Social care professionals are often criticised by their clients or the media for making mistakes. Less attention is given when social care staff get it right and help to transform clients’ lives. Anabel Unity Sale speaks to three service users about how social care workers have helped them
Tahir Malik has used the specialist Asian Amardeep Mental Health Service in south London for the past two years. He has been working with team leader and care worker Anita Kalia for 16 months and regards her as more than just a member of staff.
“She’s become like an aunt to me, she is a sensible and mature person and that’s important to me,” he says.
Malik has a panic disorder and was referred to Amardeep because he was unhappy with the treatment he received from a mainstream mental health service. “I spent six months with the service and felt like I was repeating the same session again and again and not getting anywhere,” he says. Although staff in the mainstream service were used to dealing with mental
health problems, Malik was disheartened to discover they had not worked with Asian clients before: “They lacked knowledge about south Asians and our cultural backgrounds and this was a real issue for me.”
Although he was happier to use a dedicated service for Asian communities, Malik was reluctant at first to attend Amardeep’s weekly drop-in group. He did not like mixing with other people and so his mother would accompany him to the service. But Kalia and the other professionals soon broke down the barriers. “Anita was sympathetic to my mother, which was important because initially she and my father didn’t know what was happening with me.”
When Malik first started to go to the drop-in group he was hesitant about taking part in any activities. Kalia says she used to see him hiding behind his newspaper to avoid making eye contact with anyone. Slowly she encouraged him to mix with other users and he soon became an active member of the group.
Having a social care worker from a similar cultural background has helped Malik to improve the quality of his life. “She encourages me to say what I’m thinking and treats me as if I’m normal, which is a really big factor.” He regards her as a “strong adviser” who is helping him to reach his goal of returning to the banking profession. “This isn’t just a job for Anita, she makes time for me and this makes me feel like I can achieve what I want to.”
Kalia says being able to speak to Malik and his parents in Urdu, their first language, helped her work more effectively. She believes that his parents opened up more than they would have done had she only spoken English. “They really welcomed the chance to speak with me and it helped that I am from an Asian background.”
In Easterhouse, Glasgow, the term “social worker” is tainted, according to 33-year -old taxi driver Neil McCutcheon. In his neighbourhood social workers are thought of “as like the Gestapo” and no one wants anything to do with them, he says.
Fortunately McCutcheon is in a position to correct other Easterhouse residents because for the past three and half years he has been attending a fathers’ group at the Quarriers Family Resource Centre. He began going to the centre with his eldest son John, now aged eight, because John was very shy and timid. Since working with the social care professionals at the centre,
McCutcheon has seen dramatic improvements in his son’s demeanour and he is now much more outgoing.
McCutcheon decided to attend the fathers’ group nearly 18 months ago and has not regretted his decision for a minute. At the time he says he was obsessed with making money and feared his marriage would collapse if he didn’t spend more time with his wife Sharon and sons John and Liam, now aged five. “My wife and kids were crying out for a husband and dad, and I thought money could solve everything but it couldn’t.”
Initially he was wary of social care professionals because his wife had had a bad experience with social workers when she was 17. But the centre’s male parent development worker Brian Hill suggested he join the weekly fathers’ group so that he could meet fathers in similar positions. McCutcheon says he listened to Hill because he wanted to learn how to relax with his children and not be stressed out after spending short periods of time with them. “The fathers’ group has made me change and made me spend more time with my family. It’s one of the things that’s
helped saved my marriage.”
McCutcheon says he understands why some are reluctant to involve social care staff in their lives but that, ultimately, “they are there to help you. All you can do is try it and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”
Hill says he and other professionals at the centre have had to work hard to convince the 20 members of the fathers’ group – Neil included – that they are on their side. Working with the fathers has been “very refreshing”, he adds, as they had no entrenched views on parenting and so are open to advice and ideas.
Susan Reeves was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 18 months ago having spent a year at Rookwood Hospital in Cardiff. The diagnosis was a relief because for several years before being admitted to hospital she was ill and had mobility problems.
Before going into hospital, Reeves lived in a hostel. Consequently, when she was discharged from hospital she had nowhere to go. This is when Cardiff Council’s social services stepped in, allocating Reeves a social worker and helping her find suitable accommodation with the necessary support to ensure she can live independently. Reeves soon found out how useful social
workers could be.
She describes her social worker, Kim Macpherson, as friendly, with a no-nonsense approach: “I find Kim good at finding out the answers to my questions. She gets on and does things which is how I think it should be.”
Last October, Reeves moved into her first flat. She still sees Macpherson regularly. Having a social worker has transformed her life because she has someone she can trust who is able to help her. “I can talk to Kim about anything. I know I’ve got someone I can go to if I’ve got a problem and she will give me advice.”
She thinks other people could also benefit from having a social worker if they need extra support. “There is nothing to be scared about having a social worker. They just want to help you.”
Macpherson says working with Reeves was initially very challenging as she had high needs due to being homeless and in hospital. She found that talking to Reeves on a level she could understand, without any power dynamics, meant they could work together effectively. “The choices were Susan’s and I had to prove to her that I respected her choices.” She is pleased that she persevered with Reeves and that the outcome has been so positive: “It’s hugely satisfying to go and see her settled, knowing she can close her own front door for the first time in her life.”