It’s so important to Stand Up for Social Work and the campaign is a good opportunity to remember how all social workers in diverse roles and settings have contributed to positive life changing circumstances for children, families and adults.
Social work demands bravery. Many social workers and social care workers have died in the course of their work; others have had their lives ruined for speaking out.
The ultimate sacrifice
In 1984, social worker Isabel Schwarz was stabbed to death in her office in Bexley psychiatric hospital by a former service user. The tragedy led to the introduction of the Community Care Act 1990.
In 1985 social worker Norma Morris was murdered in Haringey, north London, while visiting a young man who had attempted suicide.
In 1986, social worker Frances Bettridge was strangled in Birmingham by a man who thought she planned to take away his children.
In 1992, care worker Katie Sullivan was washing up in the kitchen of a MIND hostel in Kingston when she was stabbed to death by a resident.
In 1993, volunteer Jonathan Newby was left in sole charge of a hostel for the mentally unwell in Oxford when he was stabbed to death by one of the residents.
In 1998, hospital social worker Jenny Morrison was stabbed to death by a client in a south London hostel, where she had gone to check on his deteriorating mental health. Social worker Audrey Johnson was killed in the same year in the course of her duties.
Whistle blowers who are brave enough to voice their concerns may not lose their lives but their careers and personal lives can be left in tatters.
Haringey social worker Maria Ward recently told Panorama of her experience being vilified by the media and fearing for her safety after the tragic death of Peter Connelly.
Haringey’s Nevres Kemal, Wirral Council’s Martin Morton, Liz Davis at Islington Council and Simon Bellwood, who helped to spark a major inquiry into children’s services in Jersey, are just a few of the social workers who have been willing to stick their heads above the parapet and suffered the consequences.
Every day bravery
Less dramatic but no less significant are the little acts of bravery social workers commit every day on the job; such as giving evidence in court proceedings or knocking on doors for the first time – not knowing who or what they might encounter.
Social workers have to be the person to break the news to a child that a sibling has died, or to parents that their child is no longer safe in their care. The conflict, physical and verbal aggression which social workers must manage every day demands huge reserves of strength and courage.
Social workers have to decide if they tell the truth of their working lives to Ofsted inspectors as well as sharing the reality of a child’s journey.
Standing your ground
Social workers often have to stand their ground to help people access the right support – “no, being locked up in a police cell is not good enough, I will stay on duty as long as I need to sure this person get access to a hospital placement”.
Just like doctors and nurses, social workers around the world also work in conflicts, war zones and humanitarian disasters and must still maintain their professional value base when doing so.
But social workers being creative, innovative and determined to set the bar of high quality standards are also being just as brave, steadfast and determined.
Let’s salute that bravery. Let’s celebrate the history of social work, the ethics and value base of the profession and the important role that we as a profession have to play.
The voice of the profession must be heard and that includes challenging poor practice, injustice, wrongs and collusion in not listening to children and adults.
Let’s also be brave and courageous about acknowledging which factors can directly impact upon the functions and roles of social workers as well as organisational systems and employer responsibilities.
The 2015 the HCPC published a research report “Preventing small problems from becoming big problems in health and social care”. It highlights the common reasons for disengagement and ‘competency drift’ amongst health and care professionals. They included: workload pressures, working patterns, professionals operating outside the scope of their practise, under-utilisation of skills, professional isolation, lack of autonomy, lack of support for continuous professional development , poor or infrequent supervision, poor management, dysfunctional relationships (at work), personal circumstances and a blame culture.
Prevent little problems from growing
Being valued, good team dynamics, good supervision, regular appraisal and performance management, buddying schemes, mentoring, team building, professional network, reflective practice, self-awareness, keeping up to date and no blame culture were cited as key ingredients to prevent small problems from becoming big problems.
As Maya Angelou, the poet, author and American civil rights activist, said: “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently”.
Let’s be brave and courageous as a profession. Let’s embrace those willing to speak out and blow the whistle, not vilify them. Let us protect ourselves and other social workers and never ever forget those who have lost their lives doing this job that we love.
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