The importance of building relationships

18th March 2020

She was confident and knew exactly what she wanted. That included wanting to leave her family home and move into care because of an extremely distressing situation. This was a difficult decision to make at 15 years old. As a newly-qualified social worker, I found it challenging at first to work with a teenager who expressed their views so openly and forcefully, when I was still so new to the role.

A few years later I saw her in the office. She ran up to me and gave me a hug. We went through some tough times together but, by the end of my time working with her, we had built a solid relationship. Clearly, it still meant a lot to her. You don’t often get to see the impact that your relationship has had, years, or even months, down the line. When you do it’s one of the most rewarding feelings. She also had a big impact on me and I often think back to my first year as a social worker, when I was supporting her.

Relationships are so crucial as a social worker, because you’re becoming involved with families and young people at a really vulnerable time for them. You want to support people to have the best outcomes during this tough time in their lives. It’s not always about the relationship being amazing, because sometimes you might have to make decisions that people don’t agree with. However, being open and honest from the beginning can really help when these difficult conversations need to be had. An important part of building a relationship with a family is asking what you could do that they would find helpful or unhelpful. This demonstrates that you have an active role in that relationship and it is not only them who may need to make changes.

What I enjoy most about teaching on the Frontline programme is seeing participants develop over the two years. At the beginning of their first year, most are feeling anxious about starting their placement and working with families. However, in a short space of time, their knowledge and confidence grow. Often, one of the key strengths of Frontline participants, particularly in the first few months, is their ability to build strong relationships with families. They learn this through the theories and approaches we teach them at the summer institute and throughout the programme. Their consultant social worker and practice tutor continue to support them in developing that skill over the two years.

We run ‘good practice forums’ in the North West where we ask participants to present work they’ve done with families. Every time I go to one of these, I’m amazed at the participants’ hard work and creativity. It’s really inspiring to see how they have used skills from previous roles or from their training to build strong, purposeful relationships with families. One participant recently demonstrated how she had used slime and glitter as a way of helping a child, who spoke very little, express how he was feeling.

My role has shown me that different people have such different ideas. People who don’t have experience of social work and those who have enjoyed long careers in other fields are able to come into the profession and do a brilliant job, because they can make those connections with families. Through these relationships, participants are able to bring about change for the most vulnerable, and that’s the most important thing.