I qualified as a social worker in 1982 and until 1998 was involved in front line social work either as a field worker or as a manager in the West Yorkshire area. For the most part, my career was dominated by child protection work. After that, I became involved in IRO activity, management, and Safeguarding Children Board work.
Last year I was asked whether I would consider a secondment to a multi-agency safeguarding team, which deals with all new referrals coming into Calderdale to support the newly developing team.
My immediate response was one of ‘Do I look mad?’. I consulted my family, one of whom is a retired social worker and it evoked the same response. However, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that I should justify not doing it – why didn’t I want to do it? What was I afraid of?
There were lots of reasons not to go back to the front line it:
- What if I couldn’t do it any longer and would be exposed as incompetent?
- What if the work would be too challenging for me now?
- What if it was too scary / fast paced / complicated by IT issues I couldn’t get my head round?
I discussed it with a friend who was setting up a new business and was not sleeping well. She told me that she couldn’t sleep because she was so excited about the project, having wanted to do it all her life. She was risking a great deal more than I was so I decided to take up the offer.
So what has it been like?
All the things that I worried about have happened! I have felt out of my depth at times, I have felt challenged, incompetent and bemused about the pace of work.
However, very soon after moving I was struck by how it is the same as it has always been. The same human issues are still there – families reporting their estranged partners; teenagers falling out with their parents and concerns that escalate on Friday afternoons. There’s the same ‘half story’ that can’t be ignored but is difficult for social workers to investigate. There are the same situations where you don’t expect any outcome to be a good one and, sadly, there are still those awful times when you know that children are unhappy.
Despite this, the work is done. People remain calm for the most part, respectful in the face of extreme provocation or at least on the phone. Away from the phone the room gets noisier, the language gets choicer and the chocolate comes out. And, of course, there’s the humour…
Naturally, I have reflected on all of this – I am a social worker after all! Often when people leave the ‘front line’ they’re tired. They may remember the end rather than the start of their career, when it seemed less fraught and perhaps seemed more stimulating and interesting. It is very different when you go back, because you return with the benefit of more experience both of life and work.
I have been affected most by the people I have worked with, who are trying so hard to get it right. It is such an important job, and the multi-agency team I am a member of is completely committed to that.
I have worked during my career with some outstanding social workers who are no longer in front line practice. It is a shame because they would enjoy it and they would bring something special to it.
People often talk about getting back to basics. There is nothing remotely basic about anything that my current team does. But it is profoundly important and working alongside the team is an opportunity to do something that makes a tangible difference.
Everyone should give it a try from time to time. You will be surprised.