When I started the Frontline programme, I had no idea how varied the job of a field social worker was and how many different ‘hats’ social workers need to wear. The main thing that surprised me was just how fantastic the children are despite what they’ve gone through and how much fun you can have doing the job.
To be a social worker, you need to be able to reflect on yourself. You have to be kind but also critical of your decisions, always thinking about if you made the best choice at the time. You need to have the ability to take on lots of different perspectives and think about what the other person on the end of that conversation is going through. One case I worked on involved a mum who hadn’t been taking her diabetic child to check-up appointments. Obviously, there were lots of concerns around this because, ultimately, this decision could be life-threatening to the child – the child’s blood sugars were all over the place. I organised an hour-long meeting with the mum and child, the grandparents and great-grandparents, the diabetes nurse and the school. During the meeting, it came out that the mum had felt really ashamed that she hadn’t been able to control her child’s blood sugar levels and, instead of asking for help, she buried her head in the sand. Her family weren’t aware of the situation. In that meeting, with four generations in the room, they were able to create a plan to support her and come up with their own solution to a potentially really dangerous problem. She got the support she needed and we closed the case a month later. That hour-long meeting changed everything.
You are the child’s ears, you are their eyes, you are the person that has the power to speak for their experience and they need you
Regardless of anything else going on, you always need to be an advocate for the child you’re working with. Of course, it’s important to think about everyone else that you work with around that child, but you should never lose sight of their experience. Ultimately, especially in safeguarding situations, you are the child’s ears, you are their eyes, you are the person that has the power to speak for their experience and they need you. You need to be able to hold that position perhaps when everyone else disagrees with you.
Being a social worker gives you a completely new perspective on your life and the people around you. It pushes you to be your most compassionate and best self around others. It makes you challenge yourself, to the extent that it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but I wouldn’t change a second of it. You have to be alert, analytical and switched on to understand children, parents, the networks that develop around people and to guide them to bring about change. As social workers, we don’t change families, families change themselves – we’re just a part of that.
If you’ve got what it takes to be an advocate for children in need: