Changing narratives: Social justice and advocacy through social work
Anton Grizzle started the Frontline programme in 2015 as a recent graduate and currently works in advocacy for children and young people.
Anton’s understanding of and sensitivity to the structural barriers faced by vulnerable children clearly underpins his work. He’s a social worker who models empathy and being child focused, with a real passion for advocacy.
I’ve always been very interested in people, and particularly how families function. And I’ve always had a sense of justice; wanting things to be fair; to help people who life hasn’t been easy for. But I don’t think I ever really knew what social work was, nor was I aware of any jobs that combined those three things. After speaking to a careers advisor at university who suggested Frontline, I researched social work and was struck by how it brought together my key interests. Eight years later, I’m still driven by wanting to be helpful and for justice to be served. Social work still offers me the chance to fulfil those things.
I recently did an Erasmus master’s in social work where I studied social work in different countries for two years. I learned that social work, especially in Latin America, is closely aligned to not just advocacy but also activism.
Campaigning for social justice is about trying to not only change what’s happening for individual service users but change how families or service users are treated in society.
A change I would like to see is local authorities, the social work profession, and child protection practice in the UK, having greater recognition that many families are living in material poverty which impacts parenting and harms children. I was in court last week and the judge’s closing statements about why they were granting a supervision order acknowledged that the family was living on very little money in one of the most expensive cities in the world. The judge saw the struggles faced by the parent to meet their child’s needs and keep them safe while facing material deprivation and the psychological impacts of that. I was really pleased to hear the judge acknowledging this, knowing that it had been written in the child’s record, and that the parent heard it from such a senior voice.
There are existing structural, political systems which do make children unsafe, and I feel like often we’re working at changing the individual parents within the system rather than trying to change system itself.
I’d like to see some way of child protection services and child protection social workers actively working towards addressing those injustices.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have an impact on an individual level too though. The Frontline programme training taught me to adopt a way of working that always considers the experiences of children and their parents. What will their experience be of me walking into their home? It can be easy to get swept up in juggling thinking about risks and ensuring that all the relevant things are covered when going on a visit. But being systemic means that I try to think about what I can do to get the best from someone or at least just make the experience as positive as possible for them. Our interactions with them as social workers are a huge part of this – on a basic level, people want to feel understood. This is why representation is so important. The more social workers can mirror a diverse range of backgrounds, whether it’s with class or race, or gender, the more it can help with service users feeling understood.