A day in the life of a social work entrepreneur in… England

We’re still celebrating World Social Work Day here at Sussex. Take an afternoon break, grab a cuppa and biscuit, and read about Kate Griffiths Zhang, a social worker with international experience who has started a social enterprise encouraging the use of outdoor spaces in schools. Below Kate reflects on what it might mean to combine her diverse cultural and professional experiences for a more entrepreneurial social work practice.

As I approach my 50th birthday, I don’t want to fight it anymore, instead I accept I am a Social Worker to the core. Social Workers are my tribe.

The last decade has seen me live and work between China and England. I have a China born partner, a dual heritage daughter and a huge Chinese family. We are settled back in England for now, so my current quest is to design a working life that makes a difference for English children and their families. The solution (if there is one) has to blend:

  • What I have learnt from my Chinese life (the benefits of being less direct – the strength of families in the face of oppression and opportunity – the limits of verbal problem solving).
  • My love for the outdoors, and my instinct, and now training (as a Forest School Leader) that reconnecting with nature, and with each other could have huge benefits for some of our most vulnerable children and parents.
  • My talents and experience – 6 years a senior manager in a local authority, I returned to Social Work practice 7 years ago because I wanted to make a direct difference to children. As a Social Worker for children on Child Protection Plans I began to experiment with different forms of “monitoring visit” and witnessed significant changes in engagement and openness form parents and children when I worked somatically with them in local parks and animal places (the RSPCA shelter!). One mother had resisted SW assessment for several years, court action was imminent, but after a month with this approach she slowly started to work with me. Change happened. K was safer.

So here I am with a portfolio of roles – social entrepreneur, Practice Educator, Forest School Leader, and FAST (Families and Schools Together) Team member.

I am designing and delivering a “Wild Family” Learning Programme with a consortium of local schools and partners for the summer onwards. My big goal is to blend Forest School and Social Work in a service for children subject to Child Protection Plans. A service that I hope will help reconnect children and parents to themselves, and each other. To improve family relationships. To improve relationships between parents and key professionals.

I am seeking local partners now, and have two university academics on board. It is slow, exciting, frustrating work – and for now pays very little. Maybe I will return to Social Work practice part-time to pay the bills, and to build my idea from the inside out…?

Your ideas and support are welcome. Anyone else working in this way?

You can get in touch with Kate at projectgrow [at] yahoo.co.uk

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March 19, 2014. World Social Work Day.

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