Zahraa Adam still can’t quite believe she has been crowned overall social worker of the year at the 2014 Social Worker of the Year Awards, particularly since she is only 22-years-old.
Having already won NQSW of the Year earlier in the evening, Adam says she was in “complete shock” when her name was called for a second time. But despite being at such an early stage in her career, Adam has already racked up an impressive list of achievements from her first year in practice.
These include managing a high profile adoption case, which shot to front page news after the mother of the child in question went to the media. “I couldn’t believe it happened to me in the first two months of the job,” she says.
“There were times when I would just cry hysterically because I had to let it out but my colleagues were there for me,” she adds. “There’s wasn’t a time when I felt alone or that I didn’t know what I was doing and everyone was just there to say ‘it’s okay, you’ve done everything by the book and there’s nothing they can criticise you on.’”
Adam was subsequently praised for the impressive quality of her report from top family court judge, Sir James Munby, president of the family division of the High Court.
“That was amazing,” she agrees. “Fresh out of university you haven’t written many reports and I’m still to this day working on my report writing skills.”
A fresh approach
Adam has also been praised for her creative approach to social work on the Children in Care specialist team at Essex County Council, particularly in engaging young people and building relationships with them.
“I’ve had so many young people who are just not interested in talking to me and you almost start to take it personally. But it’s not just about going there with a couple of worksheets and trying to explain to them about your job, it’s about knowing them.”
In one particular case, Adam bought a young person a camera as a way of encouraging him to talk to her. “I knew he had an interest in photography so I asked him to document important things in his life. From that I found out what he gets up to in his spare time and we were able to have conversations about it.”
The young person turned into a success story for the NQSW, after he returned home last week.
Sense of community
Her creative skills have also helped raise the profile of social work in ethnic minority communities. After being approached by a fostering team manager to help out at an information event at a local mosque, Adam enthusiastically set about researching relevant quotes from the Koran that would inspire their audience.
“In the Islamic religion the importance of looking after orphans and people who do not have families to support them is emphasised a lot,” she says. “I wanted to inspire people and show them that actually what we are doing is part of their religion, it is a good thing and it is helping people in their own community.”
A Muslim herself, Adam was motivated to go into social work by a desire to educate people in her own culture. “I grew up in East London with so many issues like poverty and discrimination around me,” she says.
“I knew that I wanted to raise awareness that social work is not something to be shunned but actually something that can rebuild lives.”
It seems that she’s well on the way to achieving her aims. The Children in Care team, which is also where Adam spent her final placement from Anglia Ruskin University, is the only specialist team in Essex that works with asylum-seeking children. “It’s really bizarre because I already knew that I wanted to help ethnic minority communities and then funnily enough I happen to fall into a team that I didn’t even know existed,” she says.
“It was destiny really for me to be working there and I fell in love with the team and the work that I do,” she adds. “I just feel like this is the right place for me at the moment.”