I am currently working part-time as an agency social worker in a duty and assessment team with children and families.
It is a busy office, where one minute you can be at your desk, and the next be called out to a duty visit. I was surprised at how pleasant the offices were when I began: I share an office with other social workers but have my own desk. My colleagues are a lovely bunch and very supportive.
I am also a play therapist, and my usual role is as a therapist for the child and adolescent mental health service (Camhs). The work is more managed, with people being seen by appointment unless you are on duty. This allows time to plan.
I worked in a pleasant environment with my own office, and my colleagues helped to make the job even more enjoyable. I enjoyed this role, but for geographical and child care reasons had to take a career break.
As an agency social worker, I have carried out many duty visits in a variety of locations such as schools, hospitals and, of course, family homes. During such visits I have often had to remind myself that I am wearing my social worker hat, not my therapist one.
On a joint visit with a worker from Camhs to see a teenage girl who had self-harmed, for example, I found myself going into therapy mode in both my questions and my thought processes. Afterwards I felt I needed to apologise to my colleague for stepping on her toes, as I had tried to carry out her role as well as the one of social worker. Luckily, she said she had found this a help rather than a hindrance.
On another occasion, I had to care for a nine-year-old girl and her brother for a short period as her parents had been arrested. The girl had had very negative experiences in the past and I believed she would benefit from some specific work on her experiences to help her come to terms with her past. However, she had clearly managed all of this time without any therapeutic intervention so who was I to recommend therapy?
In hindsight I was probably thinking about therapy in relation to building her resilience and I would have loved to have done the work with her to try to make things better, even though on the face of it she seemed to be thriving.
During my time as an agency social worker, I recall looking at many other referrals and thinking how he or she would benefit from counselling, and I wish I could have offered that rather than having to refer the cases elsewhere.
My days back in social services are now numbered as my contract will be coming to an end and I am due to return to my Camhs role soon.
I will miss the buzz of social work and, of course, my colleagues. But I am looking forward to returning to my more sedate but challenging Camhs role. I love having the time to work individually with children and find it rewarding seeing the positive transformation in children during the process of therapy.
Karen Allen is a qualified social worker and play therapist, and member of the British Association of Play Therapists.