Children’s Social Workers from across Yorkshire & the Humber are backing a region-wide campaign during Social Work Week (20-24 March) and World Social Work Day (21 March) aimed at encouraging others to take up the vital role.
As part of the campaign, they have appeared in an online video in which they have described how they have been able to make a positive difference to the lives of local vulnerable children and families and have opened up about some of the challenges, misconceptions and immense rewards that come with the job. As well as hoping to inspire people to consider children’s social work as a career, they also aim to raise awareness about the profession, including some of the more diverse, less well known aspects of the role.
Anna O’Brien qualified as a children’s social worker in 2020 and works at Hull City Council. Praised by families, colleagues and officials as someone who is always willing to go the extra mile, Anna’s efforts were recognised nationally when she won Newly-Qualified Social Worker of the Year in 2021.
Anna says: “I wanted to become a social worker because I’ve always had a strong desire to help others, but also because I saw how my own family was affected when a relative had struggles with substance misuse. We needed what a lot of families need - some support from the right services – and having experienced this first-hand, it encouraged me to pursue a career in social work.
“In essence, my job is to protect vulnerable children, making sure their voices are heard and that they are safe, well and seen. This can include children who are experiencing or who are at risk of domestic abuse, sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation or substance abuse. This almost always involves working closely with families who are in desperate need of support. The role is both varied and complex, which can be challenging at times, but it’s also hugely rewarding and I get a lot of support. What I enjoy most about my job is the relationships I get to build with the families I work with. Even if I work with them for only a short period of time, I’m always able to make a connection, providing advice, support and reassurance where needed.
“Children’s social work is often a misunderstood profession, with a general lack of understanding around what we do. This can have a knock-on effect on staff morale and on recruitment, so raising awareness about the role and highlighting the many positive outcomes, can only be a good thing, for both the sector and the vulnerable children and families we work with.”
Roxy Green has been a children’s social worker at Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council since 2020. Having initially considered a career in teaching, it was her volunteer work with a child in care and attending a children’s social work taster day that made her realise that children’s social work was the job for her.
Roxy says: “As children’s social workers, we see the effects of poverty, neglect, domestic abuse and mental health issues on a daily basis and I spend a lot of time working closely with local children in need in their family homes, getting to understand their lives and views and working out their needs. Spending one-to-one time with the children, making positive changes and the difference this makes to their lives, is definitely the most enjoyable part of my job.
“Families are often, understandably, reluctant for social services to be involved in their lives. That said, I do get a lot of positive feedback from parents who tell me they value my help. Ultimately there’s an understanding that we’re there to help but building trust and developing positive relationships with families is a big part of that.
“This is a job that would suit anyone who likes to be kept busy and be challenged, but most importantly, anyone who is caring and empathetic. My job is never boring and involves having to juggle lots of difficult situations, but for me this is what makes my job interesting and rewarding. Right now, there are many families out there living in precarious circumstances who don’t have a safety net and need help. We need more people, particularly those who can reflect the diversity of the families we serve, so that we can continue to improve the quality of care we provide.”
Louisa Smith came to the profession in 2014 as a children’s social worker at North Lincolnshire Council after her own struggles with postnatal depression prompted her to get back into education. In her current role as a senior children’s social worker, she assesses and supports families through the court system.
Louisa says: “My first job as a children’s social worker involved me helping families where children were at risk from things like neglect, physical, sexual or emotional harm. In children’s social work, the goal is to always find long-term, sustainable solutions and get parents to a point where they can independently recognise, manage and remove any risks to a child within the family home, to the point where our involvement is no longer necessary.
“Issues facing many families are never straightforward and there are rarely any quick-fix solutions. But we often find that issues such as long-term substance misuse, domestic abuse and mental health in particular, can sometimes create barriers to a family engaging with us and their local support services. In such instances we would hold formal discussions with the family and at the same time, we would also consider what else we could do to support a family in addressing any issues. There are rare instances where unfortunately, the case is then referred to the family courts. Court proceedings are most definitely not the norm and there are many steps, usually over a long period of time, before this happens.
“The removal of any child from the family home is one of the most difficult parts of my job, both on a professional and a personal level. But even in those extreme cases, I would continue to work with the family to offer support in helping them to make the necessary changes, with a view to bringing the family back together. In the vast majority of these cases I am able to help and reunite families and it’s those positive outcomes that hold the greatest rewards for me; the Dad who was able to overcome his addiction and be reunited with his daughter, or the Mum who was struggling in all areas of her life but was able to keep her baby, or people I bump into at the supermarket who greet me warmly and tell me how well they and their children are doing thanks to my help and support. Knowing I’ve helped these people and to be able to tell them, “you’ve done it”, is simply amazing.
“Children’s social work is important because life can be hard for everyone. But if we can help to bolster and strengthen a family in need so that a child feels safe, secure and loved unconditionally, they’ll stand the best chance of leading a successful, happy life and maybe even carry that forward when parenting their own children.
Sarah Sherwin, works as a specialist advanced social work practitioner at Wakefield Council. Her interest in the profession stemmed from being raised by her grandparents during her teens and having a child with autism.
Sarah says: “Few 18 year-olds are able to live independently and this can be especially so for care leavers with additional needs. In my current role as a specialist advanced social work practitioner, I support care leavers aged between 16 and 25 in their transition from children’s, to adult social care.
“Most, but not all of the young people I work with have additional needs or complex medical conditions, many of whom may also be struggling with trauma from their early years. It’s my job to continually assess those needs and put together what’s known as a pathway plan to make sure they have the right support in place, whether that’s through agencies that offer mental health, medical or adult social care services, or other specialist support groups and organisations. They, and often their families, are the best people to decide what they need because it’s about them and are more likely to invest in that plan if they’re there to do it with you. First and foremost we’re there to help and to keep families together. It’s about utilising the right skills to build relationships and break down those barriers so that you can come away having helped that person. When you end your involvement with a young person you know that it’s happened because things are better.
“I would say to anyone thinking about doing this as a career, not to let anything deter you. This is an amazing, rewarding job where you’re continually learning. You get to meet some fantastic young people with great aspirations who just need the right people with the right skills and qualities to help them achieve that.”
Victoria Coen works as a senior children’s social worker at City of York Council. As someone who had direct experience of the care system growing up, Victoria had been involved with several organisations aimed at improving the experiences of young people in the care system. It was this and the kindness showed to her by one of her children’s social workers, that inspired her career choice.
Victoria says: “A big part of what I do involves supporting families in accessing the help and services they need, be it via schools, local health agencies, food banks or charities, who might offer anything from clothing and furniture for those living in poverty, to refuge for those fleeing abusive relationships.
“Whilst we work closely with these agencies, we always look to the family in the first instance when trying to find solutions. It might be for example, that we sit down with them to find a trusted friend or extended family member who can offer support with childcare, while mum or dad are encouraged to seek the help they need to support their emotional wellbeing. We often find that families can be very good at healing themselves once an issue has been identified, so helping them to take those small but important steps can also make the difference in them being able to meet their child’s needs.
“It’s imperative that a child’s voice is always heard, by taking into account how they feel, what they want and what they need. They might be acting out, missing school or have mental health issues of their own as a result of what’s happening at home. Even something that might appear low level might be having a significant impact on them and they might be in need of additional support and guidance, play therapy or someone at school who can advocate on their behalf. Sometimes they just need someone to listen to them and sometimes that person is us.
“Essentially, our job is about listening, hearing and empathising. We all have emotions and one of the hardest things about my job is that you sometimes take it home with you. But I’ve found that letting a family see a little bit of you and showing them you care, goes a long way. I feel it’s important they see you as a person and not just your job title. Whenever I work with a family I give them my all, and over the years, I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from both my colleagues and the families I’ve helped.
“I feel there are a people out there who have a lot to give but maybe haven’t considered children’s social work as a career or don’t have the confidence to pursue it. But anyone who cares, anyone who has that passion to help, listen and empathise; these are the people we need in our profession.”
Across Yorkshire and the Humber, children’s social workers are helping to shape and change the lives of vulnerable children, young people and their families for the better, often under the most desperate of circumstances. Since 2011, all 15 of the region’s local authority children’s services departments have been working collaboratively as part of the Children’s Social Work Matters (CSWM) programme, which aims to champion the vital role of children’s social workers, raise industry standards and attract, support and retain staff. Latest Department for Education figures show that in 2022, vacancy rates regionally were at 16.8% against a national average of 20%. The regional agency rate was 15.7% compared with 17.6% nationally and turnover rates in the region were at 15.4%, whilst nationally they were at 17.1%. As part of its latest campaign they are hoping that together, they can encourage more people across the region to take up this vital, yet hugely rewarding role.
Pauline Turner, Chair, Yorkshire & the Humber Association of Directors of Children’s Services and Director of Children, Young People and Family Services, at Hull City Council, added: “Few would argue the importance of protecting society’s most vulnerable at a time when they need it most. But attracting, recruiting and retaining children’s social workers remains one of the biggest challenges; something that is not unique to our region.
“These social workers provide an honest, yet valuable insight into what is arguably one of the most rewarding of professions, which we hope will help raise awareness about the role and break down some of the barriers that exist. Social Work Week and World Social Work Day provide an opportunity for us to do this and I would encourage anyone with an interest in helping to make a positive difference to the lives of vulnerable children and families, to become a social worker in Yorkshire and the Humber.
“Aside from being a great place to live, practitioners in our region also have access to a unique support system through the CSWM programme, which is helping to improve both their working lives and ultimately the lives of those they serve to protect.”