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.