I was born in Antigua and came here when I was six. I was educated in the 1960s and hadn’t really heard about social workers and what they did. After I left school at 16 I wanted to be an artist. I went into graphic design and ended up freelancing for advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi in the late 1970s. I worked on the graphics for Margaret Thatcher’s “Labour Isn’t Working” campaign.
Working in advertising gave me a lavish lifestyle and I didn’t think about other people’s lives. Then computers came in and I couldn’t get any work for two years because I didn’t know how to use them.
An old schoolfriend, who was a social worker, suggested I did some volunteering. So between 1990 and 1991 I took on a role at a young people’s befriending service in Croydon, south London. Then I became a residential social worker in a children’s home for Croydon social services. It was a cultural shock because the kids were sometimes abusive due to their situations and it made me appreciate my own children.
Croydon then began to concentrate on outreach services to see whether they could prevent children going into care. After seven years, and becoming a manager and working with young offenders, in 2003 I gained my Diploma in Social Work. This spurred me on because I wanted a bigger challenge so I joined Tower Hamlets Council as mental health social worker, working with homeless adults. I transferred my skills from children to adults because when I was working with children I noticed their parents also had difficulties. I’ve also got my mental health award and post-qualifying award here.
Home treatment team
I’m now an approved mental health professional for the borough’s multi-disciplinary home treatment team. I work with adults aged 18 to 65 with enduring mental health problems.
When I joined the team it was more nurse-led than now and the other staff didn’t fully understand what social workers did. They thought we were just do-gooders who dealt with welfare benefits.
When I do a home visit with a client it’s not only about giving them medication. It’s about sitting down and talking to them, and finding out how they are. In the past I doubt whether other professionals understood the importance of doing this.
Nowadays, there is another social worker on the team with me and everyone has a much clearer idea about what we do and the benefit of this to clients because they have been trained.
When I work with clients I see them as people and treat them as individuals. I listen to what they say and don’t talk down to them because any of us could be in their shoes; you never know what’s going to happen. Lots of people have had a lot of broken promises in their lives so I try not to promise anything to clients but say I’ll see what I can do.
One young woman I worked with told me: “I’ve had lots of people make promises and not come through; how do I know you’re not just like the rest of them?” Her view of social workers was that they just dumped her. She had been in care most of her life and felt as though no one cared about her.
I reassured her by saying I’d be her crisis co-ordinator so if she rang me with a problem I’d get back to her by the next day. It was important to let her feel she could trust me, she could rely on me, because she hadn’t had that before.
Social work is a good profession and it’s helped a lot of people get on with their lives. I enjoy supporting people; it makes me feel good and gives me a boost. It’s a great feeling. People only notice social workers when it goes wrong but we do a lot of good.
STAND UP NOW FOR SOCIAL WORK
Stories in the mainstream media give a skewed picture of social work because they focus on children’s services and relate mainly to crises and serious cases. Community Care‘s Stand Up Now for Social Work campaign is seeking to redress the balance by giving a voice to social workers from across the profession. E-mail your positive social work stories and read more stories like this.
Published in the 21 May 2009 edition of Community Care under the heading ‘I help people get on with their lives’