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?

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May 16, 2014. Social work practice.

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