“It’s still sinking in,” says Warwickshire County Council’s Patricia Fifield of her double win at Friday’s Social Worker of the Year Awards.
As well as landing the Adult Social Worker of the Year Award, Fifield – who is an adults, older people and physical disabilities social worker working in Rugby – was also named the overall social worker of 2013.
“It’s been absolutely overwhelming,” she says. “My colleagues have given me flowers and a card, I’ve had emails congratulating me from senior managers and directors too.”
She feels proud to be representing the profession and adult social work specifically. “I was proud that the overall award was for adult social work too, as sometimes it feels overlooked.”
What she has liked best of all though was seeing what her colleagues said about in the award application. “I was really warmed by what they said about me, to feel valued by your colleagues in that way is really nice,” she says.
Patricia started as a social worker 41 years ago and it’s the only career she has ever wanted: “I always felt that it was what I wanted to do – even at school. I never really thought of doing anything else.”
Entering the profession is one thing, sticking with it is another and Patricia says working with good people is an important part of why she is still a social worker today.
“A lot of it is having a good working environment, with enthusiastic and dedicated colleagues and managers who have really helped me to grow,” she says.
“I didn’t feel like I was just surviving, I felt like I was flourishing and that kept me in the profession. I enjoy work.”
Being upbeat about the profession and not getting hung up on the negative is also important. “It’s important to feel positive about your job, to enjoy it, to feel proud and to recognise the good work because a lot of what we do is working.”
One achievement that helped Patricia impress the award judges was her willingness to embrace the move to direct payments and personal budgets. The agenda, she says, appealed to her because it was one rooted in the ethos of the profession.
“Direct payments are reflective of basic social work values,” she says. “I felt it was a very person-centred way of doing things. When I look back, we have sometimes been doing things for rather than with people. Direct payments were really an opportunity to change that and for people to be in control, and I think it has worked.”
For those starting out in social work, Patricia – who is also a practice teacher – believes that, as well as staying positive, it is important to keep developing.
“Take every opportunity for continued learning and reflection, embrace the support of your colleagues and don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she says.