Improving Young Lives in Hull: Award-winning Children’s Social Worker Shares Her Story
Published Wed 28th Sep, 2022

Anna O’Brien, Children’s Social Worker, Hull City Council

Anna O’Brien joined Hull City Council as a social work student before qualifying with a first class honours degree in 2020. The start of her career coincided with the first wave of the COVID-19pandemic, during which Anna rose to the many challenges posed by the lockdowns. Praised by families, colleagues and officials as someone who is always willing to go the extra mile, Anna’s efforts were recognised nationally when she was named Newly-Qualified Social Worker of the Year, at the Social Work Awards in November 2021.

By highlighting some of the immense rewards that have come with helping to shape and change the lives of local vulnerable children, young people and their families, Anna is hoping she can inspire others to consider taking up this vital role.

“I wanted to become a children’s social worker because I’ve always had a strong desire to help others, but also because I saw how my own family was affected when a relative had struggles with substance misuse. We needed what a lot of families need – some support from the right services – and having experienced this first-hand, it encouraged me to pursue a career in social work.

“In essence, my job is to protect vulnerable children, making sure their voices are heard and that they are safe, well and seen. This can include children who are experiencing or who are at risk of domestic abuse, sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation or substance abuse.

“This almost always involves working closely with families who are in desperate need of support. Every family is different, each with their own set of issues requiring varying levels of help, so there’s usually a lot of joint working involved with other agencies. I recently worked with an at-risk, expectant mother and even before the child was born, I was in touch with mental health services, housing support, health visitors and midwives. Although the mother still needed ongoing support after the baby was born, we were able to keep the family together as a result of our involvement.

“The role is both varied and complex, which can be challenging at times, but it’s also hugely rewarding and I get a lot of support. What I enjoy most about my job is the relationships I get to build with the families I work with. Even if I work with them for only a short period of time, I’m always able to make a connection, providing advice, support and reassurance where needed. Making those connections and being there, even if just to lend a listening ear, can often make a huge difference in giving someone the courage and the confidence they need to make positive, long-lasting changes to their life.”

“Working in the midst of a global pandemic was all I ever knew during my first year. As the country went into its first lockdown, we had to find ways of making sure we could keep vulnerable children safe and provide practical and emotional support to those in need. We all worked as a team, but to be personally recognised for my efforts at last year’s Social Work Awards was something I never expected. I got to attend a celebration event at the Houses of Parliament, which was an amazing and memorable experience.”

“If you want to make a difference to vulnerable children and young people, you really should consider becoming a social worker. I get a lot of support from my team and my manager, both on a professional and personal level. But the CSWM programme provides an additional layer of support, allowing us to share knowledge and ideas with other local authorities, and apply this in our day-to-day work. 

“Children’s social work is often a misunderstood profession, with a general lack of understanding around what we do. This can have a knock-on effect on staff morale and on recruitment, so raising awareness about the role and highlighting the many positive outcomes, can only be a good thing, for both the sector and the young people we serve to support and protect.”