The best and worst decisions I ever made

Chris Martin, senior manager, strategic commissioning, at Essex Council, kicks off our new regular feature on decisionmaking with an account of his highs and lows

The Best
The best work decision I ever made was to commit myself to a social work career in the first place. Once it became clear that playing for Arsenal was not going to happen – bundles of talent, not enough height – I was at a genuine loss as to what to do.

Growing up in an east London suburb, the careers advice was minimal. Being male there were three directions on offer: an apprenticeship at Ford (too much like hard work); a career in the City (too “square” and far too great a commitment to capitalism); or go to university. For someone who found A-levels a struggle, the thought of more study was a complete turn-off.

No one ever suggested something like nursing to me or, God forbid, social work. But a close friend of mine, a social worker, suggested I consider working in an inner London residential unit for young people. I applied and was offered the post. I was hooked.

The work had meaning and I felt I was doing something worthwhile that fitted with my personal beliefs and politics. It satisfied my curiosity in people and felt trendy at the time.

I never looked back and my career in social work has been hugely rewarding…and my close friend is now a director of children’s services.

The Worst
I’ve been fortunate in my career thus far not to have made too many howlers but the episode which most readily comes to mind as a regrettable decision stems from indecision itself.

As a relatively young social worker in a residential unit, I was allocated to work with a much-damaged young boy, whose early life experiences had been traumatic.

My team and I could see this child’s potential future mapped out before him and to us it didn’t look good at all.

We had to secure prompt and high-quality outcomes for him if there was any chance of a brighter future.

But at the time my organisation dithered about the future direction of care and support, while I felt increasingly frustrated because my voice and views were not being heard, in part due to my lack of self-confidence.

I should have made more fuss. I wish I’d “banged the table” and not accepted the explanations of inactivity given to me. I learned a lot from this.

Over time I tracked this young man’s progress from a distance and it wasn’t pretty viewing: a succession of residential placements, secure settings and periods in psychiatric care.

It is disturbing for me I’m still left with a feeling that I could have made things better for him. These days I am not so reserved.

Would you like to share your best and worst career decisions? E-mail

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