“After 10 years on the front line I couldn’t imagine doing anything else”

20th November 2013

Neil Hume, a children’s social worker and graduate of the University of Cambridge, tells us why he’s only ever wanted to be in one place…

I was very fortunate to spend three great years studying at the University of Cambridge receiving supervision from world famous academics, being part of a vibrant and progressive college community and forming fantastic friendships. After graduation I remember feeling a strange mixture of excitement and indecision: I was determined to use the knowledge and skills I had gained in a positive, socially useful way, but I had no idea what the right career was for me. 

Fast forward several months to London 2001, where I completed an unpaid internship with a leading penal reform think-tank, shadowing their research team and helping with small jobs. This was a fascinating insight into policy development but for me it felt too removed from the real action. I wanted to be at the coal-face, not in the colliery committee room. I duly signed up to the amazing Community Service Volunteer scheme and was assigned to a project supporting homeless young men. This was an inspiring and humbling experience: it showed me how demanding working in a social care setting could be – both emotionally and intellectually – and how unprepared I was.

By completing the Diploma in Social Work qualification I secured a solid grounding in the key policies, ideas and values that underpin the profession; yet for me the most valuable part of my training was undertaking the work placements in front line practice.  Provided with my own caseload and the guidance of an experienced worker, I was challenged to take the knowledge and skills I had gained in the classroom and use them in the field. In order to learn how to do a job as varied and unpredictable as social work, nothing prepared me like being involved in actual practice: having the experience of working in a busy inner-city team, building trusting relationship with the children and families on my caseload, honing my ability to make sound professional judgments around needs and risks on a daily basis and developing my confidence to provide a strong social work perspective in multi-agency meetings.  The more practice-based training we can give social workers, the better.

Following several years working in adult services, in 2009 I joined a Children and Families Social Work team where I continue to practice. My job is incredibly varied. It’s often frustrating but consistently compelling. After 10 years on the front line I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Becoming a social worker means joining a caring profession – one committed to improving the lives of those in need within our society – but it’s not a soft option. Out in the field it is fast-paced and emotionally-charged work which is carried out in schools, in homes, in court rooms and on streets. You will encounter troubling and upsetting situations where children are the victims of serious maltreatment, sometimes due to the actions of the adults who should be caring for them. It inspires me to know that every day across the UK, the effective intervention of a capable and confident social worker will transform the life chances of vulnerable children.