Perhaps strangely, I didn’t set out on adult life with a burning desire to work in the sector and certainly becoming a director of children’s services – or whatever they were called then – never entered my head. Working class children with no qualifications who have spent their teenage years in care need to be shown what’s possible. They rarely see it for themselves.
A few people helped me. One particular teacher, the officer in charge of the children’s home and one social worker challenged me to make something of my life – and I think we who now lead the sector perhaps talk too much of support and not enough of challenge. I’ve always found people who have challenged and helped me – or been found by them.
I worked for a charity that fought for the rights of young people in care. As a feisty 17 year old I was able to speak at international conferences to largely middle class, professional, audiences about the experience of being in care. I liked it – though they seldom did – and when they snubbed me there was always a particular person there who would tell me it was just what they needed. I thought I was making a difference and, I suppose, it’s that that’s driven me, and still does.
After the international work, I realised I needed a proper job. There was little available for an 18 year old with no qualifications – just like now. I worked in a shoe shop and a bar but eventually was persuaded back into college by another young person who was a bit of a role model for me.
I’d like to say that the rest is history but it isn’t. From my time as a youth and community worker, though counselling, youth support in information, advice and guidance, overseeing policy and performance, developing integrated services, and, more recently, leading education in local authorities, it’s been hard. Some people say that if you’ve been in care you always feel like a visitor, like you shouldn’t really be there, no matter how successful you are. It’s been wearing, getting educational qualifications long after most people do and learning the professional codes that people use but it’s fulfilling.
I do have things to offer that most people don’t. I know what it’s like to receive the services that children’s services provide and I use that knowledge all the time. I love my job. It’s my hobby and they pay me for it. But it’s difficult. The world moves quickly and decisions have to be right for today and right for the future. We affect people’s lives and we are either a force for good – or the opposite.
My advice to others through this jumble of a life? Keep learning. Never believe that you’re the finished thing. Change jobs when you have exhausted your learning in one job. Keep people around you who see things in you that sometimes you don’t even see yourself. And if you’re doing this work, never under-estimate the effect you can have. You may not even remember it but someone out there will be living a successful life because of something you did or said.
I’m always looking for staff who want to make this kind of contribution. If you’re like that give my office a call.
Alison Alexander, director of children’s services, The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead
The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead is currently recruiting for forward-thinking children’s social workers. To find out more, visit: www.rbwmchildrensservices.co.uk
To view jobs the The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead on Community Care click here.