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Interview with Pauline Jordan

Independent Social Worker Pauline Jordan is the latest recruit to WillisPalmer’s quality assurance team.

WillisPalmer invests heavily in quality assurance to enable us to uphold the high standards we provide and, as a result, our quality assurance team has grown as we have recruited more multi-disciplinary professionals to ensure that each and every report is subjected to our rigorous process .

Lyn Newberry has also recently joined the quality assurance team in a mentoring role to ISWs who are new either to independent working per se or new to working with WillisPalmer. Lyn is ideally placed to do this role given her experience as an Independent Social Worker, former magistrate in the family courts and previous mentor to qualified social workers studying for the Child Care Award as well as being a practice educator.

Pauline says this role is vital as there is a sense when you go independent of “working completely on your own”. This can be daunting, especially for social workers who have previously worked with a team, a manager, supervision and a large authority behind them. While Pauline is clearly hugely talented and experienced, Pauline said she had experienced being “savaged by a High Court judge” in her experience as an independent social worker which suitably highlighted how alone she was in her role as an ISW. Having a link to an organisation like WillisPalmer can help alleviate those feelings of being alone, especially with access to case managers and quality assurers.

Reorganisations

Pauline has 28 years of continual social work in children and families social work having qualified in 1993, and has strong assessment, negotiation and interpersonal skills.

Her route into social work was far from typical though, as when she lived in London, Pauline was an audience researcher for the BBC. Having moved to Brighton to be close to the sea and taking time out from her job to enable her to spend time with her two children who were born close together, she started volunteering for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

“I met a number of social workers through my volunteering and the work sounded really interesting,” explains Pauline. She went on to study a post graduate MSW and started working in a children and families department in East Sussex.

“Brighton became unitary and so my whole working life in local authorities has been in East Sussex or Brighton and Hove. I ended up working in various teams due to the many re-organisations which have occurred over the years,” added Pauline.

She spent time working on the frontline in child protection, which she enjoyed, before working for one of the first concurrency adoption teams to be established. “This was a relatively new concept in the UK and involved assessing prospective adopters, family finding, matching, preparing necessary documentation, attending court and training. I also worked closely with birth families, who were largely affected by substance misuse and/ or mental health problems,” said Pauline.

“Having worked in adoption since, you can definitely see the difference between social workers who have experienced frontline child protection and those who haven’t. Those with child protection experience just have a different way of working as it provides such a good basis for social work and social workers definitely showcase a more rounded view when it comes to working with children and families,” she explains.

Working in Brazil

Multiple re-organisations began to take their toll on Pauline though. “After working a ‘patch’ where you knew the geographical area, you knew the health visitor, the GP and in those days you had a supervising social worker who had undertaken extra training and it was a good way of working and we had a skilled, supportive team,” explains Pauline. “After that, it was deemed that family support was not needed and a reorganisation ensued.”

The irony of this is that the benefit of family support work today is widely recognised and ‘family help’ is one of three priority areas for the Spending Review highlighted to government by the chair of the independent review of children’s social care, Josh MacAlister.

The re-organisation was enough to spur Pauline on to do something else, admitting she was ready to try something different in 2006. As a result, she joined ISWA, an independent social work organisation which was previously run by Philip King and which merged with WillisPalmer in 2017. “I started independent social work through ISWA and it involved a fair bit of travelling, which was fine, but as I had worked in social work for some time, I started getting offered work independently from organisations and I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never been short of work. As a practice assessor, I also always had a few students on the go,” said Pauline.

Independent social work took Pauline to Brazil for a case involving a young boy with a Brazilian father. “It was a high-profile case and I was warned that there may be lots of photographers and publicity when I arrived in Brazil. I had to travel to the centre of the country so there were three flights and a car journey. After the final flight, I was greeted with flashing lights of cameras, but thankfully, they were directed at the Brazilian basketball team who were also on my flight rather than me!”

Pauline worked in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Amsterdam and thoroughly enjoyed independent social work until the case where she came up against the judge who “savaged” her and reiterated the fact she was working completely alone.

Below the radar

As a result, Pauline became a self-employed children’s guardian with Cafcass and while she enjoyed the work, a part of her was missing social work but didn’t want to work completely alone again. She spoke to an independent social work colleague Gretchen Precey about how it was working for WillisPalmer and so Pauline started carrying out assessments for us.

However, when the latest opportunity arose for Pauline to become involved with quality assuring independent social work reports, Pauline jumped at the chance. “I’ve been around the block a few times, I know I’m a good writer and I thought it would be an interesting area of work. Having been an independent social worker for 15 years and having experience as a practice educator also provides me with the experience required for a role like this.”

Like everyone in social work, Pauline had to adapt her practice during lockdown to more online assessments and, while necessary during the restrictions around COVID-19, Pauline found this way of working restrictive. “There is so much you cannot pick up online such as body language and I was also carrying out quite a bit of work with families where English wasn’t their first language and using an interpreter on Zoom was challenging,” explained Pauline.

Pauline is more fearful for the vulnerable children ‘below the radar’ who have not been in school during lockdown as, while children with a social worker were entitled to a school place during lockdown, take up was low. “It has been incredibly stressful for families who have limited space in their home, little or no outdoor space, struggling to put food on the table, all cooped up together. There are bound to be issues which have not come to light yet,” warned Pauline.

Pauline is now looking forward to getting her teeth into the quality assurance role but is proud to be an independent social worker and says it is a move she has never regretted.

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