I was born and raised in Wolverhampton and have worked in children and youth services in and around the Midlands for around 10 years.
I have been a youth worker all my career and for the last two or three years, working closely alongside social workers, I thought “I could do that, I could make a real difference to people.” I had a really amazing youth worker when I was growing up, who actually became my manager when I first started working. I chose the role because I wanted to give other young people the kind of opportunities that I’d had.
As a social worker I will still draw on the core skills of youth work like engaging young people where they are, rather than expecting them to come into our world. This obviously makes a lot more sense when we’re talking about contextualised safeguarding; making sure there is safeguarding where the children are as opposed to just where we want them to be.
Being a bloke from the Midlands and being of colour with mixed-race heritage does give me a different perspective on the challenges faced in social work and also by the communities we help. There are only two men working in my current unit, but there are authorities across the Midlands which have no male social workers at all. As a profession we’re not attracting enough men and it’s a systemic issue across the industry. From my experiences in the programme, I think Frontline is uniquely equipped and is doing more to re-dress that balance; it’s a long journey but we’re getting there.
Diversity in the role is another huge hurdle. I came from a rural authority which didn’t have much diversity, before moving to the Wolverhampton team where there is far more. What I’ve seen is that, in general, there are not the numbers of Black, Asian, dual or mixed heritage social workers that would make our service truly reflect the society we serve and there is so much to be gained from having a representative workforce. In Wolverhampton, like a lot of other authorities, we are seeing an increase in gang related violence and the effect that’s having on the local community. There are also cultural and economic challenges within areas of the city. Wolverhampton is very diverse, we have some isolated pockets of communities but many intermingle which is obviously really positive.
There’s a family I’m working with at the moment and one of the daughters is mixed race, the same cultural background as myself. Because I’ve had that lived experience of dealing with being different to my peers, I’m able to support her through that process in a way that perhaps other workers couldn’t.
It’s my belief that the Frontline programme is helping to rewrite that social work script, and help families understand that social care intervention isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We can’t rule out serious levels of intervention but our aim is for children to live and achieve their potential within the family unit, because that is fundamental to them being able to succeed.
The way I’ve always approached my work is that I know I’m doing a good job when I’m not needed anymore. There have been families who have been at a ‘child protection’ level and we’ve managed to de-escalate that to ‘child in need’. One of those families no longer needs social worker intervention because I’ve helped to create an environment where the positive change comes from them.
I don’t ever go into a family and think right I’m going to fix everything and that’s something that’s really core for Frontline. We’re not here to fix everything but we are here to give the families skills so they can do it for themselves.
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