What’s the best or worst advice you’ve been given as a social worker?

As part of our Stand Up For Social Work campaign, we are asking you to share your favourite (or least favourite) tips for new social workers

Photo: Ikon Images/REX Shuttershock

Good, and bad, advice is everywhere. As part of our campaign to Stand Up For Social Work, we asked social workers from adults and children’s social work what advice they would give to a new social worker. We also asked them to reflect on what advice has had the most impact on their career – either in a good or bad way.

Share your best or worst pieces of advice in the comments, on the Community Care Facebook page or the Community Care Twitter page.

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14 Responses to What’s the best or worst advice you’ve been given as a social worker?

  1. Amanda January 21, 2016 at 10:33 am #

    Being given this poem has helped me in my first few years. It is pinned up above my desk to read on the tough days.

    Being a Social Worker Means…

    You will never be bored.
    You will always be frustrated.
    You will always be surrounded by challenges,
    so much to do and so little time.
    You will carry immense responsibility and very little authority.
    You will step into people’s lives and you will make a difference.
    Some will bless you.
    Some will curse you.
    You will see people at their worst-
    and their best.
    You will never cease to be amazed at
    people’s capacity for
    love, courage and endurance.
    You will see life begin- and end.
    You will experience resounding triumphs,
    and devastating failures.
    You will cry a lot.
    You will laugh a lot.
    You will know what it is to be human,
    and to be humane.

  2. Elliot January 21, 2016 at 10:38 am #

    I once was told by a person in my local authority that your not really a social worker in till you get complaints made against you.

    Safe to say I have never followed this and I would recommend that no one else should ether.

  3. Picto January 21, 2016 at 11:14 am #

    A bit of advice I gave myself many moons ago was to imagine that my practice is always being observed.

  4. Popeye January 21, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    There was no advice…

  5. Dave Ensor January 21, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

    Worst advice – “You’ll make a great Social Worker”

  6. James January 21, 2016 at 5:08 pm #

    The best piece of advice I ever received was with my first ever case, two weeks after starting as a NQSW, in my mid-20’s, and had just relocated 500 miles away from my family. The manager chucked a file over the table during a clinical team meeting and said ‘urgent intervention needed – young disabled man potentially being made homeless today’. Then quickly moved on to another case. Gulp. I had just arrived in the area, knew very few resources, no contacts, and could feel the anxiety rising…where was the bloody shadowing?!

    An experienced worker put his arm round me, metaphorically, although quite possibly literally, afterwards and said ‘take a deep breath. they [management] always say it’s an emergency, it usually isn’t. Look through the file, but most importantly go out and spend some time with the people and listen’.

    It’s hard to translate it on to paper – ‘not an emergency’ didn’t mean that there aren’t crises or moments that need quick, sharp responses. There are. But the lesson was to not let management stress and risk-obsession permeate your practice or decision-making. I’ve kept it with me – deep breaths, listen, give yourself time to think, and there’s often quite a reasonable solution…

    …well, at least in adult disability services!

  7. Mat Spillets January 21, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

    “Lunch is for wimps” – To me on my first day in Child and Family over 20 years ago. I make sure I eat something and drink loads of tea every day. Personally can’t function otherwise.

  8. Florence sharing the learning January 21, 2016 at 7:35 pm #

    As an experienced social worker in fronline who remains in the frontline………..
    – Remember you are the biggest most valuable resource there is
    – When you get that “gut feeling” something is so wrong/uncomfortable, thats your intuition showing through listen to it, the evidence will follow.
    – Famililes need leadership – be a leader.
    – Be creative
    – Remember social work is evolving so are you as a new practitioner
    – When your told you make a difference- Believe it………. 🙂
    – When in doubt check it out – In an email to your manager and seek support
    – Co-work, shadow conferences and Court because soon enough you will be there and observing others is hugely informative.
    – Don’t work all hours, be focused on what u need to acheive and complete (it took me 12 years to learn the art of some organisation) There is always tomorrow……
    – Be open and upfront with families, make sure they understand why you are there (seems logic but trust me)
    – As a newly qualiied worker try to enjoy the experience.
    – Don’t lose yourself
    – The biggest lesson – Social Work is a shared responsibility, never believe it is just yours because it is your allocated case. Any concern, send it up higher, have a discussion and record it, you are there to be supported.
    – Social work is a career where we get to a make a difference – Remeber that and not the politics that surround it…….

  9. Susie January 21, 2016 at 10:02 pm #

    Possible the least helpful advice in my 30 year career came from my line manager when, as a newbie, I’d been assaulted in an interview room by a service user with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, to whom I’d had to explain that I couldn’t actually take her 18 year old son into care if she went into hospital, but that I would ensure he was supported at home …..
    “She felt safe with you” said my line manager who (against my better judgment) had urged me in there in the first place.

  10. clare January 22, 2016 at 10:34 am #

    The best advice I was given was to make sure you have a good reputation, listen, think and be responsive to others. I started SW agency work straight after completing my MA in social work. I was given 40 cases and told to get on with it. I did well with that advice and will never forget my brilliant practice teacher.

  11. Andrew Reece January 22, 2016 at 5:12 pm #

    Best advice
    You’re not here to help people, you here to empower them

    Close second
    Learn to live with ambiguity and uncertainty

  12. Steve Vaudrey January 22, 2016 at 7:45 pm #

    My first boss, many years ago, told the 21 year old me ‘you cannot take people’s pain away from them: do your best, you can do no more than that’. Stuck with me that.

  13. Ruby January 22, 2016 at 10:30 pm #

    As a c&f social worker, I was told on my first day to always establish a non negotiable bottom line and then everything else can be negotiated. I have used this almost daily with children, families, management and now social workers, in my role as senior social worker.

  14. Hannah January 26, 2016 at 10:43 am #

    Worst advice ever recevied from a senior colleague when I was struggling to balance the injustice faced by one of my service users went something like this ……….. ‘well we just work her Hannah don’t we, do the paperwork, hand it in and if management don’t agree it, it’s their problem not yours’. After reminding my senior colleague of some of the basics of our professional integrity I told them ‘that the day I feel like I just work here is the day I know it’s all gone wrong and I should pack my bags and hang up my social work title for good’. I was empowered to do this by holding on to the best advice I was ever given in the early days of my career which is ‘stay true to your social work values, focus on the people you meet and use supervision to understand it all and you wont go far wrong’.