Helen Durdy is a social worker for the Manchester early intervention service run by Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health Foundation Trust
The best decision I have made has been to take on a social work student and be a practice assessor. I was in another job at the time and in need of something to make me reflect on why I had become a social worker.
The placement was for six months so it was quite a commitment (and don’t get me started on the seemingly endless report writing). My student was mature and experienced so I couldn’t get away with anything. She was not afraid to speak her mind if she disagreed with my decisions or saw poor practice. It wasn’t all plain sailing.
As a relatively shy and unassertive social worker, this made me uncomfortable at first, but it was what I needed. From the start, I made it clear to the student this was my first experience as a practice assessor, and she said she valued my honesty.
Having my student around meant I had to be a role model and protect her learning experience. For example, this entailed challenging a colleague and writing a letter of complaint about a professional in another team. I learned a lot about myself: that I demand high standards and that I am a keen advocate of reflective writing and practice. I have also become more assertive and am not afraid to question colleagues’ decisions. My student has just been offered a social work post in the team we worked in so I must have done something right.
A few months ago, in my previous job, I went to a talk given by a spiritual teacher and came away with the sound advice “stick to your values even if it means fighting for them”. The next day I failed to follow this advice and made my worst decision in my role as an approved mental health practitioner.
I assessed a man, who had been detained by the police because they feared for his safety but would not reveal his identity. The consultant was not keen on admitting him to hospital, probably because he would have had to find him a bed. My instinct was that this man was unwell and we could not ensure his safety in the community, because we didn’t know who he was or where he was from.
Instead of sticking to my guns and trying to persuade the consultant to complete a medical recommendation I allowed myself to be led, and agreed not to admit him. Luckily for the man, the police were not happy with our decision. After doing further checks they found out he had recently gone AWOL from a London hospital and had a long psychiatric history.
He had been detained under section 2 of the Mental Health Act. It had just lapsed but, in the light of this new information, we were able to rectify this. Otherwise we would have been responsible for putting an unwell man on the streets.
This article appeared in Community Care issue 28 May 2009