Family intervention worker Vicki McKeown describes how being filmed for BBC1′s Britain’s Broken Families influenced her practice – and her decision to study for a masters in social work
Fresh out of university, I knew exactly the sort of job I wanted to do. But this was easier said than done in the current job market. Although not in the job title, most jobs I was drawn to required a qualification in social work.
This felt like a kick in the stomach after four years in university; I was reluctant to get into more debt without the certainty of a job at the end. However, after just a few months I was successful in securing a job at Your Homes Newcastle as a project worker in the Family Intervention Project.
I had only been at work four months before the prospect of filming with the BBC was discussed. Originally, my thoughts were mixed. They swayed between ‘what an exciting opportunity’ to fear that programmes of this nature are often torn apart by the general public and the worker critically scrutinised.
From the moment filming started I was on edge and my anxiety levels were high. Initially I was the only worker who had a suitable case with a family willing to be filmed. Throughout the process I had to, at times, put my personal trepidations and fears aside to support the family through the filming. I regularly made time to speak with them away from the camera to ensure they were happy with the situation, always ensuring that my intervention with the family remained the focus.
There were times during the filming when I dug my heels in and felt reluctant to continue. At times, I felt I had lost control and the filming began to impact on every aspect of my life due to the pure intensity of it. It was like having a critical friend with you at all times; I spent months physically and emotionally drained due to the pressures put upon me, not by others but by myself.
I was constantly criticising and reflecting on my own practice. During visits I was asked: ‘What do you aim to achieve?’‘Did that go well?’ ‘What’s your plan now?’ I found this particularly difficult as I was a new worker myself and finding my own style. Due to being on camera I did not have the luxury of slowly finding my feet.
On top of this I was forward-thinking and wanted to ensure I spoke about the family in a fair and respectful way at all times. But this was easier said than done sometimes; I’m not a morning person so doing 7am visits was a killer.
I was, and am still, aware of the Daily Mail’s perspective on the families that I work with, but I would argue that until you have walked in these families’ shoes you cannot give judgements. I strongly believe that a vast majority of families and individuals have the ability to change, but that it’s about providing support and working alongside them so they understand the reasons for the change.
Those who work with families will know no amount of planning can prepare you for the obstacles and hiccups along the way. For me, this was even more apparent when filming a routine home visit could uncover another issue which needed addressing.
It is only now on completion of the filming, and on reflection, that I can breathe a sigh of relief. I am so pleased to be a part of the final product. The great success and achievement of this family is so rewarding. Seeing those two boys so much happier, chattier and loving makes the job all the more worthwhile, reminding me why I love doing it. It’s as if all the struggles and slips are forgotten.
It was during the filming process that I made the decision to go back to university to do a Masters in social work. There are many reasons for this: I wanted to do the course as part of my professional development and am keen to learn new things to constantly improve my practice.
The other motivator was professionals’ perceptions that without this qualification I lacked the required knowledge to really understand the work. I am not naive that this qualification will change perceptions, but it will give me a personal sense of achievement and reaffirm that I do know the theory that underpins my practice.