(Davinia Miln receives her award from (left) James Rook, managing director of sponsor Sanctuary Personnel, and Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers)
Kirsty McGregor talks to Social Worker of the Year Davinia Miln about her talent for motivating and communicating
To call Davinia Miln a “committed and hard working” social worker seems an understatement, considering she hasn’t taken a day off sick in more than 10 years.
The former teacher retrained as a social worker 30 years ago and has been working at the frontline, first with children and then with older people, ever since.
It is this commitment to the job that has earned her the accolade of Social Worker of the Year 2010, ahead of 14 other shortlisted practitioners.
Miln made the switch from teaching because she was fed up with trying to help her more challenging pupils without ever getting to the root of the problem: what was happening at home.
“You could never work out what was going on, you just saw the result coming into your classroom every day and causing trouble,” she explains.
After qualifying as a social worker, Miln worked for the Inner London Education Authority until its abolition in 1990 and then moved into local authority settings.
Although she later switched to adults’ services, she believes her work with children, “helping them to realise their potential”, is among her greatest achievements.
She recalls, for example, organising trips to the country for teenagers from the local estate, giving them the opportunity to try canoeing and horse riding and, more importantly, see a world outside of their own.
When asked why she then moved to the adults’ services sector, the answer is not straightforward.
Partly, she says, it was because children’s social work began to demand more time than she had to give.
“I work 24 hours a week, not 35, and children can be very busy in the hours you’re not there. You have to be there five days a week.”
But she also found her interest in adult social care growing as the years went by.
It is not as difficult as many people think to switch from children’s to adult services, Miln says, because many of the core social work skills, such as listening, understanding and supporting, are transferable.
“It’s not just hearing a problem, but knowing how to motivate and help somebody deal with it.
“With children it might be finding ways for them to live in a family or manage at school, while for a lot of older adults with dementia, who are quite vulnerable and frightened, it’s helping them deal with that.”
Miln found she had a natural talent for communicating with the families of people with dementia.
“I’m good with the families, because the children are often a similar age to me,” she says. “I can help them interpret what’s going on, work out how to move their mother or father into a care home and how to deal with their feelings.”
The multi-disciplinary nature of adult social care also appealed. In her current role, as a review officer for older people in the London borough of Richmond upon Thames, Miln works alongside district nurses and occupational therapists. Next door sits the community mental health team.
“I like being part of a multi-disciplinary team; each person puts their professional assessment in and then you come out with a way forward for the service user.”
Miln plays down the significance of her role, which involves finding and reviewing care homes and carrying out re-assessments if a service user’s care needs change, but she is clearly very proud of what she does.
She presented the judges of the Social Worker of the Year award with a folder stuffed full of letters written by those she has helped professionally and personally over the years.
This included testimonies from children she has helped outside of work, such as a young girl who lived on the same street. The girl was on a care order and used to escape her home life by popping round to Miln’s house several times a week for dinner.
With such a breadth of professional and personal experience, Miln seems like a prime candidate for management.
But she says that, although opportunities have presented themselves in the past, she has always preferred to remain on the frontline.
“My manager is 30 years younger than me but it doesn’t matter because we’re both professionals,” she adds.
Miln says she prefers the new, more open style of management and supervision that has emerged over recent years. “You can bounce ideas around and come up with the best solution, rather than waiting for a scheduled supervision session,” she says.
She also emphasises the importance of good training and supervision, which has allowed her to go that extra mile for service users without breaking the boundaries of professionalism.
On hearing that the Social Worker of Year judges praised her “hard work, commitment and enthusiasm for her daily tasks”, she laughs. “I try to share what’s happening and help other people. That’s what it boils down to.”
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This article is published in the 11 November 2010 edition of Community Care under the headline “Beyond the call of duty”