Before becoming a social worker, Sarah worked at a supported independent living facility in Sheffield. She had always been drawn to roles which involved caring for others, and found the opportunity to help vulnerable teenagers particularly interesting:
“The job in Sheffield really fuelled my passion for working with people, I saw how childhood experiences impacted those teenagers and how they worked out how they were going to develop into young adults.”
Originally from Gloucestershire, Sarah moved to Sheffield in 2008 to study and later moved to Hull for work and to be near friends. Between the quality of life there, the surroundings, and the wicked local sense of humour, she ended up staying:
“I’ve been here about 14-15 years and still haven’t got the accent! I think I qualify as honorary now though. It feels like home to me.”
In a people-focused profession like social work, Sarah enjoyed feeling like she was a good fit with the culture in Hull.
“As well as the green space and being near the sea, it’s the people. I think you can’t get more down to earth people, you’re able to just be yourself.”
Social work is a field which offers a huge variety of specialised roles and forms of practice. After some time working in Assessment Teams and the Pathways Team, Sarah found her niche in Hull’s Pause service, a specialist team within Children and Families Services whose primary role is to support and empower women whose children have been taken into care. Pause is a voluntary service that work alongside women who have chosen to take a pause in pregnancy in order to focus on their own needs. The service can help women make sustainable positive changes with the aim of preventing the trauma of further repeat removals of their children.
“We want to work with women who have committed to having a pause in pregnancy, which allows them to focus on themselves. It’s about creating a woman’s plan rather than a child’s plan.”
The team includes a practice lead, four practitioners, two team co-ordinators, and two social work students who are currently on placement The support offered to women can last up to 18 months and is really intensive. Sarah describes having a supportive and friendly team around her, which is essential in offering an intensive 18 month service. Relationship-building is a key part of all social work practice, and for Pause practitioners it’s no different. Women are referred into Pause when they no longer have their children in their care, the team don’t use written referrals – instead, Sarah or one of her colleagues will get in touch to have a real conversation, get a sense of who they are and who would be best placed to work with them. The team always focus on the women’s own goals and the pause in pregnancy gives them more freedom to focus on their own needs:
“The difference with Pause is, we work towards what the woman wants to achieve. Other social work teams have the goal of making the environment safe for a child, while we might work with women who don’t want to address an issue like substance use just yet, but would rather tackle housing first, or learn new skills.”
By starting off with something the women want to work on, if the woman chooses to, Sarah and the team can work with the woman to look at why things haven’t gone to plan and what has led to their child no longer being in their care. Within their work, the Pause team supports the women they work with to build skills and confidence in many areas of their life. Like many roles in social work, there is no ‘average day’, and Pause team members might find themselves helping someone to move house, work out a household budget, or process psychological trauma.
“It can be as simple as just picking up the phone about a job or speaking to a doctor. A lot of what we do is around promoting a level of independence. We think of it as six months of ‘doing for,’ six months of ‘doing with,’ and then the last six months is ‘cheering on.’”
It can be a long process, but for Sarah it’s one of the most rewarding roles in social work, because of the opportunity to advocate for women who have been disadvantaged by their circumstances and help them to achieve their goals.
“The women we work alongside are inspiring. They can be marginalised by society, and to go through what they’ve gone through and still get up in the morning is incredible to me. Direct work and building relationships is why I got into social work, and that’s what feeds me as a professional. I love supporting women to make their own decision, whether it's one I would lean towards or not!”
For Sarah, great social work practice is all about being an advocate and looking for ways to support people rather than judge them:
“It’s about improving peoples lives and wellbeing, understanding what’s happened to someone and being trauma informed. Understanding and having empathy matters so you can support people, whether they’re a child, an expectant family, it’s about getting in to support rather than judge. We’re trying to help women who work with Pause move along a path on their own journey so that they don’t repeat this trauma.”
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