Travis Bacchus, Social Worker, Barnsley Council
Travis is a young social worker in Barnsley. Born in the Caribbean he came with his family to live in the UK in 2003, growing up in Yorkshire. Within his family there is a diverse history of helping people, in both social work and medical fields. It is this background which prompted his interest in and push towards becoming a social worker.
“My auntie is a social worker with adults and when she told me about her role and that she got paid for helping people, and empowering adults as well, I took a very good liking towards it. My house is also full of NHS workers. My dad, my mum, my sister – they all have jobs where they care for other people. Mum is a surgical practitioner nurse so she is in charge of a number of wards. I did consider being a nurse, but I realised that I don’t like the sight of blood! After doing my own research, I realised I wanted to be a children’s social worker; to empower young people and teenagers who haven’t got a voice or a platform. I was born in Guyana where a lot of people were very unfortunate to not have the opportunities that we have over here. That led me to want to help young people and families as well. It’s very uplifting for me.”
Travis started his qualification path studying for a BTec level 3 in Health and Social Care social work at Hillsborough College in Sheffield. He then went on to Sheffield Hallam University to do a foundation degree in working with children, young people and families and then onto the BA Hons in social work. He became a qualified social worker in 2018. He continued his training in Derbyshire, before relocating to Barnsley to complete his ASYE.
“I wanted to work in Rotherham, Barnsley, or even Sheffield, although I felt like Sheffield was too close to home. But, I didn’t get any statutory service experience on my course placements – both my placements were with charities. Most of the time, local authorities want you to have one statutory placement but as I didn’t have any I went to Chesterfield after my degree as a newly qualified social worker. I stayed there for one year, completing 6 months of my ASYE before moving to Barnsley where I’ve been for 6 months now and where I’m finishing off my ASYE. My move to Barnsley came about after I’d heard very positive things about the set-up and team from a colleague who had moved there earlier. This prompted me to apply for a vacancy and here I am.
“I feel like I make a difference. I love my job. For me it is about empowering people – families and young people. It’s very rewarding to know that I could be seen as a role model for young people when I am at work. I also love working with teenagers because I can see my younger self in them. When you are at that age, trying to find yourself, you’re often influenced by your friends. When I was a teenager, I hung out with the wrong crowd and they had a negative influence on me. As I have been in that situation before I feel I can be a positive role model to try and get them into the right place for their development. These kids are smart and talented, but because they haven’t had positive reinforcement – sometimes children come from a very broken family, where parents have never congratulated them on doing well with whatever – they don’t believe in themselves. Some feel they need to turn to a life of crime to get positive reinforcement from inappropriate adults such as drug dealers for example. My job is to get them away from that. They can still turn their lives around, they are still young.
“Not everybody understands the role of a social worker. Some people think ‘oh, you just take kids away from people’. Lots of our work doesn’t get shown in the media in terms of how we work collaboratively with other professionals. We will always support the family no matter what they need and we will steer them in the right direction. If they need to do parenting courses, we’ll help them through that. It’s a wide spectrum. The negative image causes a barrier. There’s also not many males in social work; it’s a very female dominated profession. This can be a positive and negative – sometimes it can be an initial barrier with building trust with a family or sometimes it makes it easier to build a relationship particularly with young people. Either way, it is important to gain their trust. When I go and work with a family, no matter what colour, race or gender someone might present themselves, I would always be open-minded. I would never judge a family and I think it is very important to treat everyone equally.
“If someone is passionate about helping people, empowering people, or just doing good for society, they should definitely consider social work. It is rewarding and there is a good career path. If you have the qualifications there are different avenues you can go down. I know social work is the right job for me. No two days are the same which is really good because you will never get bored. You will always be on your toes, always learning. It’s good to keep the brain active because every day I am learning something. If I don’t know something, I can ask my manager or my colleagues. You may think ‘OK I’ve done it all now’ and then the next week something may change, and new plans may need to be put in place. It’s all about adapting to whatever is in front of you that day and enjoying it.”
Travis is seeing first-hand the effects that the Covid-19 outbreak is having on local communities and families. “A lot of universal services have been closed and this had put extra pressure on social workers in supporting families. Also, with kids not going to school, many parents are struggling and with their own mental health plus we’re getting less visibility of what’s going on. Although it’s hard, as social workers we have got to do everything we can to support the families in our care.
“Within my team we have pulled together really well. Everyone is easy to approach and I know I can always call them for help and support. It feels like we are all a big family. If I am unsure of a case I can just text my manager and she will call me really quick, or I can talk to one of the advanced practitioners on one of my cases. They are always available. This has made a huge difference, especially in the early days, and it’s all about everyone empowering each other and giving everyone that confidence. People can be in a work environment and sense if the team morale is very low. Here in Barnsley, there is a great team spirit and morale is really high. Everyone is there to go above and beyond, and to support each other.
“Children’s social work matters to me because children are the future. These are the kids who are going to be future workers, doctors, lawyers and even prime ministers. It’s all about helping them to fulfil their potential in life – planting a seed in their heads which is going to grow into a big tree one day. Sometimes it takes that one person in your life that can make a difference. I once had a teacher who motivated me. She made me realise my full potential. My mum always pushed me, even when I failed my theory driving test. She would always motivate me to say ‘just go back and keep trying’ until things fell into place. You have to keep striving, not giving up. A lot of the kids I am working with don’t have my old teacher, or my mum, so I want to be that person that can make a difference for them.
“Some of the kids that I have done direct work with have written me a card, saying ‘thank you so much, Travis, you are the best social worker’. Stuff like that makes my day and you will never forget it and in turn, those kids will never forget you.”
This case study has been captured as part of Children’s Social Work Matters campaign ‘Improving Lives’.
For more information about the campaign, children’s social work and the opportunities to get into a career in Yorkshire & Humber go to: https://www.childrenssocialworkmatters.org