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 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.
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.
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