Julie Gray has been a social worker with Bexley Council’s children and families team for 27 years. Here she explains why she still loves her job
I had originally planned to be a teacher. But during a placement at a school, I helped a child who was in trouble and who wouldn’t talk to his teacher. I soon realised it wasn’t the teaching I was interested in but helping children like him. So in 1982 I applied to work as a social work assistant in Bexley.
I became a level one social worker, then completed my certificate of qualification in social work at Goldsmiths College in London in 1985 and returned to Bexley Council’s children’s and families team. I have continued working as a social worker rather than become a senior social worker because I would not want to spend my time chairing meetings and supervising staff – I enjoy doing the frontline family work.
I find working with children and families very rewarding. I meet such a variety of young people and families that my work is always interesting.
There are far more success stories than the media would have you think. Helping parents meet their children’s needs, or moving children on to alternative carers where parents are unable to make the required changes, is what my work is all about. I have met so many people, both clients and professionals, who I consider it a privilege to have worked with.
Some families are initially hostile, but many of these come round to realising the benefits of working with us. I believe that the hostility is often a result of the media’s negative coverage, which then compounds the difficulties of working on their own deep-seated problems.
Part of the issue is about clients, understandably, not wanting to be identified as having problems. There are parents who have committed criminal acts in the system, but there are also families that just can’t cope for a variety of reasons. They don’t want to be in the same group or labelled the same way. Which of us would? If you show people respect regardless of their difficulties, they are then more able to work with you.
Throughout my social work career, the greater pressures of the job have come from workload rather than the work itself. Years ago, you didn’t even take a report in to a child protection conference, you just gave your professional opinion verbally. The first care plan I wrote under the Children Act 1989 was one page, whereas now they are large documents. I wouldn’t argue that the way we do it now is wrong, but there is such a lot expected of us.
Recent changes, with the aim of going paperless, mean we have to enter a large amount of information into computers, which is very time consuming. A lot of this could be done by administration staff, but we are expected to do it all ourselves. This is not a local issue but a general development in social work.
But back to the positives. At Bexley, there are many social workers and managers who, like myself, have been in their posts for a long time. This means we are able to offer each other plenty of support. But there has been enough staff turnover to keep things interesting and allow us to learn from other people’s experiences too.
Bexley has also shown good flexibility in terms of working hours, something that was invaluable to me when my children were young.
The ethos of the team I have been in for more than 20 years has in general remained one of mutual support. But this is something I am concerned could change now given the general move towards mobile working that might leave workers feeling isolated. But I love my job and would not have chosen any other career.
If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would still sign up to do voluntary work in the social care sector.
This artiled is published in the 14 May issue of Community Care magazine under the heading So many successes
Stories in the mainstream media give a skewed picture of social work because they focus on children’s services and relate mainly to crises and serious cases. Community Care’s Stand Up Now for Social Work campaign is seeking to redress the balance by giving a voice to social workers from across the profession. E-mail your positive social work stories to firstname.lastname@example.org and discuss your achievements at www.communitycare.co.uk/proud
For more information on our campaign go to: www.communitycare.co.uk/stand