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It’s times like these: what matters is what works!

I joined Five Rivers as a supervising social worker in June this year (2021), having worked previously as a children’s social worker for a local authority in the Duty and Assessment team. This was a front-line role working closely with the police, applying for emergency court orders, undertaking family assessments to screen for the level of need within vulnerable families.

The last few years are ones I will not forget easily. The highs you get when you know you have improved the life chances of a child. The lows when there is not enough you can do and the frustration you sometimes feel with a lack of resources, exacerbated by a global pandemic, which put unprecedented strain on many families.

During the pandemic, we have seen support services which we relied on for family interventions, such as the Early Help Key Work and drug & alcohol treatment programmes, all stopped. Meanwhile, our role was expected to carry on with the pressures of reduced staffing and an increase in family need which was only intensified by job losses, homeschooling, and overcrowded homes, often with no internet or computer.

When I was a child (many years ago!) I wanted to be a teacher, however, when I was in secondary school a careers advisor suggested I might want to think about becoming a social worker. I had never met a social worker, though the advisor explained you work with families and help them; the examples she gave included taking a pregnant mum to a hospital appointment or helping a family that struggle with literacy to write a letter. I am not sure if careers advisors even exist in schools anymore. Much like education, social work has changed so much since the 1990s, that said, I have still taken parents to appointments and written too many letters to count.

My entry into the field of social care was pre-internet and involved supporting adults with learning disabilities, who had previously lived in institutions, settle into homes within the community. I really loved the role, and this is when I first realised what an honour and privilege it is to work alongside people in their time of greatest need.

Initially, when asked to write this blog, I was going to share career highs and life-changing moments, all made possible by a career in social work. One memory that sprung to mind was the time I was called by a teenager who wanted to tell me he had been selected for a football team. He wanted me to be the first to know as I had previously got the funding to pay for his kit and football sessions and taken him to his initial tryouts. I also thought about when I was able to support a mum to leave a domestically abusive relationship and go on to see her happy and settled in a new home with her children. Instead, I decided to share with you what my experience suggests children and families want from those in helping professions. This is what I came up with:

Speak up – we are in a privileged position and therefore it’s our duty to speak up for children and families when they’re not being heard, and when they are, to make sure the child’s voice is the loudest in the room and given the highest priority.

Be Authentic – don’t pretend to be something we are not. We must listen more than we talk, don’t promise things we can’t deliver, and be honest about the constraints of organisations in which we operate.

Learn from mistakes and build trust – admit mistakes straight away and apologise. Got the time of the meeting wrong? Admit it and say sorry. Use mistakes as an opportunity to learn and improve practice. Do what you say you will do and don’t make the same mistakes twice.

Take Action – don’t just talk about doing things, do them! Be creative when looking for solutions.

Be a lifelong learner – remember children and families are experts in their own lives, learn from them. Learning opportunities come in many forms, not just training courses . . .

As I start the next chapter of my career with Five Rivers Child Care, it appears I have joined at an exciting time as I can play an important role in helping to develop the fostering service in the Sussex area. I am excited to be working with an organisation that shares my own values. It was in fact Fiver Rivers’ values of Respect, Adaptability, Integrity, Support, and Excellence that encouraged me to apply for my role. I hope that these mutual values can be evidenced by my actions within my role.  I want to end with this blog with the advice I was given in the 1990s which still holds true today: “What matters is what works, and if you start from the position of the child, you won’t go far wrong.”

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