predicted; an achievement which his family feel is due to the involvement of the social workers who helped them when they needed it most.

Debbie, Frontline fellow