In a couple of weeks I will be leaving social work. Or will I? I am moving into a job where my social work qualification is not an essential requirement. I am moving away from ‘frontline’ practice in the way that I have always understood and defined it.
Being diligent, I remain registered as a social worker by the HCPC (Health and Care Professions Council) and there is no doubt, therefore, that I can continue to legally be entitled to call myself a ‘social worker’ but the job I will be doing is not ‘social work’.
I am incredibly proud of being a social worker so it is a shift for me. Of course, as I will be remaining in the sector, my experience will be crucial in the new role but I will no longer be building that same types of relationships on a personal level that I do (or at least I hope to) now. I will be working in a different way.
The next few weeks, then, will be filled with reflections. I am saying a lot of ‘goodbyes’. I have been in my current post for many years and the current council for even longer. I am saying goodbye to the people who are on my ‘caseload’ – some of whom will be reallocated and some of whom will be discharged from the service. I am trying to get everything done but I know the way life works isn’t about neat closures.
I’m also saying goodbye to a local area I have worked in for many many years. Familiar streets, blocks of flats, estates which have so many faces and memories entrenched in them. There are roads and buildings I can’t walk past without remembering some of the people that lived within them and gave them the flavour and character of a neighbourhood.
I think of some of the people I worked with who had no one else to remember them. Isolated, detached from families by distance, ill-health or circumstance. Then I think of the families I saw, the warmth and kindness and hope within some of the depths of poverty and the tragedies that life can fling at people without recourse to ‘fairness’ or ‘equity’.
I’ve had the honour to work with some immense people who have opened up to me and allowed me to share some of their most difficult moments and I have worked alongside people who have struggled so long and hard with such dignity or pain.
I have put in services and tried to offer suggestions but – increasingly, I have also removed and denied services to those whom I felt would have an improved quality of life if they were provided.
I’ve learnt a lot about the value of good health and knowing ones limits. I’ve learnt enough about the effects of alcohol to turn me near enough teetotal (not entirely mind!). I have learnt enough that even the best planning can’t protect one from accidents or fate.
Ill health affects across all social classes, cultures and belief systems. I have walked into houses which have made my jaw drop, some through opulence and some through squalor. I have tried not to judge but to listen and respond – sometimes it can be predominantly about listening and hearing.
I have had good and not so good managers and feel so fortunate in my current role to work in a very supportive team and organisation so it is with sadness that I see how the cuts over the past couple of years have ripped the heart out of a service and professionals who really were, even if it didn’t always look like it from the outside, trying to do their best.
‘Doing our best’ will not be sufficient anymore. While a government talks of parity of esteem between mental and physical health and further integration or establishing the ‘dementia challenge’ which focuses on better diagnosis, it’s important that we do not allow those who spread the cheap and hopeful words around freely to believe that parity of esteem will not cost. Establishing good and supportive dementia services which focus on what happens AFTER diagnosis will cost and that integration has to involve more change that asking everyone to sit in a room together and do team building exercises.
When I look at adult social work and mental health social work, the two areas I have worked in and I see how things have changed, it is not only this government I look at with despair, it is the previous government too.
Ed Balls played political games with social workers and bought into the Sun criticism in the wake of the tragic death of Peter Connolly. All main political parties have backed the privatisation of care services without building in sufficient protection and until the personalisation agenda actually offers the same benefits to someone with dementia without a supportive family as it does to an independent adult with a physical disability I will see that it is not yet a success.
So I’ve seen a lot of changes but not all bad. I see a great hope in the profession as we can work harder on developing an independent voice that doesn’t need a battling professional organisation which can’t stop its bickering and pettiness or a ‘Chief Social Worker’ chosen by civil servants with no knowledge of what the heart of social work is to ‘speak for us’.
Let us speak for ourselves and find more ways of doing so. Social Work is a profession to be proud of – we just need to make sure more people know about it – and we need to put some more fight into it. Fight politically, fight against cuts which affect those whom we work with, challenge within the organisations in which we work and remember that we need to create and build a profession to be proud of for ourselves – because no one else will.
Not a ‘media officer’
Not a soap opera
Not a fly on the wall documentary
Not a professional organisation
Not a ‘college’
Not a Trade Union
Not a government-appointed ‘chief’
We have to claim the profession back from the narrow definitions that successive governments seem to be forcing us into. Social Work happens outside local government – something I am about to have a far better understanding of.
It’s going to be a weird few weeks for me as I grapple with my own professional and personal identity. I rather feel I won’t give up the fight wherever I go – I hope not. There’s still a lot more to be done.
pic by soraya nulliah @ flickr