8p Sausages

Abbie Stebbing is a full-time MA Social Work student at the University of Sussex. She blogs about her becoming a social worker and what means both personally and professionally. In this second of Abbie’s reflective posts she writes about leaving full-time work behind to become a student again.

While I was romantically swept of my feet by the potential career I was about to embark on, my loved ones were slightly more aware of the practical aspects and potential issues of no longer working. 8p sausages would be my mealtime fate, new clothes would be on a strategically planned Christmas wish list. I was committed to the material sacrifices it would entail!

In the summer prior to the course starting, I worked with them to change my habits, no longer “seeing and buying” those commodities. A major case of reeling in. I also prepared an office space, reminding myself of academic life. Collected books from the local library and attempting to read them.

The Induction Week came and I had just finished my last day of full time work (for now). I thought I would suddenly feel like a social work student. But it was not yet here. So raring to go, to validate my plans, so very impatient. In the end, I did enjoy the week of just being- not an employee, not a social work student, yet. And when I was, I felt it!

Indeed, week one did come, and so did the work, but so did the friendly tutors and peers. There was a shared enthusiasm. We all had a shared goal. As the work built up swiftly I got to know my peers. We shared the stresses and insecurities. I was so eager to validate being on the course.

Throughout the weeks there were small pauses, a time to slow my brain down.  I was absorbing information at the speed of light and hoping that I retained it. The reading week and first assignment instilled some confidence again. I was able to go over theories we had covered, but also notice areas that I found interesting. It was different to my undergraduate course. The areas of learning in this course felt useful, I would one day (soon on placement even) be able to apply them.

The term acted like a “general service”. Acknowledging my strengths, identifying areas of improvement, noticing what I find difficult to deal with. In the end, I need to be ready to work with people and the issues that bring them to my intervention.

Now I’ve upgraded to frozen sausages…

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December 6, 2016. Social work education, Social work practice. Leave a comment.

This Strange Year

When someone says they are a ‘social worker’, we all have an image that comes to mind, whether positive or negative. Abbie Stebbing is a 27-year-old full-time Social Work Master’s student at the University of Sussex, just starting out in her first year, first term, first modules.  She wanted to take a snapshot of her journey, focusing on life outside of the course as well as the piecing together of her social work identity.  Over the next two weeks Abbie writes about the strangeness of going back to university full-time, and how these moments feel like learning experiences in themselves.

This year, I took a personal leap. 

In the early winter, I was becoming accustomed to a new role in my job. Through staff changes I had been moved into a role I was unfamiliar with. The fire in my belly that my previous role had given felt extinguished. I had been previously working as a support worker, and with industry budget cuts, the role could not be extended. The job I ended up in was gratefully received by me. A saving grace from potential redundancy. It was stable, well managed and a good period of calm, whilst I looked at my options. 

I am not generally someone who easily adapts to major changes, but I was searching for something more than what that job offered. I realised the difference was that in that role I signposted and directed “customers”. I was missing holding a case load, managing risk and coordinating, promoting and making change happen- hopefully.

Being an indecisive creature, there was a substantial amount of bouncing ideas off those close to me. Second to that, being an impatient creature, I wanted to make things happen instantly. Thank goodness for rational people.  

I reflected on my prospects and decided a further education in Social Work was my way forward. I discussed the potential future with my loved ones and the potential impact it would have on our lives. It would mean two full time years, where working outside of university commitments would be stretched. To avoid haste I decided to defer. In the January I made an application, a determination to “ace it” grew. I attended interviews and got accepted. In a flurry of enthusiasm as well as a grounding awareness of the time it would take to become qualified, I weighed up my options and requested to start the same year. I had chosen my path now, why wait? Within a short email exchange I had now enrolled for the immediate September. Leading up to the start of the course, I went to work and returned, I knew I felt I could be somewhere else making a difference and I was getting closer to the gateway towards that career. I felt the assured that it was the right choice. Excitement and passion outweighed the apprehension of leaving a full time job. 

Before I started the course, they asked me to complete shadowing with social workers, which further affirmed my passion. I leaped at the chance and savoured the opportunity. In shadowing, I went through a flurry of feelings. Getting to the required goal of “qualified” felt like a distant dream, I was so in awe of the social workers’ knowledge and skill, but also how welcoming they were of me. They encouraged me to join the field, and I made the most of the opportunity, determined to soak up the insight they shared with me like a sponge.

The journey had started, now I just had to count down to day one.

November 29, 2016. Social work education, Social work practice. Leave a comment.

Social Work Book Clubs: Just a social get-together or an alternative and creative way to enhance our practice?

Following Becky’s recent post on her first experience of book group and in the run up to the next meeting on 11Feb, Sian &  Janine, two newly qualified social workers, share their experience of integrating book groups with practice

Social Work Book Clubs: Just a social get-together or an alternative and creative way to enhance our practice?

We would certainly argue for the latter.

As ‘Newly-Qualified’ Social Workers, we first came across the concept from East Sussex County Council’s Principal Social Worker, Nicola McGeown’s blog. The idea is relatively new and has not yet been embraced by all social workers, students and academics. However, we were excited to find that there is a National Movement which encourages the idea of Social Work Book Clubs as a useful learning tool, in both social work training and continued practice development. We decided to get involved with a national book group through the University of Sussex, where we completed our social work training. Here, we linked up via the internet with several other Universities in the country to discuss the nominated book.

Throughout our time as students, there was a huge pressure to be on top of all the current knowledge and it felt like every waking hour was spent with a research article in one hand, a textbook in the other, and lots and lots of reflection! The book group felt different to this, as it was about someone’s story. We feel that being part of a relationship-based profession, we need to explore ways of expanding our grassroots knowledge, and exploring a story from the “bottom-up” gives us an increased focus on the client’s direct experience.

In this case we read Melvyn Bragg’s ‘Grace and Mary’. The story was written from the perspective of John, whose mother Mary had a diagnosis of dementia and lived in a care home. The book group gave us a space and opportunity to discuss real issues around care and illness from different perspectives; whether that be the perspective of Melvyn Bragg, John, Mary, the tutor, social worker, the newly qualified social worker or the student. We explored how the characters felt, discussing the idealistic way that Dementia, the care home, and women, were portrayed in the book. We discussed this idealistic view and felt there was an aversion to talking about what can be the ‘ugly truth’. This discussion was initially focused on the book, but expanded out in to our own experiences of these issues. We felt that ultimately our role as a Social Worker is not placed within this world of idealism and romanticism, but within reality (whatever that may look like). This kind of discussion felt really beneficial for our social work practice. It encouraged us to consider how, in practice, clients and carers may, like John, also struggle to have these kinds of conversations about difficult personal issues. At times, they may also minimise and idealise their needs; maybe due to denial or a ‘social desirability bias’. Being aware of these potential problems allows us to be conscious when performing assessments and working with families, and hopefully, negate against them.

We left the book group feeling a sense of being a part of something great, something innovative and something really rather useful.

You can follow Social Work Book Group on Twitter: @SWbookgroup or our own group @USSWbookgroup. Sussex Social work can be found at @USSocialwork

Next Meeting is 11 February reading ‘Getting By’ by @redrumlisa 

February 2, 2016. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Social Work Book Group – My First Experience

Today we hear from Becky Lyons, a first year MA student at Sussex who offers her experience of attending the initial meeting of a Social Work Book Group, reading ‘Grace and Mary by Melvyn Bragg. Social Work Book Group was started by Amanda Taylor a Senior Social Work Lecturer at UCLAN and has grown into a national movement as evidenced here: http://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/social-life-blog/2014/jun/06/social-work-book-group

Following Becky’s student perspective and in the run up to the next meeting on February 11th, we will also hear from Janine and Sian two social workers in their ASYE year. Watch this space! Follow the Departmental Book Group on @USSWbookgroup Or the Dept on @USSocialwork #swbk

A student’s perspective: 6 weeks into my first year of the MA social work course at Sussex University, my tutor invited me to join the social work book group she was setting up. Although I had consumed many different pieces of literature over the last two months, I had never been more excited to start a piece of reading. Academic social work articles are interesting and crucial resources for a master’s level course, but the idea of a novel filled me with instant relief. My undergrad had been in literature, it is a form I feel truly comfortable with and which, most importantly, I enjoy. I enjoy literature because it is an exploration of people; an insight into someone else’s perspective. Reading a novel is an exercise in empathy. There is nothing quite like the feeling of reading a piece of literature and recognising yourself in the prose; a thought or feeling you have once had, and coming to the realisation that someone else has shared this; you are not alone.

The dynamic of the book group is a new and interesting idea. It is a national project. Every few months a host university decides on the book and live streams a discussion to other universities across Britain. The listening groups are encouraged to connect via Twitter, posting their views on the novel and topics discussed. This week the host university was Lancaster and the novel was Grace and Mary by Melvyn Bragg, a novel which deals with some very relevant themes, such as ageing and dementia and which centres on a mother and son’s relationship in the latter stages of life.

As this was the first run of the book group, we did have some hic-ups in setting up and getting connected. Four of us turned up, myself (a student), my tutor and two newly qualified social workers. I have to say, I felt quite out of place on arrival and a little apprehensive. After all, I was the least qualified and least experienced in the room. I looked at the two NQSWs in almost a state of awe; they’d made it, I’m right at the beginning. However, this state of anxiety didn’t last long. My tutor and two new social work contacts (networks!) created an atmosphere in which I felt comfortable to give my opinion and just have a chat. It became clear very quickly that we were all there with a common interest; we are all social workers (or, in my case, want to be social workers) and we all share a mutual love of reading.

Another reason I love literature – it stimulates conversation.

In all honesty, the online book group really just sparked our own discussions around the novel. And some of that discussion was pretty great. The impact it had on me was it actually opened my eyes to some new truths about the line of work I have decided to go into. We discussed the “Romanticisation” within the novel. We spoke a lot about films, television and books, which treat social work subjects in a similar way. Then Denise, my tutor, said something I probably won’t be forgetting for a while, she said “it’s the visceral aspects of people’s lives, the bits you leave out of novels that social workers deal with”. This led us to another thought, perhaps the reason people can act quite stand-offish when you tell them you’re a social worker is because it reminds them of these “visceral bits”, the things we don’t want to recognise in our society. Is this the cause for “that face” people pull when I tell them I am studying social work? It is a face I have discussed many times with my colleagues on the course.

Novels are often a Romanticisation of the past; how we want to remember something. This often leaks into our everyday telling of our past, or present, situation. People only depict reality as far as they want to show you. We can end the novel, or we can roll the credits, before someone has deteriorated beyond our comfort zone, but in reality we do not have this control. A social worker’s role is to see beyond this comfort zone, beyond how someone wants it to be seen and into the visceral reality of people’s difficult situations.

The social work book group facilitated conversation around what social work really means, both to the professional, the service user and wider society. I left with a new perspective. A great achievement on my first ever session. I will be back!

 

January 21, 2016. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

A different view

We’re back after a bit of break following the summer and the always hectic autumn term, with a wonderful post from our postgrad public engagement ambassador Rachel Larkin, on the unexpected and insightful moments of social work practice. Dust off your trainers and practice your hook shots, you never know when they will come in handy.

A few weeks ago I went to visit a young person in their residential placement. I was expecting a chat over a fruit juice, but found myself out in the garden playing basketball. Now, when I say playing, I should say failing. At one point there were people lined up watching me miss. The young person was remarkably patient and even tried to give me lessons but I still missed every time. I started to worry he might make himself sick laughing.

It was one of the best afternoons I’ve had at work in a long while, but I was aware of a nagging anxiety on the way back. It wasn’t my hopeless aim that unsettled me (no surprise there) but my reaction to seeing how differently the young person behaved in that environment. I’ve been reading a lot of theories about situated identity lately, which consider how differently we can act, and feel, in different times and spaces. I’d gone to the placement hoping to see another side to this young man, very aware that I’d only met him in offices and interview rooms. So why, armed with all that theory and practice experience, was I surprised by what I saw?

What made me uncomfortable was realising how solid my picture of the young man had become, but how limited it was. The expectation that I should fully understand every young person’s views had created a sort of false confidence. When you are making significant decisions about someone’s life, as you often are in social work, it’s far more comfortable to allow yourself to think that you have a clear sense of who they are and what they need. The alternative is rarely available within the processes we follow – the option of saying “I don’t think we know enough about this young person, let’s delay this decision” is difficult to achieve, even for someone in a position of relative authority in the organisation. The pressure to act can propel us forward, even when our instincts might tell us to slow down and think it through.

If I was kind to myself, I might say that I had gone to see him precisely because of those instincts – a sense that I was missing something. Changing the setting, and changing the activity, allowed us both to reveal a different aspect of ourselves. I got to know more about what he wants in life and he got to witness the World’s Worst Basketball Player in action. I would say it was a win-win but the score was more like 99-0. We both agreed that I should definitely stick to social work.

December 9, 2014. Children & Young People, Social work practice. Leave a comment.

“I throw my hands up in the air sometimes saying AYO gotta let go”

This lunchtime’s blog post comes from Gema Hadridge, our MA Social Work Student Public Engagement Ambassador. Gema reflects on her first year of learning at Sussex with a special emphasis on ‘use of self’ in social work, and the challenges that boundaries between public, private and professional lives online and in practice present when, as well as a social worker, you are also a seasoned musician.

Earlier this year we began the Social Work MA with the task of writing our own biography. The terror in our eyes as we all wondered whether we had to read it aloud and how many words and pages to write about (would it be immodest to write pages or seen as lacking insight if only a paragraph) was one of the first experiences this course would bring us.

Now, first year down I can see how that piece of biographical writing kickstarted an ongoing process of reflection: why I was drawn to social work, why I had  interest in specific areas, and what influence my values, ethics and personal attributes have on my practice. There have been many things learnt this year, both personally and professionally. For this blog post, my first ever, I want to explore (briefly) two lessons. First, what I learnt on my first placement. Secondly, one of the significant thoughts I’ve had of what personal Vs professional means to me. The two are related.

Interest and conviction about the relevance of a theory come alive when a connection is made with a lived experience.” (Morrison 2007, p247).

The above quote could not have been more true as I began my first placement. It was a setting I had not worked in before: a secure unit for women   . The women had histories, ‘behaviours’ and the ‘potential’ to be very challenging and unpredictable. Incident forms were handed over in the dozen. My first official day on the ward someone tied a ligature, and that was not an abnormal occurrence for the staff.

The experience reiterated to me the importance of seeing the individual as a person. To remain curious throughout practice and allow for the social worker to be authentic and transparent. To understand experiences, not just read case notes on hospital headed letters. To view the world they view, not just be-little them. To see their life, it’s not just about getting better. Not a team discussing their life walls between them, but a team to build their life together. A patient’s team to hold hope, support and work collaboratively, not a power imbalanced tight-rope. But the most significant aspect for me with regards to my practice? How my ‘use of self’ impacted my relationships with the women.

One of my main means of building rapport with the women was through music: whether it was discussing a patient’s favourite band or singing together. One of my most significant moments on placement, that  moved me so much it bought a tear to my eye, was when I sat on the floor in the communal area playing Dynamite by Taio Cruz and I Want You Back by Jackson 5. The patients sang, the staff sang and I played guitar. The woman who had just been telling me to “fuck off” led the harmonies. The woman who had previously not engaged with any conversations with me sat throughout the whole music session. This was a brief moment where the power, oppression and control appeared to melt away. Everyone was empowered. We were just people, singing together, clapping along and laughing.

I wrote my ‘theories, methods, values in practice’ essay with music (and humour) taking up a large section. In the setting above, my use of self and personal skills (my vague ability to play guitar and willingness to risk being very embarrassed sitting in a communal space alone playing guitar) helped build rapport. Then I went to the Connected or Protected conference organised by tutors at the University of Sussex  #uscopro on 5th June..The conference was great. I got to sit on my first panel (felt like a real academic!) and I was intrigued to have discussions about the topic which also gave me the opportunity to reflect on my use of self, my music in particular, in a different way.

What stood out to me? Something that was said about ‘posting’ on social media sites: before you click ‘share’, question why you’re writing it. What is your motivation? This is the exact same conversation I had in a seminar just months before when discussing ‘use of self’. It is something I believe to be relevant and appropriate to consider when discussing use of social media and use of self. But my issue? I’m a musician too.

I have been playing music for ten years. It’s a part of my life – songwriting and listening to music is part of my reflection on both a personal and professional level. In the practice setting I consciously diffused conversations about my own music when I could and only briefly discussed my songwriting once when actually writing a song with some of the women. When asked to play my own songs, I declined. There’s nothing inappropriate with my songs, but I explained I felt it was too personal in the workplace. But even with a conscious effort to not discuss my own music is that allowing for an inadvertent cross of the personal/professional boundary?

If any of the women searched Google they would immediately find my songs, pictures and old (horrendously embarrassing at times) videos – there’s the bonus to having a unique last name. But more importantly regarding the issue of social media to either protect and/or connect, it is very easy to find out where I am at a set time every few weeks. In fact I actively advertise this information. The reason? Because musicians promote their gigs. There is nothing inappropriate about being a social worker and also being a musician, and as a musician I need an online presence. But what does that mean for me as a social worker?

I still haven’t worked out a solution. And I’m not sure I ever will. But it is something that I believe that tutors, universities and employers need to consider. There is the constant worry of people posting ‘inappropriate’ things online (and that is an area that needs to be discussed more), but what about people who use social media in public forums for other aspects of their life?

July 24, 2014. New media & new technology, Social work practice. Leave a comment.

New Book – Social Media in Social Work Education

Putting the social back into social work and social media

 

Recent media reports have highlighted sharp increases in the number of police investigations into cyber abuse, much of which occurs via social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.

When social work hits the headlines it too is frequently associated with different forms of abuse. From such reports it may appear   that the social aspect of both social work and social media has disappeared, leaving instead exploitation, cruelty, greed, manipulation and other forms of ill-treatment which humans are capable of perpetrating against one another.

My own experience of both social work and social media, however tells a different story – one in which people communicate well , share information and time and frequently go out of their way to answer requests and to help people. This is a very different account from the risk avoidance and suspicion which so often surround reporting of both social work and social media and whilst I would never seek to deny these dangers, it is important to celebrate the human connections and possibilities offered by both.

In my chapter within the forthcoming book, ‘Social Media in Social Work Education’ I have tried to tell a story which does exactly this, by charting my conversion from middle aged Luddite to keen Twitter user with a profound interest in the positive implications of social media for social work practice and education. My chapter describes my reluctant participation in social media, as part of a role within my University Department. This role involved supporting people who may be studying part-time or over long distances and therefore social media seemed an obvious avenue to pursue. I quickly found myself hosting a weekly Twitter chat, before I even really knew how to use the platform myself and from my initial position of deep suspicion, I began to connect with what to my surprise appeared to be actual, real human beings. What’s more, these otherwise unknown human beings seemed both interesting and interested in many of the things which also excited me.

Like the very worst of reformed smokers, I soon became a keen advocate of Twitter, often becoming incredulous when people said they didn’t like or didn’t get on with it. On a professional basis, I have also become very interested in the possibilities which social media brings for breaking down boundaries between people and connecting them in ways which have never previously been possible.

My own experience of participating in this book is a microcosm of this potential boundary reduction. All my co-– contributors are people that I ‘met’ on Twitter and yet, we have joined together to produce this book. Despite my limited knowledge of any of them, I feel connected to them all and part of a small community – #smswe. Moreover, each of the chapters within the book gives a different account of the ways in which communities of social work education and practice can be achieved through creative use of and engagement with social media.

Of course, none of this negates the often widely reported harm that can be done through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter but people intent on doing harm have always and indeed will always find ways of doing so. Social media simply provides another means of achieving forms of harm which people have visited on each other for centuries. Alongside this however, they have also formed communities and supported each other in ways which give testament to the human spirit. This book echoes this by celebrating the myriad ways in which social media can be used creatively to share, sustain and enhance both social work education and practice. Moreover it has achieved this by bringing together a community of authors who themselves met via social media and have worked collaboratively to achieve this result. The book itself is therefore evidence both of what can be achieved through social media and of some core social work values – I feel proud to be a part of the team that helped create it.

 

 

July 15, 2014. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Technology: friend or foe?

In the run up to our Connected or Protected event here at Social Work @ Sussex on June 5 (see previous post), our postgrad public engagement ambassador Rachel Larkin takes a longitudinal view of technological changes in social work practice.

I’ve been a Social Worker long enough to remember the days when the “secretaries” typed our reports in rooms filled with plants and flowery tea cups. You often had to wait three days for a letter to go out but you could charm them to do your typing first, with promises of chocolate biscuits when you got back from your visit.

Now we all have e-mail and laptops and I can’t imagine doing my work without them.

E-mails are so convenient. Yet there are times I feel they can be a deceptive shortcut. We think we are saving time, and communicating effectively, but we are in danger of missing something essential about the nature of our work. Our work is about relationships – many and varied – but I’ve yet to be convinced that good working relationships can be formed through technology. (Although I’m aware that my son would accuse me of being a dinosaur at this point)

Today I found myself explaining, to two separate people, why talking to someone would be better than more streams of e-mails. The angry parent, unhappy with a decision, is unlikely to feel heard and understood by yet another e-mail response. A group of professionals, anxious about a transition plan, needs more than an electronically-sent timetable if they are going to work together effectively.

Social Workers are skilled communicators, and part of that skill is knowing what form of communication is needed in each situation. I don’t doubt the Social Workers I spoke with had the right skills, but the lure of the quick e-mail had seduced them into thinking that they had done enough. When they stopped for a moment, and thought it over, they realised that a discussion at the start may have saved them time repairing situations later.

Of course we avoided difficult conversations, back in the days of typewriters and tea cups. They take resources that sometimes you’re just not sure you have (you do, just take a breath, talk to your manager or a colleague and trust yourself). We just didn’t used to have the technology to hide behind in quite the same way.

Not that technology isn’t a fantastic thing. My iPad is a thing of wonder. I used to drive to visits with a crumpled map, and an address scribbled on the back of an envelope, with the awful feeling I’d been round this roundabout before. I love my sat-nav and I wouldn’t part with it now. Not even for a whole packet of chocolate biscuits.

June 2, 2014. New media & new technology. 1 comment.

Connected and/or Protected? Exploring digital boundaries in social work

Good morning SocialWork@Sussex blog readers! It seems that summer has finally arrived (in London and the South East at least) and what a beautiful morning for a post on digital boundaries in social work. The topic of social media and new technologies and their impact on social work, is a recurring theme on this blog as well as in our offline conversations. On June 5 colleagues, Denise Turner and Lel Meleyal will be running what promises to be a super interesting event on the challenges and opportunities that social media offers social work education, research and practice. We start our week with a post from Denise and Lel explaining the background to their event and giving us a sneak preview of speakers and topics. Details of how to join the ‘Connected and/or Protected’ event, either in person or online, can be found at the end of this post.

We are both Lecturers in Social Work, interested in boundaries, spaces and places – physical, psychological and professional. In lively discussions between us we recognised both dissonance and resonance in our respective positions towards social networking, particularly the challenges and opportunities this invites. This event arose partly from these discussions and we hope it will act as a springboard for further debate amongst students, service users, faculty and practitioners involved with social work. We also plan some original research focusing on boundaries within social networking activity and we would like this event to generate interest in participation. Within this blog piece we have used a conversational style to reflect the discussions which gave rise to this event:

Lel: Some time ago a social work student* invited student colleagues and tutors to view a blog piece she had written. Her public blog was about her journey as a survivor of the mental health system. It was a powerful, articulate piece – she wrote poetically and the points she made were those of the silenced. I have rarely read anything which made experiences so vivid and accessible to those of us who need to hear. It was a profoundly generous piece of writing. Nevertheless, as I read, anxiety mounted with every word. The detail of her personal and difficult journey was painfully graphic. Discussion and photographs let me into her world – then and since – including photographs of her home and family life. Despite the beautiful word-crafting of her blog piece the questions that leapt into my mind were ‘do you want service users to know these things about you?’, ‘do you want defense barristers and professional to know these things about you?’ In allowing us generous access to the difficulties of her life to enable and facilitate our learning about mental health, she had exposed herself and her family. I asked her these questions and she responded with horrified alarm ‘I hadn’t thought it through’.

At around the same time I was a member of conduct panels for two regulatory bodies – social workers and teachers. Sadly, on too many occasions I saw examples of professionals behaving inappropriately in digital spaces – those involving social media in particular.

Perhaps it is not surprising that I had developed rather a negative and restrictive view of the relationship between social media and professionalism. Boundary transgressions/incaution seemed all too easy. I advised students to proceed with caution and check privacy settings carefully. It seemed (and still does) clear to me, that managing professional boundaries in digital spaces is an essential professional skill.

I was intrigued to hear Denise’s different, and less defensive, take on social media. ‘Twitter is great’ she said. ‘It’s a fantastic resource to social workers’.

Denise: I have written previously for this blog and in a forthcoming book** about my conversion from Luddite to Twitter enthusiast. I use Twitter purely for professional purposes and my experience of this has been almost exclusively positive to date. Through the contacts established on Twitter , I have been invited to participate in a number of exciting projects including a keynote speech at JSWEC, where perhaps most excitingly of all I was dubbed ‘inspirational’ by Harry Ferguson, an academic whose work I have long admired. My often enthusiastic advocacy of the professional benefits of Twitter, however does not mean that I’m starry eyed or naive about the challenges it presents.

Most new inventions carry with them possibilities for good, alongside the potential for harm. The invention of photography, for example has made it possible to carry images of loved ones into perpetuity, whilst also creating the opportunity to post humiliating and injurious images onto social networking sites. It is not the invention itself, but rather the people involved in using it who create both the harm and the good from the technological advances available to us. These are matters which strike at the heart of the human condition – people have been both harming and healing each other for centuries.

Having been a social worker myself, I am a firm advocate for professional boundaries which create clarity and help protect service users and practitioners alike. However, social work is also a profession which often engages directly with the reduction of boundaries – with advancing understanding; reducing oppression; empowering and creating opportunity and therefore my hope is that boundaries can be kept permeable, rather than becoming rigid barriers which promote mistrust between people and promote process instead of compassion.

Despite the undoubted dilemmas it creates, social media is one way of creating such permeability, by allowing access between people who would not otherwise meet – often to very positive effect, as many of the campaigning hashtags have proved. However, there is also no that doubt that the sometimes dizzying speed of technological advance presents social work with important new challenges. What is certain is that the genie is now out of the bottle, and whether it is Twitter or whatever supersedes it, there is a need for social work to engage with debates around social networking and not to turn away.

* With thanks to LJ who gave me permission to tell this story

** Social Media in Social Work Education (2014) J. Westwood (Ed) Critical Publishing

Lel and Denise (in unison!) : The event, ‘Connected and/or Protected? Exploring digital boundaries in social work’  will provide the opportunity to engage in some of these key debates around social media through the perspectives of three very different Speakers :

Alfie Deyes

Alfie is a vlogger who runs YouTube channel PointlessBlog which has over two million subscribers and over

82 million views. He was named as one of the key figures of ‘Generation YouTube’ by Company magazine in 2013, and is

one of 12 ‘web savvy entrepreneurs’ identified by Yahoo News in 2013.

Jim Rogers

Jim is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Health and Social Care at the University of Lincoln.

He is programme leader for post-qualifying professional programmes for Approved Mental Health Professionals and Best

Interests Assesors, and has teaching responsibilities for a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

Jim is co-author of ‘Social Work in a Digital Society’ (2013).

Brian James

Brian is Head of Assurance and Development within the Fitness to Practise department of the Health and Care

Professions Council. The HCPC keeps a register for 16 different health and care professions and only registers

people who meet the standards it sets for their training, professional skills, behaviour and health.

Brian has a key interest in public protection.

The event will bring together students, faculty, practitioners and service users interested in social media within social work, to extend the threads of exciting discussions still in the making. Following the event, we will be establishing a Social Media Special Interest Group for the Department of Social Work at Sussex and we invite interest in this from those attending the event. Further we are planning research focusing on student social workers navigation of digital space and professional identity and also welcome expressions of interest in participation.

We warmly invite you to attend and look forward to hearing your views.

Attendance at the event qualifies you for a digital ‘Open Badge.’ These are becoming increasingly popular and are used by organisations like NASA as a form of CV building. When added to a ‘digital backpack’ Open Badges provide a record of events, training and conferences attended and achievements accomplished, as a means of building a career profile.

To book a place at this event, email h.stanley[at]sussex.ac.uk

Live, remote participation available: https://connectpro.sussex.ac.uk/sw_connected

Lel Meleyal:@LFMeleyal & Denise Turner; @DeniseT01, Lecturers in Social Work and Event Organisers.

May 19, 2014. New media & new technology. 3 comments.

Do I get a badge?

Following the appeal we made at Sussex World Social Work Day 2014  for more social workers to be involved in public conversations about what social work is and does, three students have volunteered to be involved with our public engagement activities.  A few weeks ago we heard from undergraduate social work student Maristelle Preece, today we hear from doctoral student and experienced social work practitioner Rachel Larkin.  Rachel’s research interests are on social work with asylum seeking and trafficked young women. Below she reflects on 20 years of being a social worker and the reasons she’s stuck with it. 

Looking through my diary this month, I suddenly realised that I’ve been working as a Social Worker for 20 years. I’d spent the last hour trying to reach an agreement with a very angry parent. My head hurt and I was frustrated and tired. Yet it didn’t cross my mind to ask why I was still doing this job and, driving back to the office, I started thinking about the reasons I was still here.

I graduated from the MSW at Sussex in 1994 and am back here part-time in 2014, studying for a Doctorate in Social Work. Since 1994 I have worked in many different teams, as a Manager and a Social Worker. So why, despite the long hours, the media criticism and the shifting resources, have I never really considered leaving the profession? The answer is very simple: it’s the people.

Here are just a few:

–    the parents with learning disabilities, who many people said would never be able to safely parent their baby girl. They went home with her and she starts school this year.

–    the girl who was sold by her mother to pay the rent at the end of each month, who starts University in September

–    the colleague who took two neglected children to an emergency placement late at night, and then went shopping to get them the fish fingers and spaghetti hoops they’d been asking for all the way there.

–    the little boy with cancer I said goodbye to in the hospice

–    the young man with autism, who told us jokes all the way through his review meeting and made his Headteacher laugh so much she spat her tea out

There are so many more. I’m not trying to be sentimental or pretend that they’re aren’t tough times. Not every story has a happy ending and sometimes we arrive too late or just don’t get it right. Social work is a job that demands personal strength that is sometimes difficult to find. I have seen and heard things I won’t easily forget. Coming back to University is making me think again about some of our practice and it’s not always a comfortable process.

The successes are hard won in Social Work but that just makes them all the sweeter. Of course most of them aren’t our successes at all, but belong with the families themselves. It’s such a good feeling to see a young person take a step forwards.Sometimes they surprise us all and take a giant leap.

I don’t think I had any idea what was in store for me when I graduated in 1994, and it’s been a bumpy ride, but I can honestly say I don’t regret it. If the next 20 years are half as interesting I will count myself lucky.

Is the badge in the post do you think?

May 16, 2014. Social work practice. Leave a comment.

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