The cuppa and socal work practice

social skirmishes

Mark Drinkwater, a community worker in south London, on the cuppa’s role in social care

● I’ve been thinking about the under-acknowledged role of the humble cuppa in social work. It reminded me of my time studying when the importance of hot beverages was never underestimated.

One piece of drink-related advice a tutor dispensed involved what to do when dealing with a particularly difficult telephone referral. She advised making a cup of steaming hot black coffee and finishing it all before responding. Her idea was that this forced workers to plan their course of action rather than tear round to the client’s home to investigate.

When on placement, I found myself working alongside a fellow student from Birmingham. We were glorified tea boys. And I would hear him ask: “Kipper tie?” Initially, I thought this was a reference to the outdated fashions in the office, but turned out to be Brummie for “Would you like a cup of tea?”

Deciding on whether to accept the offer of a drink usually meant assessing the general cleanliness. I often replied: “No thanks, I’ve just had one back at the office.” But those who considered themselves hardcore social workers would always accept. My first placement tutor suggested: “It’s the first step in establishing a relationship with another human being.” Before adding: “And the heat should help kill off some of the germs!”

He hadn’t come across people like my colleague Julie, who confessed that as a teenager she would hoik up phlegm into the drink for her social worker: her version of “green tea”. I still wince when I hear someone ask: “One lump or two?”

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