Meet the cartoonist: ‘Social workers can take a joke, unlike doctors’

Community Care cartoonist and ex-social worker Fran Orford looks back on his experience in the field and reveals the inspirations behind his satirical take on the social work system

Picture credit: Fran Orford

You used to be a social worker right? Tell us a bit about your experience.

I started out working for Community Service Volunteers in London, then moved to Yorkshire and was involved in housing young people who were moving out of care.

It was around the time that the issue was getting some attention and the charity National Children’s Home, now Action for Children, wanted to set up a new leaving care team.

I was appointed manager and given the role of getting it going. I stayed with them for about 12 years before jumping ship and becoming a cartoonist.
Did you enjoy working in the sector?

I loved my work most of the time. When the leaving care team was set up I wanted to get away from the traditional model of only appointing social workers.

The first two members of the team I appointed weren’t qualified social workers, but were exceptionally able young people who had both been brought up in care themselves.

The combination of their understanding and real knowledge of the care experience, linked with my ability to write a convincing report (sad isn’t it?) made for a happy combination.

The Calderdale leaving care team was a leader in a fairly new area and did some really fantastic work. I loved it!
How do you think the profession has changed since you were practising? Would you still want to be a social worker today?

I don’t know what the profession is like now, apart from the feedback I get from a few friends and my reading. But I suspect that what encouraged me to leave has got a bit worse.

That was, of course, things like: the dreaded paperwork, the targets and the grinding imbecility of investing far too much time recording information that had very little relevance to our work.

When I enjoyed the work the most we were in a little terrace in Halifax, the kids felt comfortable there and would come in and out as they pleased. We didn’t pretend that we were all ‘friends’, but we were supportive adults in an approachable and informal setting.

By the time I left 12 years later, we were in a very nice, very large building where people were signed in and out and I sat in an office often filling in bits of paper neither I, nor anyone else, had much interest in.

I don’t know if I’d want to be a social worker today. My experience was very narrow. I had great regard for many of the people I met, but not for the systems they worked in.
So how did you go from social work into cartooning?

The transition into cartooning seemed easy at the time but looking back I’m surprised I wasn’t terrified. I was newly married, we had a child on the way and another from my wife’s previous marriage.

We were moving home and I was giving up a secure job to gamble on making a living in cartooning. I wouldn’t do it now, but back then everything worked out really well.

I landed jobs with The Telegraph and then The Observer. By the time they’d run their course I had other things set up. My first regular paid job was actually with Community Care.

I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, have dreamt of making the leap to cartooning without the support of my wife Lynette who was determined that I should “give it a go”. She didn’t tell me until years later that she had sleepless nights over the decision!
Social work is a pretty serious area of work. How hard is it to find the humour in it?

Social work is serious but the humour is, like love, ‘all around’. You always have to tread a fine line in not poking fun at the wrong things but there aren’t many people who get upset when you point out the idiocies of ‘the system’.

Over the years I’ve worked for a number of professional publications. Social workers can take a joke, so can lawyers.

The only group I’ve found too self worthy to find anything about their behaviour funny were doctors.
What’s your favourite social work cartoon from your archives?

I wouldn’t know my favourite cartoon, I tend to forget them once they’ve gone but here’s one I always liked from Community Care:

What’s your favourite biscuit for a cuppa?

It would have to be a chocolate digestive but I can’t allow myself them much because it’s so easy to snack your way to an obesity related early grave!

We publish Fran’s cartoons every Friday on our Community Care Facebook group. A gallery of the ‘toons we’ve published so far can also be viewed on our YourSay page.

is Community Care’s community editor

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