Laura Sowerby, Children and Young People’s Social Worker, Barnsley Council
Although Laura is at the start of her career as a social worker, she’s already fully immersed in her new role helping and supporting children and young people in Barnsley. Laura added
“The role included doing a lot of work with social workers including going to family conferences and writing reports. My first exposure to working with a social worker was seeing a children’s social worker coming into the family of the person I was helping with substance misuse. I realised that I was only working with one member of a family, whereas the social worker was working with the family as a whole to try and make things better for the children.”
After finishing her Open University course and various other jobs in drug support work she applied for a place on the Step Up To Social Work programme in Leeds after receiving a piece of direct mail about it. She started the course in 2016 and completed it in 2018. During the course her two work placements were with the adult discharge team at St. James Hospital in Leeds, which she thoroughly enjoyed, and a placement with Child Protection at Shire View in Headingley, Leeds. After finishing her course and qualifying, one of her options was to join Barnsley’s Children and Young people team, which she did, and now she has just finished her assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE).
“I really enjoyed my ASYE. The team I joined has a massive portfolio of work to do but they increased my cases gradually. For my first six months I didn’t really carry child protection cases until I gained experience and then I was coupled up with other experienced workers to do Section 47 child protection enquiries and my first go at court work. Although the ASYE stands for assessed and supported year in employment, I didn’t feel under pressure by it and was really supported. I had regular supervision with my manager and my mentor, with space to reflect on cases. The support also helped me overcome my anxieties and build my confidence to make my own decisions."
"Now I’ve finished my ASYE my case load has grown. I’ve got over 20 cases at the moment, which at a family level isn’t too bad, but three of the families have four children. The good thing is that I have a great team around me, and we all look out for one another, particularly if there’s someone on the end of a phone giving you a hard time. In our office there are four teams of about 10 people each with four managers who are always around to call on so if one is away there is another one available. Everyone is really approachable.
“In doing my job I look for the positive things families can build on. I don’t go in and tell families what to do. I’m an observer and a listener, that’s the first thing I do. Then I reflect things back to people and that helps to build a relationship where you can make suggestions and they are more likely to take things on board and it is about giving positive feedback as well. People need to hear something good about themselves. That’s what I love about my job.
“Although there are plenty of challenges that can wear you down, knowing that I have made a difference and getting a bit of recognition is all the reward I need. Recently, a girl who is now living with a family member drew me a picture which said ‘thank you so much for making me happy and now we’ve got food’. It was very emotional. Another time I got a Christmas card from a parent who had been in a very difficult relationship and couldn’t see what was happening. When things changed, she was so grateful for that.
“Now I’m a social worker I can see that the job is very much not what many non-social workers perceive it to be. Yes, we do occasionally have to remove children from their families but only as absolute last resort. A lot of the training for social work involves understanding the difficulties in multi-agency working and how other professionals can have different thresholds for risk than that of social workers. I think many of the health professionals and schools we work with don’t realise this. When we do have to remove children, it is tough for everyone, but it is for the safety of the children. One of the families I am working with at the moment, mum is quite defensive all the time and so this challenges your ability to work with her, but she keeps making the same mistakes. The children that were with her are in different placements now, which is difficult to do, but you can see the progress that they are making both physically and emotionally and that is really nice to see.” Laura’s advice to someone considering a career in social work or a student is to remember why you are doing it.
“There are always going to be days when you want to cry or pull your hair out but keep at it because you know why you are there – it is really rewarding. No two days are the same but when you have got the right support round you it is a really fantastic job. For me, because it’s what I really want to do it doesn’t feel like I am working a lot of the time.
“Obviously, at the moment with Covid-19 affecting everything the dynamics of a lot of things has changed. With families more isolated and cooped up all day there is evidence of increasing domestic violence nationally and we have seen this within our service. The thinking is that as children are not in school, they cannot share any worries and teachers can’t spot signs of abuse or neglect. Trying to provide support to families is more difficult, not least because a lot of families are scared to let people close. Some families are probably using lockdown as a bit of an excuse to hide things. It is frustrating, we are doing doorstep visits, phone and video calls where we can, but this isn’t a substitute for face-to-face visits where we can get close to the children. But it’s not just at the frontend, the situation is also causing delays to the court system. I have a family contact recommendation report hearing but this has been postponed because it is not urgent. Families are in limbo. I’ve got another case where I would like to see a parent in front of the judge, but I can’t have that at the moment which is frustrating.
“On the plus side, we’re seeing the creative side to people which is great. One of my families in crisis where the children are now living with another family member are being so creative. They have rainbows all over the place including crocheted rainbows on all the hedges up the driveway. The children have also created a (play) shop, they have bug hunting in the garden and have probably been more creative than ever. It’s really heartening to see that families are trying despite all the challenges.
“Although there’s definitely been more wobbles for me under this way of working, the team as ever has been great for supporting each other when we need it. “Children’s social work matters to me because It’s so important to be that little bit of light for somebody and share that hope. At the end of the day, no social worker wants to have to remove children. It’s about trying to build connections with people to support them to make the changes they need to make and being someone for them to talk to. All you want to see is that children and young people are able to flourish - that things are working well for them or they are in a better environment.
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