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Why I became an independent social worker

Czeslaw Polakowski tells Clare Jerrom why he became an Independent Social Worker and how being bilingual is beneficial in his chosen profession.

While becoming an Independent Social Worker after working in a local authority for many years can appear daunting or risky, it is a decision that experienced social worker Czeslaw Polakowski is very happy that he made earlier this year.

And while turning his back on a large local authority may for many have seemed courageous, Czeslaw explains that he actually felt a “feeling of freedom” by making the move.

“Working as an ISW means I have flexibility and I can take as much work on as I can manage. I’m Polish and I love visiting my family and as an ISW I can do that – there’s no one to say “you can’t go.” So if I want to take less work to visit my family, I can. But I can also visit them and work from my hotel room,” he explains.

“Being an Independent Social Worker is not only my job; it is my passion,” he adds.

Child focused

Czeslaw studied for the Diploma in Social Work in Poland in 2003 and then started his professional career in 2006 in Poland, where he worked until November 2018. During this time, he worked as a social worker with children, teenagers, families, and adults. He also developed his skills as a probation officer, EU Project Manager, Social Integration Club Manager.

In December 2018, Czeslaw moved to the UK and worked for Peterborough City Council, first in the assessment team and then in the targeted youth support services. When COVID-19 enforced lockdown in March 2020, Czeslaw also supported the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub.

A year later in March 2021, Czeslaw started taking on independent social work assessments in his own time while working at the local authority, and by January this year he made the decision to go completely independent after 16 years working as a social worker in Poland and the UK.

“Initially when I came to the UK from Poland, I wanted to understand the systems here. While the problems facing children and families in Poland are similar to England, I wanted to learn about the systems, legislation, regulation in the UK in order to practice here,” explains Czeslaw.

Czeslaw did not rush the process of getting to grips with the UK’s children in care and child protection system and working for Peterborough Council gave him the opportunity to adjust while he considered becoming an Independent Social Worker.

“I’d always wanted to work where I could use the English language,” says Czeslaw. “The system is more child focused in England than in Poland which I like.”

Responsibility

“Working in Peterborough gave me time to adjust before considering becoming an Independent Social Worker. I wanted to do something for myself and I wanted the opportunity to learn new skills and develop further.”

“I had extensive experience as a social worker and wanted to carry out a variety of work including Special Guardianship assessments, Connected Persons and fostering assessments.”

“I have responsibility as an ISW and I like the challenge. I enjoy developing my skills and becoming more professional,” he added.

Naturally, Czeslaw had concerns financially about whether he would be earning enough money to pay his bills. He signed to another independent social worker provider and started carrying out work with them.

However, Czeslaw found he had the time and skills to take on further assessments and so applied to work with WillisPalmer and went through the very rigorous recruitment process.

Mentoring

And while some experienced social workers fear leaving a team, manager, access to supervision and the backing of a large authority behind them, Czeslaw explained that WillisPalmer has actually made the process far more seamless.

As part of our robust Quality Assurance process, we have a highly experienced social worker Lyn Knight whose responsibility is to quality assure the first three reports that new experts to WillisPalmer produce and to provide detailed feedback in a mentoring role.

“Both agencies have been very supportive but having access to Lyn for the first three assessments was like having supervision and she was available to discuss the case and advise, if necessary, which was really helpful and beneficial,” said Czeslaw.

He explains that as a people person it is really important for him to carry out direct work with children and families and to build a positive rapport. As a result, the only down side that Czeslaw has encountered so far in his 10 months working completely independently is occasionally feeling lonely working alone as opposed to working in a team.

Bilingual

However, it has been incredibly beneficial for Czeslaw being bilingual.

“I am often put forward for assessments regarding Polish families. If I can speak Polish to the families, it is easier for them to understand the process and the expectations of them, which can be very helpful.”

“In terms of a good parenting assessment, it is vital to gather really good evidence through contact with the parents. If you are face-to-face it is easier to build rapport, and gain trust. Gathering further information from other professionals is important, as is direct work with children at home and at school and speaking to other family members. Then if you analyse the bundle and put everything together you can make a good quality analysis with conclusions and recommendations,” said Czeslaw.

“If I’m speaking Polish, I can explain to parents what they need to do to change and, in my experience, sometimes this can be lost when you work with an interpreter. On one occasion I was speaking to a family for about five minutes and the interpreter’s version was around 10 seconds. I’m happy I can work with Polish families and have a good understanding of Eastern European culture,” he added.

Czeslaw carried out a parenting assessment and an assessment for a Special Guardianship Order with WillisPalmer over the summer holidays where both parents and other parties were Polish speaking and he is currently working on another assessment involving a Polish family.

“I’m really glad I’m an Independent Social Worker, I’m learning all the time. Every case is a challenge, an opportunity to develop my understanding and gain new skills,” said Czeslaw.

“I’m very happy. It’s not to say in the future I wouldn’t work for a local authority again or as a locum social worker, but for now I’m happy doing what I’m doing and I have enough work,” he added.

Czeslaw explains that there is no such role as an Independent Social Worker in Poland, yet he always wanted to work for himself.

“I can realise my dreams in England,” he said.

Confident

He acknowledges that Independent Social Work is not for everyone, and some social workers prefer working for a large organisation like a local authority children’s services department. However, he believes that it is down to people’s personal qualities and home situations as to whether it is the right decision for them.

But for those considering becoming an ISW, Czeslaw advises that social workers do their research and speak to people who are working as an ISW to find out their experience of the work. Czeslaw first started researching online and in fact stumbled across our article which aims to give social workers an overview of what they need to do and the pros and cons of independent working before they take the plunge. Czeslaw also recommends taking a gradual approach to becoming independent as he found this beneficial for him.

“Find a good agency like WillisPalmer and do it gradually. Take on a few assessments while working to see if you like it and find out how much work is out there. This will enable you to build up your finances while in the comfort of full-time work and being comfortable and safe financially will relieve the stress when you first go completely independent as you know you have the bills covered while you are finding your feet.”

“You may be in front of the court so you need to be confident in your abilities. Speak to other ISWs about their experiences, how it works, how it is organised and do your research online too. This enabled me to understand how it all works.”

“The best part about being an Independent Social Worker is that you can work really hard and earn more money, or you can take on less but earn less, as that might suit your family situation. Having the flexibility is my main motivation,” concluded Czeslaw.

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