So how was it for you?

Hopes were high when five final year students told Community
in 2002 that they felt they could make a genuine
difference through their chosen career in social care.

On the front line in a sector that struggles to attract and retain
new blood, we look now at whether their jobs have shaped up to
expectations. With the benefit of experiences gained through daily
contact with the poverty, deprivation and neglect widespread in
Britain today, do they feel that their training adequately equipped
them to meet the demands of their work? With high workloads and
vacancies often unfilled for long periods, are they feeling the
pressure? And, crucially, do they feel valued enough to consider
making social work a life-long career? 

Leslie Wilson

After working with various client groups and in a range of
management roles, Wilson completed an MA at Nottingham University
in 2002 and is now an inspector with the Commission for Social Care
Inspection (CSCI) in Derbyshire.

“The CSCI has adopted a stance of inspecting against outcomes
rather than processes. This means that we get a clear idea of the
services that young people receive in regulated services. There has
also been a shift to making sure that the views of young people and
stakeholders are at the forefront of the inspection process.

“At times the stress levels have been high. In some instances this
has been a reflection of poor office design, hot-desking and lack
of resources. At other times it has been the direct result of
intimidation and the lack of understanding about the needs of black
workers. Once, I found that I had no strategy to deal with the
stress and ended up in tears.”

“I don’t think the remuneration package is great. And I
think that new inspectors who will be paid £22,000 are in a
worse position than me. It’s more than most newly qualified social
workers can expect but is a lot less than qualified and experienced
workers could get elsewhere.”

The future
“I would love to stay in the job that I am doing but I
think that the call back to residential work is too strong and I
wouldn’t be surprised if I returned to being a residential worker.
However, it is good to know that each day I can help ensure that
young people receive a minimum standard of service no matter where
they live outside a family-type home.”

Nora Dudley

Experience in education, nursing and respite care led to a
DipSW/MSc at Sheffield University. She is now a social worker for
over-11s at Bracknell social services department in

“I have already done my PQ1 and hope to move on to the PQ2. Things
are constantly changing and I get new challenges daily, which is
good because it keeps the job fresh.

“I’ve been in lots of situations where I’ve had to make tough
decisions but now I’ve been in this job for a while, I feel more
confident when making these assessments. Out of necessity, you
become desensitised. I’ve found that to support young people
through sometimes horrific experiences, I have to be relatively
calm and collected. They need to be reassured that they can get
through it and that you have the experience and skills to help
them. Some nights it’s difficult to shut off and there have been
times when I’ve been upset by some of the things my young people
have had to face. But if they are managing to get through a
dreadful time, I do them a disservice if I get overwhelmed.

“Early on in this job I realised that there was a huge omission in
the DipSW/MSc around report writing. The disproportionate time
spent on issues of child development, social work theory, research
and social history creates a real disadvantage – there should be
more practical teaching and learning. For example, how do you
complete the local authority circulars paperwork properly? What
consent do you need when working with under-16s? How do you manage
and deal with disclosures of abuse? Covering this in training would
have been a significant advantage.”

“Local authorities are developing new staff packages to retain
their services. There seem to be a lot of vacancies locally and I
think that it is a regional problem to do with housing – the cost
of living is so much higher in the South and house prices are
phenomenal. These enhanced packages give the message that staff are
valued, which is crucial when you do a job like social work.”

The future
“The favourite part of my work is with older teenagers who are
looking towards independence. I really enjoyed my work in a leaving
care team and would like to explore that option.”

Abbi Adair   

Community work and support work followed by a DipSW/MSc
at Durham University. Now a social worker in the referral and
assessment duty team in children’s services, Sunderland

“I hadn’t expected to feel so overwhelmed in the beginning, but am
amazed at the learning curve you go through. As I have gained
experience there has been a clear increase in the number of
complicated and chaotic cases I have to deal with, which stretch
and improve my skills. Although the course provides the basic
knowledge and skills to be effective, only doing the job can teach
you the role of social worker.  “Workloads are high and so are
stress levels. Sometimes the volume feels unmanageable and it is
then that case supervisions with my manager are essential in
enabling me to prioritise my workload. A supportive team is
essential and I feel lucky to have a safe arena to offload problems

“Do I think the remuneration is adequate? Hell, no. Mind you, I’ve
had a pay rise, but I think social workers are grossly underpaid
for our responsibilities. Not just because of the extent of the
skills that are necessary, but also because of the intense hours of
work put into the job.” 

“For the moment I can see myself staying in the statutory sector.
But I am always on the lookout for a challenge, and I’d consider a
move into management next.”

Toby Flight   

After his first degree, Toby spent four years in specialist
therapeutic work and statutory residential work. He then completed
an MA at Goldsmiths, London, and has been a social worker in a
children’s team at Surrey Council for nearly two years. 

“Learning often comes through managing difficult cases and
‘surviving’ them, and I have been gradually eased into more
difficult work in my time here. I am now seeing long, complicated
cases coming to some form of resolution and it’s amazing to look
back and see the level of involvement I had even three months ago
compared with what I might have now. 

“The sheer demands on us in terms of tasks for court, families
and paperwork have made the workload extremely taxing on occasion.
Management support has made it easier for me to re-focus and pull
back in those situations. My workload is measured by a scoring
system that sets a maximum allowance depending on experience and
time in practice post-qualification. I have worked at excess
capacity once or twice, but this is unavoidable at times – such as
a child protection case going into proceedings. 

“I try hard to keep home separate from work and my stress levels
are OK. In terms of training, the only thing I missed was a
placement in a front-line team, which would have helped in learning
the child protection system, instead of ‘on the job’ here. The
lecturers were honest about the fact that we would have a lot to
learn when we got into practice, and it would be a nonsense to
pretend such a complex discipline can be crammed into two years of
“I am more than adequately paid and came here originally because I
was impressed by Surrey’s commitment to rewarding staff. I got a
‘golden hello’, but as this entailed a two-year commitment, I’ve
waited until recently to take it!” 

The future 
“I am happy here and hope to train as a play therapist. But one
day I would love to work for an organisation such as the NSPCC
again, doing direct work with families and therapeutic work with

Nik Flavell   

Practised as a barrister before completing the DipSW/MSc, Flavell
is now a social worker in a child care team for Sunderland

“Although north east England has not suffered the ravages of staff
vacancies like in the South East, increasing numbers of agency
staff are used to fill recruitment gaps. My workload and that of my
colleagues can be affected by delays – which are common – in
filling these vacancies. Sadly the North East is not a hot bed of
competitive recruitment. As a consequence retention policies are at
best unimaginative and more often non-existent. The adage that
staff are an employer’s greatest resource seems to have escaped
north eastern social care. 

“I am confident that my workload is somewhat higher than Lord
Laming would consider reasonable or appropriate. This does,
however, mean that I am always stretched, which is fantastic – one
of the best things about social work is how challenging it is, both
intellectually and emotionally. 

“It is now clear that the DipSW was a pseudo-academic exercise.
It omitted to teach the day-to-day skills and competences required
and, on reflection, bore as much relation to social care practice
as scuba-diving. 

“The job is as personally demanding and fulfilling as I thought
it would be. As expected, the greatest challenge is institutional
mediocrity and the greatest reward is being able to effect change
to increase the life chances of my clients. The latter is why I
turn up for work each morning.” 

“This is a job I love and am passionate about and the mortgage is
paid – just. There has been no promotion as yet and this is a
frustration. I am currently barred from being promoted as it
requires three years’ post-qualifying experience. This would seem
contrary to antidiscriminatory best practice. Promotion should be
based on skills and competences and if a worker can show them they
should be promoted.” 

The future
“I will definitely stay in statutory social work, and I
will become a director. The alternatives do not interest me. In a
year’s time I see myself as a competent principal social worker –
then progressing from this first rung of the management ladder
rapidly upwards until I reach the level of seniority where I can
effect real change to the delivery of social care.” 

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