Richard Pearl’s best and worst career decisions

Helping move a daughter away from an abusive mother gave Richard Pearl confidence in his own decision-making, but he erred in taking on more work while a new father


The best

A few years ago I was a social worker in a specialist team for older people at a different local authority. I worked with a mother and daughter, Vera* and Elaine*, who shared a one-bedroom bungalow. Their relationship was volatile and I visited regularly. After several weeks I persuaded Vera to go into respite. As I drove Elaine to pick her mother up, she alleged Vera had been abusing her physically and psychologically since childhood. Her mother had told Elaine repeatedly she would kill herself if she ever left home.

I contacted a women’s refuge although she was not able to make the break. Despite Vera’s threats to kill herself I decided to persevere in persuading Elaine to leave. I believed that change could only come if they broke their stifling inter-dependence. Several months later, and with support for Vera in place, Elaine moved out.

Elaine thrived at the refuge. She learnt to read and write and after a year moved into her own flat and started a college course. Vera made no attempt to harm herself and made new friends at a day centre. Her other children began to make more of an effort with her. Elaine moved back in with her mother and this worked well. The balance of power had been significantly altered and they were now able to enjoy each other’s company.

My decision to persevere helped me gain confidence in my decision-making.

The worst

My worst decision was to become acting senior practitioner last year in my current job. Normally a career-enhancing move, this happened at a time when my 18-month-old wasn’t sleeping well, my wife had chronic morning sickness and the team was already three staff down. Shortly afterwards the other senior practitioner went off sick and, although the team were fantastic, we could only handle crisis work. With such a high volume of work in the office and at home my practice suffered. I was simply unable to manage.

A couple of months later, having finished my senior duties, our second baby was born. I made my second worse decision by agreeing to do extra reviewing work. Having sleepless nights I was unable to complete my normal work let alone the extra reviews. I hid my stress from my manager. Two complaints were rightly made about my practice and eventually I broke down in tears in the manager’s office.

On the positive side, receiving the complaints has made me review and improve my practice. In the future I would like to become a senior but will choose my moment more carefully next time.

* Not their real names

Richard Pearl is a social worker in Swansea Council’s central team for older people

This article is published in the 14 May issue of Community Care under the heading Brave decisions and a case of bad timing

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