Social work hero: ‘Before I met her I was ready to give up social work’

Principal social worker Lisa Harris is this week's hero for empathetic direct work and inspirational leadership combined

Photo: Moodboard/ RexShutterstock
Photo: Moodboard/ RexShutterstock

This week’s social work hero is Lisa Harris, the principal social worker for children and families in Walsall.

Adam Birchall, currently principal social worker at Solihull, nominated Lisa from when she was his predecessor in the job in Solihull.

“When I met Lisa I was ready to give up statutory social work. I got into social work to make a difference and my first experience of social work in another authority was less than good.

Everything I tried was ineffectual

“My manager was dismissive of me in supervision, telling me my cases were too complex, she didn’t have time to talk to me outside of supervision and when I tried to discuss theory I was told to leave that at university. I was also told that we’d stopped using the framework for assessment years ago. With no kind of framework everything I tried with families was ineffectual.

“I decided to try a different authority and if that was the same I’d give up social work and try something else.

Lisa Harris is second from the left

Lisa Harris (second from left)

“When I arrived at Solihull, Lisa introduced herself to me and offered me a cup of tea. She made clear that the purpose of the team was to get great outcomes for the children we worked with.

“Over the next six years I realised that what she had said was not rhetoric but was real. Lisa created a culture where challenge was encouraged and accepted. She trusted our judgements but would always challenge, push for evidence and try to understand what was influencing our thinking. When necessary she would champion us to the head of service or the assistant director.

Difficult days

“When we were having difficult days we could call her after hours. When we needed support, she would push aside her work and give us, and the families we worked with, her whole attention.

“Within my first few weeks I was in a situation where I had to remove children from their mother who had a significant personality disorder. Lisa helped me plan this and got involved in speaking to the mother about our reasons. Strange to say that, despite having to take such a difficult and draconian step, my relationship with the mother improved after this and she spoke really highly of Lisa too.

This was not a one off. Her interactions with service users are a masterclass in demonstrating empathy and building relationships, which I think is the heart of real social work.”

Birchall says that even though Lisa left Solihull last year and moved to Walsall she still shares any snippets of good practice and offers support if he asks.

Exemplifies what a principal social worker should be

“Being the principal social worker (PSW) for Solihull means I have the continued pleasure of her guidance in our regional PSW network. Lisa’s support and activity in the network is also great and exemplifies what a PSW should be.

“I’m not just speaking from my own experience but from the experience of many workers who have worked with her. She’s my #swhero because she really cares, she’s an inspirational leader and because of her there are hundreds of families who have received a better service.”

Well done Lisa! You’re a #swhero and a box of chocolates is on its way to you now!

Do you have a social work hero you’d like to nominate? Comment on this article, tweet us@CommunityCare #swhero #StandUp4SW, tell us on Facebook or email us at: judy.cooper@rbi.co.uk. We’ll pick a winner each week and send them a box of chocolates as a little “thank you” for all their hard work.You can also see our heroes on our brand new Instagram account (Community_Care).

One Response to Social work hero: ‘Before I met her I was ready to give up social work’

  1. Miranda Wilkinson January 17, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

    Well deserved. Lisa was indeed a great Manager and an inspiration to many of us who were lucky enough to have the benefit of her mentoring and guidance.