Celebrating Social Work may seem like a pointless exercise, or even more cynically, a desperate attempt to save Social Work’s failing reputation. However, what celebrations like this provide is a real opportunity to improve what is already a genuinely important profession. Today, social media is flooded with discussions about Social Work and talks are being held internationally about what we do and why we do it.
It is important to remember, however, that Social Work is not about the Social Worker; it is about those we serve. Whilst Social Workers may currently be receiving a very negative press in Britain due to a number of high profile child deaths, we must not lose hope that we can make the necessary changes to create a Social Work that our Service Users and the public are proud of.
We must also remember that Social Work is so much more than Child Protection. Social Workers practise in schools, elderly homes, prisons, mental health settings and in charities, to name but a few places. Wherever there are people in need, there will most likely be a Social Worker trying to reach them.
We need to use social media and news platforms, like today, as a means of highlighting how our Service Users need Social Work as a profession to change and improve. We need to ascertain the wishes and feelings of those we help and support and encourage them to join in the discussion. Only through honest and open dialogue can we develop into a truly effective profession and one that is powerful in creating social change.
Social media is a fantastic arena in terms of gathering anybody and everybody’s opinions on a matter. It is not enough, to simply retweet or favourite only the positive remarks about our profession. We must acknowledge criticism where it is constructive and not become defensive when another’s experience of Social Work does not match our own.
Social Work is not perfect and all Social Workers know this. However, when we put those who we seek to help at the centre of what we do, we are on the right track to making world-wide positive change. After all, it is the people we work with who make what we do worthwhile.
Dan is a young man I have worked with since he was fourteen and I was nineteen. He’s now coming up to twenty and as I have watched him develop into an adult, he too has watched me develop from student Social Worker to qualified professional. We have both watched each other grow up and consequently have a great professional relationship with frequent honest talks about his offending behaviour.
The last time I saw him, we were sitting in a Court prison cell together, as he awaited trial for a potential fourth custodial sentence. Dan had been so insistent that he would not find himself in this position again and I had been clear that the thought of seeing him sent to prison for a fourth time was getting too much for me to deal with. The last time I watched the Judge sentence him to ten months, I burst into tears in the Court.
Dan, did not think I would turn up to the Court cell that day. He thought like everyone else, his parents, his siblings, his friends and his girlfriend, he would have upset and disappointed me too much to come. No one else attended that day. I will always remember walking into the cell and seeing Dan look up at me. “I don’t get why you do this job,” he said” “You could do anything else. Something that doesn’t upset you”. I responded, “but then I wouldn’t be here sitting with you now, would I Dan?” We sat there for a few moments in silence. Dan eventually replied, “no, I guess not… Thanks for that. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Rebecca Joy Novell is a Qualified Social Worker working with gangs in central London. She graduated from The University of Sheffield in 2012 with a Masters in Social Work. Rebecca has been involved with Youth Justice since 2008 in a variety of voluntary and paid roles and is currently undertaking a Professional Doctorate in Criminal Justice. She was elected to the Professional Assembly for The College of Social Work, is part of the Criminal Justice Reference Group for the British Association of Social Workers and regularly blogs for The Guardian’s Social Care Network. She is also the author of Starting Social Work: Reflections of a Newly Qualified Social Worker. Her blog can be found at www.charitynovelll.wordpress.com.