I am a social worker in a long-term care unit, alongside families where a child is either at risk or their needs aren’t being met. We work with the child and the people they interact with the most – parents, siblings, extended family, professionals – to make sure we are all doing our bit to make things safer for them. As you can imagine that could involve a huge range of things, which is why this role is so broad. One minute you can feel like a case manager, the next a therapist or coach and everything in between. I can’t think of any other job where you’d go from lying on the floor playing with a baby to presenting evidence to a judge in court.
I feel like any of the cases I’ve worked on could illustrate just how varied the role of a social worker is, but there’s one that’s particularly fresh in my mind. I’m currently working with children facing very high levels of neglect. The first priority was to help the family make immediate, albeit short term, changes to address issues of neglect – making sure there’s food in the fridge and the house is cleaned, putting routines into place, organising the school run. There’s real gratification in this because you can see improvements in the children’s lives on a day to day basis, and know you’ve helped with that.
I can’t think of any other job where you’d go from lying on the floor playing with a baby to presenting evidence to a judge in court
Long term planning and thinking is also hugely important, especially as this case has been referred to court. Once the high-level support from us isn’t in place, will these parents be able to look after their children’s needs? I’ve been writing a parenting assessment – a really complex, dissertation-length document, involving a lot of research and analysis – as a way of working this out. I’ve had to conduct interviews, get reports from other professionals, look through records and collate that all together. That’s very rewarding in a completely different way. I find it really satisfying working hard on a project that needs me to fully engage and that tests me mentally. I wasn’t expecting to have to work on more stereotypically intellectual pieces of work in this role, but I’m really grateful that I get to keep up the academic skills I developed at uni.
The final strand of my work with the family involves the father. The kids haven’t seen him for a long time – they don’t want to have any contact because they feel he abandoned them, but he does seem to have the skills to help mum meet their needs and cooperate with her to do that. I’ve been working with both parents to create a storyboard to help the children understand their father’s absence, reduce their anger, and hopefully encourage them to be willing to have him in their lives again. It takes a lot of emotional intelligence to get into dad’s shoes, mum’s shoes and the children’s shoes and walk this very fine line between all those competing needs and emotions.
I’m really grateful that I get to keep up the academic skills I developed at uni
That case really demonstrates the range of skills you need as a social worker. You need to be pragmatic, observant, analytical, empathetic, a good communicator and motivated. One of the skills I least expected to need is creativity. Frontline really pushes us to make our time with families count, and it takes real imagination to think, in this short space of time, how am I going to help this family make the changes they need to make?
As social workers, we rely a lot on other professional networks we work with, but those same professionals are also relying on you. Our role is to lead all of those involved in supporting the child and family; offering advice but also being given information that they expect you to interpret, so there’s a lot of leadership involved in social work.
I’m proud of being a social worker
I’m proud of being a social worker and I talk about my job a lot. It’s a fascinating role and people are often surprised by what I do on a day to day basis. We are dealing with situations that the vast majority of people never see or hold responsibility for. Some people think we are care workers and others think we just go into houses and to court to take children away. People don’t realise there is so much more involved than this, and its more complex and rewarding than they can often begin to imagine.
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