By Rebecca Joy Novell
The College of Social Work has released a five-point plan for the next government in which it states its first recommendation as ‘increasing investment for social work’. As a social worker who works on the ground with young people involved with gangs and sexual exploitation, this first recommendation cannot be stressed enough.
When I ask the young people I work with what most helps them to make positive changes to their life, without exception they will answer that it is having someone there for them. The concept of a ‘critical friend’ is a well-known approach in social work and I have found through experience that this approach is especially important with teenagers. It means listening to the young person; it means sitting with them in meeting after meeting until they realise that they can manage alone; it means teaching them how to cook or ringing their phone every morning as their alarm clock for college. It means leading by example.
‘Showing them you care’
But most importantly, it means showing them you care – and not just because you’re paid to. When social work can do all that, that is when it is most successful.
But with fewer and fewer resources, it becomes impossible to be that ‘critical friend.’ Time and time again, we hear social workers are becoming burdened with impossibly high caseloads and endless bureaucracy. The higher the caseload and the higher the pile of paperwork, the less time there is to spend with the people you work with. If this profession continues the way it is going, it will become less of a supportive and life-changing service and more of a box-ticking exercise.
‘Investing in people’
As a social worker who cares deeply about the people this profession tries to help, I urge the next government to prioritise an increase in investment for social work. In five years’ time, I want social workers to be able to spend the majority of their time with individuals in the community. Real social work is about investing your time in people and building nurturing and transformative relationships. If the right resources are invested, I assure you that social work can produce miracles.