Social work diary: ‘I don’t often feel pride in my career but today is different’

A social work academic reflects on a visit to her old service and the passion of the profession's next generation...

Photo: Ryan Mickle/ flickr


I’m working on admissions to our undergraduate social work degree and am reading lots of UCAS forms. On one level it’s quite tedious as so many of the applications are very similar, yet it is interesting to observe the trends in people wanting to enter the profession.

It’s very hard for the sixth formers hoping to come straight from school. Even the applications from people who have tried to do some voluntary work still generally convey a naivety about the profession. Almost all mention Baby P, but it’s hard to quite imagine how they’ll be able to journey from where they are at now to being a professional social worker in just over three years.

Another noticeable factor is how most applicants want to go into social work with children and families. A few have experience of care work in residential homes and show an interest in working with older people but hardly anyone mentions wanting to work in mental health. I wonder about this and what it indicates about society’s concerns and attitudes.

Many applicants talk with real fervour and this seems especially true of the younger candidates. They want to ‘make a difference’, ‘care for people’, ‘change lives’. It’s refreshing to read this kind of open and passionate language and noticeable how you rarely you hear it when you’ve been in the profession a while.

In the evening I go to the cinema and watch the Richard Linklater film ‘Boyhood’. At one point the father tells his 18-year-old son ‘As you get older you develop a thicker skin… but this make you feel things less intensely’.

It’s an insightful observation and makes me think of all those keen young applicants. Maybe the profession can really gain from their passion and willingness to feel and engage so fervently. The thick skin of age has its drawbacks.


Today I’m off to a meeting with a student who has just started his placement. It’s at a social services office where, over a decade ago, I used to manage a team. As I walk in I am greeted by one of my old colleagues. The last time I saw her she was in her first year of social work training. I’m thrilled to see her again.

I ask about the other members of our old team. Some are here in the office and I even get to say hello in person. People have not only stayed, some are now in senior positions. It’s interesting to note my surprise at seeing old colleagues. I think I’m so used to social workers moving around or leaving the profession that I didn’t really expect that most of my old team would still be working for the same organisation 12 years later.

The colleague who initially greeted me tells me she now manages a team in children’s services.

‘You always believed in me’, she said.

I don’t often feel pride in my career. In fact I mainly look back on events with a nagging sense that I should have done more, but today I feel real pride that I played a small part in developing these great practitioners.


I receive an email from the team manager I met yesterday. I’m hoping to get her involved with talking to students at my university.

‘I can genuinely say I love my job’ she tells me. How great is that?

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3 Responses to Social work diary: ‘I don’t often feel pride in my career but today is different’

  1. Andrew February 17, 2015 at 10:56 am #

    I’m a proud 3rd year SW student and will fight to keep the sense of pride throughout my career!
    I am surprised that you say many applicants do not recognise Mental Health as a great option. In my cohort it is the Adults group that only had 10 people choose this particular pathway. I can only assume that it is quite difficult to get experience of MH outside of a professional role. I’m sure when it comes to choosing pathways MH will have more than enough takers!
    Very refreshing and informative article. I do often wonder what makes people leave the profession and become lectures & researchers. Though I suppose the reasons are as diverse as the people we work with. And those that can teach, should! #pride

  2. Caroline Skinner February 17, 2015 at 4:43 pm #

    I also felt a sense of pride recently to re-register as a social worker even though I am now a trainer, practice educator & a counsellor these days. I train many social workers and managers who despite many complaints about adversity and cutbacks often tell me they wouldn’t do any other job! My current role often entails mentoring & coaching NQSWs to survive and then thrive in social work and I would feel disappointed if they can’t feel this sense of wanting to help and make a difference at this early stage in their social work career !

  3. Nicola February 17, 2015 at 5:58 pm #

    I happen to be one of those workers you talk about and I always think back to how you managed us. I took so much from you about how to treat people and it’s only now I have another good manager who reminds me of you.

    I am sure I will see you when you are visiting back in that local authority. Some of us still talk passionately about the career we choose. One of my areas of work is with social work staff mentoring and coaching them and I hear the passion and eagerness to learn. It is so lovely to hear but it does get lost on occasions. You deserve to feel pride. Your a great practitioner and mentor.