‘I refuse to hide the reality that social work is a damned hard career’

If the government want social workers to stop moaning, then they need to give us something to be positive about, writes Social Work Tutor

Photo: igor/fotolia

There is a narrative developing among those who govern public services. A narrative that seeks to displace the blame for negativity that runs throughout the education, health and social care sectors.

In education, this way of deflecting blame has been seen most recently in Nicky Morgan’s appeal for teachers to stop being negative about the profession. In social work, it has been seen in the allegation that those criticising fast-track training schemes are vicious.

In essence, those of us working within public services are being told that we are putting people off from joining our professions. Instead of moaning about the issues we face, we should be focusing on the positive, in order to help the recruitment that we need.

Tell them about all the good you see, but please leave out the bad.

My answer to this is that if we are being asked to stop moaning by those in power, they need to give us something to cheer for.

How can people who work ten hours of unpaid overtime every week advise their friends that social work gives you a good work-life balance?

How can we advise family members that social work is a lifelong career option when we know that the average person lasts only seven years before changing careers?

How can we shout about job satisfaction when budget cuts have seen our early-intervention services decimated to the point where we are often becoming involved when it is too late to effect any meaningful change?

I love my job and I could honestly never see myself doing anything else, but that doesn’t mean I am going to hide from the reality that it is a damned hard career; a career that increasingly sees me battling against the barriers of government support, not being supported by it.

‘Belittling our opinions’

I have lost count of the amount of food parcels I’ve applied for, housing appeal letters I’ve written and countless hours I’ve spent on the phone to chase up benefit delays.

In my first year as a student I remember being told “social work is about working both for and against the state”. With an increasingly shrinking welfare state, that statement rings as true now as it ever did.

Of course this gloom is occasionally punctured with rays of sunshine – the girl who thrives in foster care, the boy who you turn away from a life of crime, the family your effort keeps together, the man you get back into the community, the woman whose world you make more manageable – but simply telling these stories and not the difficulties would be unfair, unjust and unchallenging to the powers that be.

This call to be more positive and stop spreading negative messages also belittles those of us at the coalface of social care who are voicing our opinions; an attempt to make our arguments appear glib and pessimistic.

‘Dangerous narrative’

But it is not fear-mongering or left-wing activism that drives our negativity. We share our views out of a hope that somebody will listen and see the impact that current policy is having on service delivery.

Asking us to speak more positively of our profession will not make these issues go away, it will simply hide them from view. In a profession where we are all too aware of the impact of hidden harm and brushing things under the carpet, peddling this narrative of false hope ourselves is extremely dangerous.

Give all of our students, not just our heralded fast-trackers, a commitment to bursaries and we’ll share positive stories. Curtail the council budget cuts that go too far, too deep and too soon, and we’ll cheer for our services. Bring back the early intervention services that kept communities together and we’ll show you our optimism again.

Give us something to cheer about and we will, but don’t tell us to hide the truth because it just isn’t palatable.

The author is a child protection social worker (@socialworktutor)

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13 Responses to ‘I refuse to hide the reality that social work is a damned hard career’

  1. Paula McFadden April 6, 2016 at 10:03 am #

    Very well said! ‘Hidden harm’ is a term very relevant if we are in a blame culture mode, opposed to a learning culture. I think many social workers will appreciate this article and find it supportive.

  2. James April 6, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    It is unfortunately this type of left wing activism that has driven me and many I know away from social work. No one goes into this job (profession? Really. So many cant even spell that properly when they need to) thinking of it is anything other than state control.

    We are there to nudge people towards being in ways that we (society) deem acceptable. If they do not, we apply increasingly punitive measures alongside other means of state pressure (community nurses, OTs, children’s centres etc). And the most notable part of that is that we all know it. It is not hidden but upfront.

    Thank god for honesty and that more social workers recognise our role.

  3. Imelda Hall April 6, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

    Very well said!! Before I read this article, I actually thought, ‘I am sick of swkrs moaning and more so, sick of myself moaning (I am a swkr). We do moan because we have a lot to moan about and you are so right in saying that ‘occasionally punctured with rays of sunshine’. You have hit the nail on the head, as it’s true, we have only fleeting moments of joy and pride when we look at the positive results and outcomes we achieve in people’s lives before we hastily have to move on to the mountain of paperwork and the endless battles with other resource providers to argue that the service user we are currently working with is a deserved case. We should NOT be picking up the tab for cuts to benefits, we should NOT be fighting for services, which are in the same boat as us and are trying only to preserve what little bit of resources they have left and we certainly ought NOT to continually be providing this dangerous, greedy, backward thinking and deceitful government of a free workforce that we have had to become because of them and because, contrary to popular belief, we are an extremely conscientious and caring bunch of professionals who go the extra mile at their own peril!!!

  4. anon April 6, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

    Couldn’t have said it better.

  5. Tom Hughes April 6, 2016 at 3:46 pm #

    Spot on. Especially Nicky Morgan, who preaches about caring for the nation’s children but has never devoted one moment to it in her life.,

  6. Laura S April 6, 2016 at 7:57 pm #

    Completely agree with the points made and in addition it seems logical to me that if local authorities put more time and effort into retaining staff this would surely be more cost effective than continuous recruiting and training of new staff and better for our service users….

  7. Gerry April 6, 2016 at 9:05 pm #

    Plenty of negative realism but no joy, and no hope. So the government strangles the profession so why play victim

  8. CJ April 7, 2016 at 4:45 am #

    all too true. i have been in this profession for 25 years. it has gotten harder every year. i see myself foundering under the weight of doing more with less and being ruled by the finance department who harass me about when my documents will be completed and tracks my billable productivity which pays their damned salaries while they sit counting beans. i used to love advocacy and problem solving. finding a way to get it done for someone to help them have a decent life. now i love going home at night to peace and quiet where i can turn my brain off and stop thinking about all the crap i have to do tomorrow that has nothing to do with social work and everything to do with satisfying the auditors.

  9. Andrew April 7, 2016 at 7:51 am #

    Good article, but don’t expect any change for a while. Morgan clearly has her eyes on a higher prize and social work and education are just a step on her way up.
    What do you do on steps – walk all over them.

  10. T C S April 7, 2016 at 8:42 am #

    I totally agree, they additional pressure placed on all services, to strip back to the bones but provide more is unrealistic and dangerous. I love my job and love social work but more and more, the government tighten the noose and expect us to be positive?! Positive would start with giving more resources to all services (including education) then we as a profession can really and truly start be more positive and provide a more positive service to the people that need us most.

  11. KER April 7, 2016 at 2:41 pm #

    This article speaks truth about the hardship of social work. When a person enters the social work industry we do it because we want to make a difference, we want to contribute to the lives of others in a meaningful way and we have a fighting passion to make the world a better place. After working in child protection services for 4 years I have seen the industry change from a once client focused industry to a pen pushing (or rapid finger typer), memo writer, kpi focused industry where your average case load exceeds any possible chance of undertaking any real work with families to elicit change. Instead you’re stressed, measured against others performance and removing children from parents who at times you don’t even have the capacity to properly assess to determine reunification because you can never see them. This pressure and sense of job dissatisfaction causes you to question why you entered the industry and why you opened yourself up to give when there are not enough resources to go around. It’s safe to say that my days in child protection are nearing an end and my next job (whilst still in the industry) I hope will reward me, and inspire me to advocate for a recruitment in this field – because by golly, this field needs it. If only the government could hear our woes and do something instead of asking us to hush. After all, a person doesn’t enter the social work field to be hushed.

  12. Pearlene Webb April 9, 2016 at 10:59 am #

    Well said however I think more need to be said about the intimidation and lack of support from managers which is another reason why social workers leave. After 25 years in the service I am currently ill with depression from work related stress. I love social work but the type of people who pursue power only seem interested in their own interests.

  13. Jenny Eckersley April 13, 2016 at 6:43 pm #

    How much these articles remind me of his I used to feel in the eighties and earlier nineties. I was a child protection worker for many years, and spent many years and sleepless nights worrying about families I hadn’t given enough time to, children I hadn’t seen alone or even often enough, court reports I had to complete as a priority before I saw the children they were written about. In 1996, I made a decision. That I would do all I could in the time I decided was available to me. That I would tell my managers that I was doing all I could, and that if it wasn’t enough, I would take out a grievance. One can only do so much. Having my first marriage ruined because of working so much overtime, I vowed I would not be doing it again. I needed to take out a grievance late 96, because I was getting constant hassle from my manager, who was incredibly unsupportive. I was off sick with stress for 6 months. I won the grievance and left that particular authority, to do work with a charity. I had many more agency jobs with other authorities, but never let stress do to me again what it had dine before. I had incredible support from BASW throughout my grievance and could not have got through it without them.
    I am now retired since 2010, and still miss the job like crazy. But, I wouldn’t change anything I did after 1996.