We all know someone who is an inspirational social worker; someone who has made a real difference in our or someone else’s life. As part of our Stand up for Social Work campaign we want to celebrate them.
Tell us who they are and why they are your hero. If your hero is someone who is still working then also email us their work address details (even post a picture to our Instagram account) and each week we’ll choose one lucky winner and send them a box of chocolates as a small reward for all the good work they are doing.
To kick things off we asked some high profile social workers to tell us who their social work heroes are.
Gerry Nosowska, adults’ faculty chair for the former College of Social Work and social work improvement specialist:
My social work hero is Sheila Forthergill who was a team manager in Sheffield when I got my first management job.
Sitting opposite me, Sheila helped me to stay calm, deal with whatever came up, and be human rather than officious about my work. She was the perfect example of what a social worker should be.
Sheila started out in social care 50 years ago. She has supported countless people, in care homes, as a home care worker and then a social worker, as well as fostering children. She is a great role model; funny, kind and wise.
Every social worker needs a Sheila Fothergill in their lives.
Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London:
My hero is Clement Attlee (and the government he led from 1945 until 1951). In 1920
Atlee wrote ‘The Social Worker‘, a book based on his experience of working in a London settlement.
That experience, the poverty created by the economic depression of the 1930s, and the terrible turmoil of the 1939-1945 war, led his government (despite the country’s post-war debt and austerity) to introduce the cluster of legislation which has been the platform for our welfare state.
It included the 1948 National Assistance Act, which brought to an end the awful punitive Poor Law, and created the foundation of services for disabled and older people.
In the same year the Children Act led to the advent of children care officers, the predecessors of the social workers today who work with children and families.
It was a political choice by Attlee in the 1940s, amidst austerity, to build the welfare state to help the poor, care for children, and to assist families and disabled and older people.
Brigid Featherstone, professor of social work at the University of Huddersfield and children and families faculty chair for the former College of Social Work:
My social work hero is June Thoburn, emeritus professor of social work at the University of East Anglia.
While I have known her and her research for years, it was when we worked together as members of the children and families faculty of the College of Social Work, in the last few years, that I came to appreciate her many qualities.
She is a tireless advocate for family support and for improving the lives of those children who are unable to live with their birth families.
She is extraordinarily hard working even in ‘retirement’ and fearless in her promotion of social justice for those who are most disadvantaged in our society.
She is wise and humane, kind and encouraging and I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to work with her and learn so much.
Guy Shennan, chair of the British Association of Social Workers:
I cannot pick just one social work hero. My heroes include those who have in recent years led a revival of radical social work, including Iain Ferguson (professor of social work at University of West Scotland) and Rona Woodward (social work lecturer at the University of Stirling), for whom collective activity is one of the defining aspects of a radical practice.
Some of my social work heroes were amongst the first social workers I ever met, when I went to Liverpool to do full-time voluntary work aged 21.
I was in awe of Harry, my supervisor, seeing him communicate with a deaf-blind client on my first ever home visit. I learned about the advocacy of Kate, the social worker from Scope, who managed to secure funding for the Independent Living Scheme on which I was a volunteer. Then Brian, the deputy organiser of the mental health day centre I worked in, showed me the importance of service user involvement.
I went on to learn from many other social work heroes of mine, too numerous to name here.
The wheel turned full circle when I met, just a few weeks ago, the heroes who have set up the new BASW branch in Merseyside in Liverpool.
Alison O’Sullivan, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and director for children and young people at Kirklees Council:
Following a recent organised reunion, my heroes are fellow graduates from my social work degree and training course at Bradford University in 1974.
Back then social work degree courses were rare and now, 41 years later, practically everyone who started the course has spent a lifetime in social work and social care.
Some have dedicated their careers to front line practice as social workers, therapists and practice managers and it is not surprising that people have risen to (or because of our age recently retired from!) prominent leadership roles in the NHS, local authorities, private sector care business and voluntary sector organisations or as inspectors and academics.
— Alison O’Sullivan (@aosullivan01) October 26, 2015
So why is this group of people such an inspiration? It’s their intelligence, thoughtfulness and intellectual curiosity; constantly striving to better understand other people’s lives, find ways of helping the most vulnerable and their commitment to making a difference. And that’s what I believe underlines our profession. The class of ’74 epitomises all the things that make social work worthwhile.
To spend time with people who have collectively contributed more than 500 years to the profession was a privilege.
Amanda Taylor, senior social work lecturer at University of Central Lancashire and founder of social work book group #swbookgroup
One of my social work heroes is Olive Stevenson, emeritus professor at the University of Nottingham. It’s not that I knew Olive, experienced her teachings or even heard her speak – but when I saw a review of her biography, by another of my heroes Professor Sue White, I read her book.
In those moments it was like everything I loved, wished for and wanted to be in social work came alive. For me, Olive personifies social work. Idealise her? Yes I suppose I do, and if you take the time to read her work I imagine that you might too.
There are a number of people who have shaped and influenced me throughout my career in social work. Service-users, students, practitioners, academics and the many colleagues that I have had the pleasure to work alongside. It is being open to those influences and acknowledging that we all have a contribution to make that will keep social work afloat in the times ahead. Connecting together in our common aims and accepting that in our differences lies great strength.
So all of us social workers, as this TedTalk says, are not just heroes, we are superheroes. It’s time to take full ownership of our profession. Staying true to the values that have held us steady for so long in our quest to support those who need us the most.