Going back to the frontline after nine months of maternity leave isn’t easy, so make sure you’re clear about your priorities from the outset, says child protection social worker Sybil*.
The first few months of maternity leave were very busy and I dreaded the thought of returning to the frontline. But I never lost interest in social work and I found, as time went on, that I started to miss it. Before too long, I was back on Community Care and Carespace, keeping myself up to date with changes in legislation and practice. It helped me feel like a professional at a time of radical change in my identity.
I had been very clear from the outset that I needed to work on a part-time basis for the first three months of my return. I had always been extremely busy at work before going on maternity leave and I was worried that, after returning to work, I wouldn’t get to see my child or would be too tired to enjoy our time together.
However, soon after my return, I realised it would be hard to meet the demands of my role on a part-time basis. My manager wasn’t as flexible as I’d hoped and I found that a “phased return to work” sounded good on paper but was difficult to put into practice.
I found it challenging to meet fixed statutory timescales, such as the requirement that placement agreement meetings have to take place within 72 hours of the placement, or to book court hearings and child protection conferences within certain timescales. These meetings often fell on days when I was not at work and somebody else had to attend on my behalf.
Even on a reduced caseload, if the court requested that a set of tasks be completed by a certain date, I found I had the same amount of work, but half the time my full-time colleagues had in which to complete it.
Luckily, my local authority was keen to retain me and eventually offered me a comparable role in a similar team, which met my part-time requirements (albeit at an office further away from home). I was pleased with the support I was offered from my new manager and the warm welcome back from my senior managers and former colleagues. It made me feel valued and eased the transition.
My new team and I took some time to get used to each other, but with a bit of effort on both sides it has turned out very well. I have offered the same level of commitment and hard work as I used to before my maternity leave. But for me, this was only possible because my partner and I made our employers aware early on that we had decided to share our childcare responsibilities equally between us.
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