Gifford finds inspiration in a Disney movie and advises users not to be fearful
of social workers.
started using mental health services way back, before care in the community.
And I’ve spent the past 10 years working for organisations that exist to give
service users a voice. So it does not take a PhD in psychology to work out
that, somewhere along the line, I too have not had a voice.
it was while I was in the mental health system that I first came into contact
with social services. The social worker I had then was concerned with my
discharge from hospital. I remember little about her now, but I know I was not
afraid of her. Although, I had a baby who was less than a year old and was in a
psychiatric hospital, I had no fear of my baby being taken away from me. So now
I ask why I wasn’t afraid. Didn’t I know enough about what social workers were
able to do?
the past 10 years I have worked with social services in many ways. I have
trained social workers and supervised social work students; I’ve run
conferences for and with social workers and spoken at numerous social services
events. During these years I’ve often been impressed by the efforts that social
services make to understand the people they work with. Certainly much more than
any other service provider I know.
it still saddens me to see that fear plays a large part in users’ dealings with
social services. Of course there is also anger and frustration, but fear is
never far away. There is a power imbalance that still results in fear and
distrust despite all the efforts put into training, talking and negotiating
both by service users and social services.
I wonder if I am just being too unrealistic about a system that is, of
necessity, enormous and complicated. How can such a system have a personal
touch as well? Maybe I have just been spending too much time with my
four-year-old grandson watching his favourite film, Tigger the Movie.
Tigger has no family, no other Tiggers like himself. So Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore,
Kanga, Owl, Piglet and Roo all secretly dress up as Tiggers to make their
Tigger happy. In the end Tigger comes to realise how valued he is through the
efforts of the others.
that’s my idea of a social care network. And, although it’s probably much too
gooey a storyline for anyone over the age of four, I know that I have met the
same passion for change among service users and social services staff that I
have seen in that film. So what happens – what gets in the way? Bureaucracy,
inevitably – a rule book that cannot be thrown away, even though it gets bent
every so often. And budgets that can never stretch far enough no matter how
much corners are cut.
users are not that unrealistic. Budgets and bureaucracy are things we are well
used to. Of course, we don’t want to be bothered with either, who would? But
taking time out to think about Tigger and Pooh Bear helps me to remember all
the good things I know about social care services. My own and other people’s
success stories, which like that little film, will never be important enough to
make the headlines.
Gifford is a mental health service user and a project worker with the NHS in