"Our job is about listening, hearing and empathising" - Victoria, York
Published Wed 8th Mar, 2023

Victoria Coen, Senior Children’s Social Worker at City of York Council

I knew from the age of 15 that I wanted to be a children’s social worker. As someone who had direct personal experience of the care system as a child, I’d been actively involved with several organisations aimed at improving the experiences of young people in the care system. It was this, along with the acknowledgment of my situation, being believed in and the kindness shown to me by one of my children’s social workers, which helped to inspire my career choice and shape who I am today.    

After high school, I undertook a children and young people’s workforce apprenticeship - which is open to anyone with direct experience of the care system - before going on to complete my social work degree. Since qualifying in 2018, I’ve helped many families and children, including those who have been at risk of neglect, emotional harm or domestic abuse and in my current role as a senior social worker, much of my time is spent dealing with some of our more challenging cases.

Mental health, drug and alcohol issues, poverty and bereavement are just some of the issues facing the families we work with. A big part of what I do involves supporting them in accessing the help and services they need, be it via schools, local health agencies, food banks or charities, who might offer anything from clothing and furniture for those living in poverty, to refuge for those fleeing abusive relationships.

Whilst we work closely with these agencies, we always look to the family in the first instance when trying to find solutions. It might be for example, that we sit down with them to find a trusted friend or extended family member who can offer support with childcare, while mum or dad are encouraged to seek the help they need to support their emotional wellbeing. We often find that families can be very good at healing themselves once an issue has been identified, so helping them to take those small but important steps can also make the difference in them being able to meet their child’s needs.

As a children’s social worker, it’s imperative that a child’s voice is always heard, by taking into account how they feel, what they want and what they need. They might be acting out, missing school or have mental health issues of their own as a result of what’s happening at home. Even something that might appear low level might be having a significant impact on them and they might be in need additional support and guidance, play therapy or someone at school who can advocate on their behalf. Sometimes they just need someone to listen to them and sometimes that person is us.  

Essentially, our job is about listening, hearing and empathising. We all have emotions and one of the hardest things about my job is that you sometimes take it home with you. But I’ve found that letting a family see a little bit of you and showing them you care, goes a long way. I feel it’s important they see you as a person and not just your job title. Whenever I work with a family I give them my all, and over the years, I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from both my colleagues and the families I’ve helped.

Research and our own social work experience tells us that children are at their best when they’re with their families and our role is very much centred around keeping families together rather than separating them. I love my job because I’m able to make a difference and have been part of so many success stories. Even as a last resort when a child has had to be removed then returned to the family home, I’ve seen how families have been given a new lease of life because I’ve helped them break a negative cycle of behaviour.

I feel there are a people out there who have a lot to give but maybe haven’t considered children’s social work as a career or don’t have the confidence to pursue it. But anyone who cares, anyone who has that passion to help, listen and empathise; these are the people we need in our profession.