On Change

So I’ve ‘come out the other end’ so to speak and made the leap from a frontline social work post into another job. While I don’t want to cover the specifics of what I’m doing – that may come with time – except to say it’s related – I wanted to pause and consider how the move has gone.

On the positive, having come from being a social worker seconded into an NHS team employed by a local authority that barely seemed to remember that it had Mental Health Social Workers and couldn’t quite grasp the fact that not all of their employees could access their LA intranet/email system, it’s actually really pleasant to be a part of an organisation that remembers I exist!  While it can be easy to joke about, it could get both frustrating and lonely being out on the periphery between NHS and LA – owned by neither – and ‘belonging’ to an organisation can be important psychologically and certainly helped develop a loyalty to an organisation.

Organisational loyalty can be positive in the sense of belonging but there’s also a need to see beyond ‘blind loyalty’ and to be aware of accepting criticism where necessary.

I’ve done a lot of ‘meeting’ of people. One of the most refreshing developments over the last week is that I’ve met many people from different occupational backgrounds in a ‘work setting’ and that’s actually something very new for me. I’ve worked in social care since 1993. Gulp. While I dabbled briefly in another field for a couple of years since then, that was in a very different context but basically it’s been a LONG time since I’ve had constant contact with people who haven’t worked in the health and social care sector.

It has allowed me to see the world and particularly the sector through ‘different eyes’. So much of our ‘system’ makes no sense whatsoever that I’ve almost become used to it.

Putting more money into dementia screening but not providing any services for those who have dementia diagnoses to garner more personalised support makes no sense yet it will ‘tick another box’.

‘Personalisation’ in name only while Local Authorities deliver exactly the same ‘managed personal budgets’ that they did before the individual had an ‘personal budget’ with no more choice’.

The existence of residential care provided at high cost which delivers poor quality via staff on minimum wages while profits siphoned upwards.

None of this makes sense in the sector and yet the challenges to some of these from within the sector need to be listened to.

I’m in the middle of solid induction programme. The last proper induction I had was when I did my last social work placement which was.. um.. quite a few years – and a few jobs – ago. It’s something I’m trying to make the most of.  There’s a lot of learning which is exciting to me. I enjoy learning and while the skills I have are those which got me to the point of ‘getting the job’, I will need to develop a lot more to move on.

I’m excited about going to work – I know it’s still early days but while there were parts of my last job that I always loved – there were fewer of them.

On the other side, I miss people. I miss the people I worked with and the families I came to know. I miss my colleagues who were to an individual, a fine group of people who wanted to make a difference despite the organisational obstacles placed in their way and I miss the confidence I had in knowing what I was doing/who to talk to about things/how a particular organisation works.

It will take a long time for me to feel as comfortable in the new organisation as I did in the last one but that took years of experience and relationship building to grow. I had (I think!) a good reputation within the last organisation of working hard and I need to start building another reputation from scratch.

I may need a bit more time to adjust than I thought I would. After a week, fortunately, I still think it was the right thing to do. I’m thinking of the ways I can ‘transfer’ my skills and knowledge. I’m absolutely sure that I will be able to.

I never thought I’d leave ‘frontline social work’. I’ve been reflecting a lot on that. It  was absolutely the job I felt I was ‘made’ for and what I wanted to do. I also thought that those who moved away were ‘running away’ from the real social work. And I’ve done that myself. It was one reconfiguration of services too many as far as I was concerned.  I’m hoping my old team gets some fresher eyes to challenge with and some different perspectives to put some more fight into the sector. One thing the sector needs is more fight. Is staying put and fighting more ethically coherent than moving on when you feel ‘ready’ and challenging from the outside? I don’t know but I will continue to ponder and reflect.

Of course, I remain a registered social worker – having just renewed my registration although I would have registered regardless and can’t see myself giving up that registration ever really – and will continue to relish the values of advocacy and endeavour for better services but will be coming from a different angle.

Maybe it’s just now I’m seeing social work more broadly than I did last week and perhaps that’s no bad thing.

7 thoughts on “On Change

  1. Good luck with the new job. I’m not a social worker, but am working in a social care setting in the voluntary sector and would love to train (one day, when I have time). My aim in training would be to get the skills, ethical and academic background – not to go into statutory services as all the time I see all the problems you describe: good, dedicated, talented, compassionate and skilful people who aren’t valued and are having to do their job with both hands tied behind their backs. Leaving that behind is not a sign of weakness, but of strength, moving to somewhere you can make a difference, albeit in a slightly different way. The assessment thing must be the most frustrating – I know a social worker who spends all his time doing assessments of people for whom there are virtually no services once they’ve been assessed. At least in the voluntary sector we have more autonomy to make things happen. Trouble is the salaries are often truly apalling! Anyway, good luck again with your new job and here’s to everyone out there fighting to make people’s lives a bit better, to help people move on, to make a difference.

  2. Lovely post. I’m sure it’s the right move for you and you will excel

  3. I enjoyed reading your post. You highlighted a number of issues I agree with about personalisation and Council Managed budgets, the gap between income and staff pay in higher cost residential homes and the lack of resources following dementia diagnosis. I am sure the learning you gained from your front line social work role (positive and negative) will stand you in good stead in your new role. Best of luck!

  4. Hello Ermintrude 2- I want to wish you the very best of luck in your new role. I stepped out of front line practice into a connected job some years back at a point where I was very tired, close to burn out and needing to take a wider perspective. It really worked for me and kept me fresh and energised. The “break” worked and I then decided to come back into practice 3 years ago. For me it is not a weakness, to switch roles, it is a sign of strength and we always have the choice to take our skills into different arenas so that we stay the brilliant, committed Social Workers that we are!

  5. Dear Ermie, good on you for falling on your feet…..however I would just like to take you up on your thoughts on loyalty to the organisations that employ us. I have no over-riding loyalty to any employer, we have a contractual relationship full stop. I developed this approach after I blew the whistle on 3 paedophiles in a residential school in the 1980’s, and my organisation through its senior staff told me I was a liar. Fast forward 25 years and 2 of these men have been convicted of child sexual abuse in that school, the other one committed suicide when he came under police investigation, and the first 2 were back in court last week charged with further offences of sexual abuse of other children at the school.

    Ever since then my loyalty is to no organisation or any individual in it….it is to the task, and whilst the organisation sets the parameters for me to work in, when it comes to the direct work I determine and define my approach, with specific elements built in.

    People can be seduced and corrupted by organisations, particularly social work organisations…..there are a lot of charlatans involved in it, many of them weilding considerable power and influence. One of the devices I have employed since the initial residential school incident is that when I meet people of influence I ask myself if they would have blown the whistle or kept quiet if they had been in my shoes back in 1987..it is surprising how few make the grade….and I trust my empathy, having a score in the top percentile of Professor Baron Cohen’s empathy quotient….stood me in good stead for 37 years in frontline work

    • Boxerdog

      Having like you worked long in the ‘field’, including ‘managing’, I came to the conclusion long ago that few have personal integrity. I admire those who speak up like you, of which I feel there are few. So we have a corrupt society. It is easier to trade jobs than to stay as you have done and not give up your principles. I agree that loyalty to an organisation has no meaning.

      Rubbish talk of values in social work abound. I have seen none in the last 20 years. I worked closely with social workers and in the 80’s thought they were relatively benign merely keeping the ‘services’ running. Some made ‘user involvement’ their mantra to help catapult themselves into highly paid jobs in other sectors.

      I now think a large number of social workers as positively dangerous as well as inept, from my experiences of recent years, and would advise people to avoid social workers at all costs. If you are aware you will note that an anti-social work lobby has rather grown. Accidentally meeting others in my area who have had run ins with social services, (children’s and adults), I see that the trend reported on by Mr Booker in the daily Telegraph is actually spot on, from both their experiences and mine. And there is a trend, as you yourself have noted from you own bad experience.

      Loyalty has to be deserved… You employers / colleagues will not be there to support you when you blow the whistle. A health care assistant recently, on an elderly ward on hospital, agreed with me that there were staff there not fit to work with the vulnerable, but also stated that when she raised issues she found herself unpopular. She was the nicest and most willing person on the ward. I believe that you cannot make people caring by ‘training them’. If they did not have any evidence of caring for other than their own before talking up jobs on the front line, you can bet they will use clever words to say they care but show no caring such as to be prepared to blow the whistle on those they know are bad.

      My view- we go round and round with the same groups of people….just re-located to different settings.

  6. Thanks for your observations Edna, which resonate with me, and I am reminded of a concept that existed in the 1970s….Bruno Bettelheim coined the phrase, “The informed heart”, to say that that first and foremost the Social Worker should have the “heart”, for the work and by this I mean emotional intelligence, personal resilience in the face of adversity and comittment and compassion to and for the service user, and this “heart” is then informed by learning and knowledge so that our interventions have a greater chance of success for those we serve.

    Charlotte Towle took up this concept in social work training in this country and it is worth reminding ourselves of her definition of social work written in 1945, “the capacity to live beyond absorption in self and who are inclined towards creative activity …. Workers choose this field of activity because of their readiness to live beyond themselves, their liking and concern for people as individuals, and their impulse to participate in and to contribute to the life of the community”……good enough for me.

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