By Imelda Hall, social worker
There is no doubt that being a social worker in this day and age can be pretty stressful. The demands of a hefty case load, high expectations and a lack of resources have seen many a good social worker buckle under the extreme pressure of what has now unfortunately become an integral part of the role.
I have worked in social care for just over thirty years, initially in residential care with adults and latterly with children and families. I spent 26 of those years in public service and five years working in the private sector.
Returning to local authority social work after just five years with the private sector was an unexpected culture shock. Working conditions seemed much worse, with just a handful of experienced social workers. The work flow was relentless and burnout high. There is nothing more deflating than seeing your colleagues burst into tears around you because their workloads are so large and witnessing their continued battles with organising and managing their cases, despite working long into the evenings.
Being strong for less experienced colleagues takes its toll
As an experienced social worker, you don’t have the luxury of being able to burst into tears in the office – you need to be strong for the overwhelming number of less experienced colleagues who deserve and need to be nurtured. But this in itself can take its toll on your emotional wellbeing, as the informal support for yourself inadvertently diminishes.
Although resources were widely available when I was working in the private sector, working for individuals who want to make a profit just never sat right with me. Whilst I do not undervalue the private sector (indeed, I greatly appreciated the available resources and the amount of time I was able to devote to children and their carers) my heart has always been in developing public services, no matter what state they are in.
Recharging the batteries
However, I fully appreciate that’s easier for me to say this now that I am in the fortunate position of being able to take an occasional career break from ‘the system’. My 11 months of “time out” has given me plenty of time to reflect and to pursue hobbies and interests that have helped me recharge my batteries so that the emotionally demanding nature of social work has less of an impact on me when I return.
It is such a pity that successive governments do not value social workers enough to provide even the most basic of resources that are so desperately needed. We have a steady stream of emerging recommendations from one report or another that bombards social work with initiatives intended to help us protect the vulnerable. Recommendations that my colleagues and I embrace. However, when will government put its money where its mouth is and provide the essential resources to support the social care workforce to do this in a more practical and meaningful way? We don’t need more recommendations, we need more investment in our services.
“I am proud to be a social worker”
Fully refreshed and ready for action, I intend to return to local authority social work very soon and look forward to meeting the challenges of developing and maintaining the high standards of our profession. These are abundantly in evidence, despite the picture of uncaring attitudes and low standards often painted by the media.
I am proud to be a social worker and feel lucky to be part of such a devoted and competent workforce. I have few expectations of our under-resourced system this time around and know that I will most certainly feel the pressure. However, being able to take a career break has been a huge release and means that I can continue the work I want to do in a stronger and more positive frame of mind.