Georgia Chapman-Wells, Social Worker, North East Lincolnshire Council
Georgia is a children’s social worker, working in Safeguarding and Assessment for North East Lincolnshire Council. She has worked in the area since becoming qualified, and loves helping to keep it safe. After learning about social work through her aunt, she became determined to help others in a way she wanted for herself as a child.
“I had quite a chaotic childhood. My dad was in and out of prison, there were drug issues, and he was violent towards mum. It felt like I didn’t have anyone to support me. Looking back, I wouldn’t want anyone to go through feeling that you can’t speak because you’ve got nobody there to support you. Mum must have felt so scared and really alone as well. As a social worker, I can be that person that I (and my mum) needed when I was younger.”
Georgia studied for her social work degree at Hull University. “I did my first placement in adult services which wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t really know what I wanted, but where I did my placement it was about supporting older adults in care homes. I never really thought a social worker would be involved in that sort of role. But I was always determined that I’d be in children’s care anyway. When I did my second placement, it was exactly what I imagined plus more. I don’t think you ever really know until you’re in that situation. Obviously, university can teach you so much. You can do the research, watch programs etc, but you can never know what it’s really like until you’re on the frontline face-to-face with people.
“There are so many diverse people and so many situations you wouldn’t expect to find yourself in – take child sexual exploitation. As members of the general public, we hear about it, but we don’t really tend to know anything about it. Or, you know it happens, but you don’t think it’s as extreme as it is. Reality hit me when I did my placement and met young people who’ve experienced it. It’s the same with poverty. We know there’s a lot of families living in poverty, but you don’t get a sense of the scale of it until you see the people going to pick up food parcels. There’s so much that happens that we don’t have a clue about. You never really realise how bad things are until you’re seeing it for yourself.
“When you qualify as a social worker your lack of experience for the job ahead can be very stressful. The assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) combats this. It is a programme that gives newly qualified social workers extra support during their first year of employment to develop their skills, knowledge and professional confidence. During this year, along with other newly qualified social workers, you have advanced practitioners on hand to support you. The advanced practitioners, and the ASYE days, are great for support. It’s fantastic to speak to someone else, besides your manager. Sometimes caseloads get overwhelming and everyone can start to feel out of their depth. It’s wonderful to talk through your worries with someone who gets it.”
Not everyone understands what being a social worker means, or how they feel about their job. Georgia is frank about the difficulties of the job, but appreciates the positive breakthroughs that make it more than worth it.
“It can be very challenging, but also extremely rewarding. Social work is a job that’s absolutely like no other. Sometimes you feel like you’re struggling to any make progress, but you can always see the light at the end of the tunnel. You can have amazing days where you realise you’ve been able to do something. You’ve supported somebody, you’ve made a difference. That makes the bad days and the stressful days so much better.”
As a social worker, Georgia’s working weeks are defined by the people she helps. This means no two days are the same, as she works with people from countless backgrounds.
“You’re always meeting new people. You’re seeing so many different life experiences, and helping people through different challenges. Even if you’ve totally planned out a visit, something unexpected could come up. Then you’re thinking on your feet to resolve things. Or, you think you’re in for a lot of confrontation, then you actually go in and it’s really pleasant and turns out to be a positive.”
Having become a social worker to support others, having not had a supportive figure herself, it is no surprise that Georgia’s favourite aspect of social work is directly helping young people.
“I absolutely love doing direct work with children. There’s no better way to see what’s going on with them than going to their homes and properly speaking with them. But at the same time, children can be very cautious about what they say at home. If you do end up removing a child, having tried everything you can help, it’s such a relief when they know they’re now somewhere safe. Then you carry on your direct work, and you start hearing them talk about all the positive experiences they’re having now.”
For Georgia, the greatest difficulty of the job is getting across the necessity of her work. With a unique view on some of the country’s most vulnerable people, it can be hard for other people to understand what needs to be done. “We see things. We know what needs to change. But getting other people to understand why you think that can be really hard. You can tell others that a child isn’t safe, but they don’t always get it when they aren’t seeing it every two weeks.”
Georgia has nothing but support for those thinking of a career in social work. “Absolutely go for it. Do plenty of research. Speak to as many people as you can. Get as much experience as you can. Even if you’re younger, and can’t just go into a local authority, you’ve still got options. Go out into the community, get volunteering. Get a grip with what you want to do. Figure out what social work would look like for you. “
Having worked in North East Lincolnshire since becoming a qualified social worker, Georgia is clearly fond of the area. Here’s what she had to say about what keeps her here. “You’re always only a short drive away from the seafront. It’s fantastic when you’re really stressing and just need half an hour lunch break to go and sit and cool off. It’s not a massive area, and I love that. The furthest I’ve ever had to travel for a visit is probably only twenty minutes. The area feels much bigger than it actually is. That’s so much easier than having to travel an hour and back just for one visit. You’re always on the doorstep.”
The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has affected us all, and Georgia is no exception. However, her concerns are primarily with those under her care, who may be suffering more than most. “It’s definitely had an impact. We are still able to see children, but video calls just aren’t the same. There’s a fear that we’re missing things. Normally we could visit while they were safe say at school or at home when a violent parent was at work, but during Covid we haven’t been able to do that. Some families won’t get the level of support they need. It’s already a stressful time for everybody, and that’s just emphasising the stress. Half of my cases are happy that they’re home and that their kids are safe. Others are struggling. Normally we could get around that with counselling, but those sessions aren’t in place right now. That impacts a person’s mental health, which then impacts the children. We are seeing that difference.”
Georgia is also feeling an impact on her team as a whole. Times may be tough, but the teams are demonstrating how well they work together. “We’re pulling together fantastically. It’s harder to destress, but we’re all working together to get the job done. A couple of other ladies in our team can’t do visits due to being high risk, so we cover for them when we can. We’ve also got regular check-ins to make sure we’re all okay and doing the best that we can do. If I’m on visits, I’ll send a message to our group chat, asking if anyone needs me to pop in on any of their families. Things like that.”
Teamworking is key in Georgia’s love of social work. She enjoys being there for another person, and helping them through their struggles. It’s what brought her to the job, and what makes her enjoy it so much.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got so many vulnerable children that need our support. So many children are living in dangerous or scary times. They need to be safeguarded. They need somebody there for them to make sure that they’re okay and not experiencing any harm.
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