How would you explain what a Social Worker does?
Siobhan –Social Workers tend to come into contact with people when they are facing a particularly difficult time in their life, for us this is when they are experiencing mental health problems. A social worker’s role is to build a supportive relationship with individuals and also their family and friends to really find out what is important to them and to assist in finding ways to overcome barriers to them living the kind of life they want to lead.
Jen- Mental Health Social workers have a responsibility to assess a person who may need extra support to live independently or may need residential care because of their mental health problem. We have to make difficult decisions around who is eligible for funding from Adult Social Care based on the council’s eligibility criteria. Self-Directed Support is the process we follow when allocating resources and support planning. Social Workers support individuals through assessment, support planning and finding the services they require to achieve their goals.
Siobhan – Social workers in mental health teams have many other roles and responsibilities which involve Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults, Assessing under the Mental Health Act, Writing Reports for and Attending Mental Health Tribunals and Mental Capacity Assessments.
What do you think people think about your profession?
Siobhan –I think when most people hear the term ‘social worker’ they tend to think of people who take children away or fail to protect a child – because this is the portrayal seen on television and reported by the media.
Jen – Yes I have certainly experienced individuals I have supported initially being worried/concerned about having contact with a social worker. This concern is understandable as we usually come into people’s lives at a time when people are feeling very vulnerable. Most people though are grateful for support and our role is to help people to feel more at ease and to provide people with the information/support they need to make informed choices.
Siobhan – Most people are perhaps unaware of the many different areas social workers work; children and young people, youth offending, substance misuse, mental illness, learning disability, older people, probation and other voluntary organisations. Social Workers help people to live independently and overcome barriers to achieving a better quality of life. There are of course times when we have to make difficult decisions but what most people are unaware of is the process and procedures that we must follow to make decisions against people’s wishes. We have a duty to uphold individuals’ human rights whilst also safeguarding them and others from harm/neglect and we must work in the best interest of those individuals.
Why did you want to become a Social Worker/what inspired you?
Siobhan – I wanted to become a social worker because I always had an interest in people’s stories and backgrounds following a Sociology A-Level. I knew I wanted a job in which I could pursue this interest but in a way which practically supported people to overcome adversity and live the kind of life they wanted to despite any barriers life might have thrown at them. This is what led me to undertaking my Social Work Degree.
Jen – I have a degree in Sociology and became passionate about the impact of discrimination in society. When I left University I worked as a support worker for many years primarily with people with learning disabilities. I enjoyed working with individuals on a 1-1 basis and making a difference to their lives. This led me to training to become a Social Worker.
Is the job what you thought it would be?
Siobhan – Social Work is mostly what I thought it would be although I am continuously learning about what social work is. Intervening in people’s lives at difficult times provides an opportunity for change, and when we can assist someone in reaching their goals and living the kind of life that they want it is an extremely rewarding job. I’m not sure I was completely prepared for the implications that central government funding cuts would have on the profession and the challenges we face as a result.
Jen – I went into Social Work because I had found Support Work rewarding as well as wanting to develop my career. I don’t think I went into social work with a clear idea of what a Social Worker did and have very much learned on the job. Social Work is very different from support work as the work you do is driven by legal duties and responsibilities. However I believe what makes me a good social worker is being able to form good relationships with the people I work with and wanting to support people to achieve a better quality of life.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Siobhan – I find the death of service users and suicide particularly difficult. Although as a social worker we have ‘professional’ relationships with people, we are building a relationship with them, getting to know people and talking to them on a regular basis about most aspects of their life. This part of the job is extremely difficult and we are only human after all. I think as a newly qualified social worker you feel a pressure to be ‘professional’ and not ‘emotional’, experience has taught me I can be both and still do a good job and respond appropriately.
Jen – I supported a gentleman who I got on really well with, who committed suicide – this was over 10 years ago and I still think about him a lot. I think the other difficult thing is coming to terms with the limitations of your role – as a social worker you are frequently supporting people who a very poor quality of life – you cannot always make the difference you would like to.
What drives you to continue doing the job you do in such challenging times?
Siobhan – What drives me to continue is having seen the value and difference that the right support can make to people’s lives. I know that the process can be very daunting; navigating the mental health system is not always easy for professionals never mind anyone else! I feel it is important to be a friendly face that can make that process easier and (hopefully) a more positive experience.
Jen – I have been lucky enough to have spent the last few years trying to improve access to personalised packages of support for people with mental health problems (Self Directed Support). I am passionate about the benefits of personalised support in improving the lives of people with severe and enduring mental health problems, which enables people to define their own goals and the support they need to do this.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Siobhan – The most rewarding part of my job is when someone is achieving the outcomes they wanted to achieve and in most cases don’t need to see me anymore! We have an opportunity to recognise people as individuals and not just their mental illness. A chance to discuss what they want to do/ achieve in life and be part of the solution to work towards that.
Jen- I agree – The most rewarding part of the job is when you see how your input makes a real difference to the lives of the people you are working with. A few years ago I worked with a lady who was practically house bound due to her depression and anxiety, she could not see a way out of her situation and had lost hope. She had a personal budget and defined her goals which included being able to go shopping and to her local gym and culminated in her long term wish of returning to work. Her support was withdrawn after a year as she had made such good progress. I later heard that soon after she had returned to full time work.
Could you share one occasion where your role really made a difference to someone’s life?
Siobhan – I was given a thank you card a couple of years ago now. I remember very clearly reading it in my car. The card said that without me his daughters would not still have a father. Reading that card made me feel I had made a difference and I remember thinking from that day no matter what challenges this job might throw at me, if I can make this difference to just one person then it is all worthwhile.
If someone could have given you any words of advice when you started, what would that be?
Siobhan – The advice I’d give is that social work is complex and you are working with a range of people some of who may be less receptive to your efforts, try not to take it too seriously, get demoralised or take it too personally. Have a sense of humour, get to know your colleagues and keep smiling!
Jen – well said Siobhan – and remember to look after your own wellbeing too!