In 2009, Ruth Aten-Shearwood swapped her badge, gun and 17-year-long career in US police forces for a new adventure in social work. Five years later, she has played a key role in the creation of an extra care centre in Derbyshire, as well as winning the Newly Qualified Social Worker of the Year (Adults) accolade at the 2013 Social Work Awards.
“Winning the award last year was really validating because you don’t really realise the things you’ve done in the first year,” says Ruth. “It was a good feeling to see that people have taken notice of your accomplishments.”
After graduating from the University of Nottingham in 2011 with an MA in Social Work, Ruth took a temporary contract with Cafcass before joining her current role at the Oakland Extra Care Village in South Derbyshire.
“Choosing between children and families and adults social work was a heart and head decision for me,” says Ruth. “This was a second career and I wanted to get it right and ultimately adults was a better fit.”
Ruth joined the Oakland Village in December 2011, when it was still “a construction site” and has helped to get the care centre, which provides living accommodation for people with residential and personal care requirements, off the ground.
“When I first started we were really under the microscope and there was a lot of public and political interest,” she says. “I was involved in getting the residents through the initial assessment process to determine the people with the highest level of needs.
“We are now completely full and the work is much more about signposting and reviewing service users to ensure that we have a clear picture of how they are doing now.”
A year on from the awards, Ruth’s latest highlight has been her involvement in a national pilot project on introducing volunteering in care homes, which has been launched by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.
“I’ve been asked to participate as staff lead on the project and I will also be presenting a case study on the benefits of bringing volunteers into residential care as part of a panel at the next Institute for Volunteering Research conference,” she says. “It has been really interesting so far and we are already seeing a benefit for the residents at our centre.”
She is now considering “greener fields” and a new challenge, but Ruth encourages anyone who has had a good first year in social work to put themselves forward for the Social Worker of the Year Awards: “It is certainly an honour to even be nominated and an even bigger honour to win, so why not go for it?”