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“Social work is tough and challenging – we need to celebrate and be proud of what we do!”

Lucy Hopkins, experienced social worker and Head of Practice at WillisPalmer, on the importance of experienced social workers remaining in the profession.

Lucy

As we are nearing the end of Social Work Week 2022, it is important to reflect on the great work that social workers do, day in, day out, using their skills, knowledge and experience to bring about positive change and opportunity for others. We are not often recognised for the work we do or the positive contributions we make to people’s lives, so it is even more important that we celebrate our achievements and good outcomes during this dedicated week. It is disappointing that the media, and subsequent public, perception of social workers remains negative because of the reporting of rare tragedies, and again, more reason for us as social workers to reflect and be proud of the good work we do and where we have really made a difference to someone’s life.

Social work is a tough job. It is complex and challenging, dealing with the emotions and welfare of the most vulnerable people in our society. Social workers need the support of good managers who can provide reflective supervision to help them manage their workloads, their feelings, and afford them the space to develop emotional resilience. That is just one way that the profession can support social workers to want to stay in the job. I want social workers to be proud to call themselves social workers – it’s a protected title so nobody without a social work qualification can call themselves a social worker! Statistics show that a large percentage of local authority social workers have been with their local authority for less than two years and a further large percentage less than five years. In order for children, families, and vulnerable adults to benefit from and utilise the skills and knowledge of experienced social workers, we need those professionals to stay in their teams, to stay in their social work roles, and to pass their knowledge on to the next generation of social workers.

Our CEO, Mark Willis, talks fondly of when he was an unqualified social worker and had the benefit of experienced workers around him to share their knowledge and wisdom and allow him the opportunity to shadow their practice. I share this experience and remember the social workers and managers who influenced me when I was an unqualified social worker in Adult Social Care (Sue Richardson and Gail Foxon) and a newly qualified social worker in Child Protection (Dian Campbell and Lenna Coker-Thompson) – I’d like to thank them all during Social Work Week!

Sadly, so many social workers seem all too keen to leave behind the social work job title and are focused on moving into a management position almost from the point of qualifying. I understand this and it is only with experience that I have really learnt to appreciate and value the social work title. Although I am now in a management position I continue to undertake direct practice, recently having undertaken Systemic Family Assessments and Child Abuse Litigation work; it is not only important for my own practice but helps me when I am thinking about developing new services or policies at WillisPalmer, really understanding first hand what is happening in the wider world of social work and the needs of children and families.

Whilst it is positive that social workers are career driven and thinking about their professional development, in order to be an effective manager who can fully support and guide your team you need to have that social work experience to know how to relate to what your team are feeling. There needs to be more career development options for experienced social workers to remain in direct practice. 

This is just one of the reasons that independent social work is so important. It allows an opportunity for social workers to continue in direct practice, using their experience, expert skills, and knowledge to provide comprehensive and analytical assessments that provide the Courts and local authorities with the information they require to be able to make decisions in the best interests of children that will achieve permanency and stability in their lives. Being independent means that you can really focus on the child, the family, the assessment, and make recommendations that are solely based on the best interest of the child without having to balance this with other factors such as resources and budget constraints. This is a privileged position to be in and one that is of great importance to children subject to Court proceedings who are awaiting life changing decisions to be made about their futures.

At WillisPalmer we have developed a range of multi-disciplinary assessments to really get to the heart of the issues that are affecting children and families in public, private, and pre-proceedings matters, and the expertise of our independent social workers, along with our psychologists and family support workers, is invaluable in these cases. I would certainly encourage any children’s social worker, manager, Family Court Adviser or Children’s Guardian who enjoys assessment work, multi-disciplinary work, or who wants to get involved in our new innovative assessments, to consider the prospect of independent social work, have a look at our recruitment process details on our website, and make contact with us as we would love to hear from you!

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