Nothing, not even a media hammering, could put newly qualified social worker Wendy Lowe off her career choice, writes Karen Higginbottom
Wendy Lowe says she knew what she was getting herself into when she decided to become a children’s social worker last year at the age of 39. She started at Nottingham Council just as the Baby P case was inflicting its wounds on the profession and the ensuing year saw referrals to children’s services soar and numbers of social workers drop. But none of this deterred Lowe.
“I wanted to work with children. That’s where my interests are – to make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our society. I knew it would be more pressurised than working with adults but I’d already worked in a children’s social care team before I took my degree, so I was conscious that I didn’t want to lose the skills I’d already built up.”
Despite a long-standing interest in social care – she previously worked in residential care and family support – having a young family meant that Lowe had to wait until she was 35 to embark upon her degree. “But I felt it was the right time for me to do that. My personal circumstances were changing and the children were getting older.”
Lowe says she has only ever suffered one critical comment about being a children’s social worker and that was from another professional. “They made a comment about children’s social workers and taking children away from families. I told them in no uncertain terms that it is always a last resort and they shouldn’t believe everything they hear in the press.”
The negative perception of children’s social work in the media is something that Lowe feels passionate about, but believes will probably always exist.
“They never focus on our achievements or successes. It damages public confidence and undermines social workers in terms of what we contribute to society and I do feel frustrated about that. But we just have to get on with doing the job of giving families the best care we can give them.”
Despite all this Lowe says she loves her work. “No two days are the same and no two cases are the same. It’s intellectually stimulating and pushes you outside of your usual arenas.”
Recently, some commentators have said children’s social workers have lost their confidence and become more cautious resulting in higher rates of care order applications. Lowe feels the key to maintaining confidence is support.
“Every job has some element of risk. I keep asking myself: am I satisfied that the children are safe and safeguarded by the adults around them? If I’m unsure I ask my colleagues and team manager and I’ve been lucky that I’ve always felt well supervised and supported in any decisions I make.”
She admits she is fortunate that Nottingham has also sunk extra resources into child protection, which has made life easier in bringing on family support workers and contact workers to try to reduce the workload.
Being older and a mother has also helped with confidence. “I’ve been through quite a few issues in my own life and that has helped me be able to offer support and advice to the families I’ve worked with.”
She points out that some chaotic families often don’t realise that some stages of their children’s development is actually normal and “it’s nice that I can reassure them”.
Although her children are now older (13 and 14 years old), Lowe admits she still has the problems of juggling a high-pressure job with family.
“But I have a rule that weekends are spent with the children and no work is allowed, although as they get older they’re at the stage where they now want to plan activities with their friends anyway,” she says, laughing.
This article is published in the 19 November 2009 issue of Community Care magazine under the heading ‘We’ve got to get on with doing the job’