The best and worst decisions I’ve made

For social worker Anna McMillan, switching from the statutory to the voluntary sector proved a good move

The Best

One of the best professional decisions I made was moving from a local authority into the voluntary sector to do parenting assessments for a small organisation called Circle.

Strangely, I made this move at a time when the last thing I thought I needed was yet another change. I had experienced health problems, was in the process of moving house, my daughter had just started school, I had not long returned to work after maternity leave and was in a job where I was losing confidence because I didn’t feel able to use my skills.

Rather than further draining my emotional resources, I found that the supportive environment, opportunity to reflect and use my imagination to create possibilities, and the freedom from the constraints of statutory work, actually re-energised me.

I regained my enthusiasm for my work. I have to make a lot of difficult decisions and deal with complex situations, but I now feel properly equipped to do this.

Working for a voluntary organisation such as Circle enables me to spend more time with the different people involved in a child’s life and be more systemic in my approach. I am also able to work with difficult dynamics to help shift situations that have become stuck, rather than rushing ahead with interventions, or constantly meeting bureaucratic deadlines.

This greater flexibility regarding timescales allows work to be completed and, if necessary, to return to a case in a positive way should situations alter, as I hope to illustrate below.

The worst

I was recently doing a kinship carer assessment of a woman whose grandson was accommodated with carers who wished to continue caring for him.

Despite initial concerns about their apparent lack of emotional warmth and over-sensitivity to being questioned, I became seduced by the skills they appeared to possess. I was not the only one who was impressed by their knowledge and professional conduct but I should have continued to question further whether this child required professional treatment over a spontaneously warm, nurturing and accepting home.

When the boy’s grandmother decided that these carers’ skills were right for her grandson, it appeared that he could remain with his carers and have regular contact with her – the best of both worlds.

It was all decided until the carers realised they could not cope with these two worlds and, having treated the grandmother dreadfully, they terminated the placement. The boy left the carers in a distressed state and feeling to blame for the breakdown due to him being such a “bad boy”.

Thankfully, there were respite carers who were able to offer him a placement where he now feels safe and secure. This turns out to be another positive aspect of my current job – the opportunity to go back and look at situations again. To face mistakes, re-consider, re-assess and make amends. Is that not what we are often asking families to do?

Anna McMillan, senior practitioner, Circle Scotland, Edinburgh

This article is published in the 25 February 2010 edition of Community Care magazine under the headline ‘I was re-energised by work outside statutory sector’

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