In my latest opinion piece published by Community Care, I wrote of how difficult a career social work can be and that hiding this truth does a disservice to our fellow professionals and service users.
In response to this, I received the following letter from a colleague who has given permission for it to be shared. In my opinion, this encapsulates the issues that those of us on the frontline are facing.
Dear fellow social workers and whoever cares to read this,
I am not the kind of person to share personal things on the internet. However, I feel it is important for this to be shared because I know I haven’t been as present as I want to be for the people I love the most.
I also hope that someone, somewhere will read this post and realise that they are not alone with how they are feeling, because I know I am not alone.
I am a child protection social worker, one of the hardest professions you could choose to work in. Day in, day out I am dealing with people’s emotions, trying to help families find solutions, listening to children and the ones who love them, and supporting them to overcome their problems.
I do this while being accountable for their safety and wellbeing. I get shouted at, lied to, verbally abused and threatened on a regular basis, not because people are evil, but because this is the only way they know how to respond.
I love my job
On the flip side, I also get an opportunity to meet and work with some remarkable and brave people who are capable of such admirable strength at the most vulnerable of times.
I love my job. I do it for a reason and I think that I am good at it. But lately, I’ve not been so good.
I have not been good because I am allocated work that is unrealistic to complete in the time I have to do it. I am accountable for the safety of children and this comes with immense pressure. These pressures leave very little time and energy for anything beyond my long and stressful work hours.
I spend my days using my personality to help get through to people, therefore my personality in my life beyond work suffers. I spend my days using my empathy to work with people in an understanding, non-judgmental way, and so my emotional capacity beyond work suffers.
Often I am the only one people have to vent to, and that is what I’m there for, but I feel isolated with that information because no matter how much I write about it in reports and assessments, I can never portray the realities of people’s emotions, struggles and difficulties in writing.
Passion turned to bitterness
What they live is real, and I’m a filter for that information.
I worked until 2am last night and I missed my brother’s 40th birthday celebrations. This is not the first time I have missed out on my own life while out protecting the most vulnerable in society. I am not complaining about this because of course it is what I am there for, but I am left wondering about me.
I don’t even bother calculating the time owed to me because I will never get round to taking it back. I have often worked on annual leave to get reports done. What other profession allows their jobs to take over their lives in this way, without the financial recognition?
For these reasons, I am leaving social work. I started off as such a passionate social worker, passionate about social justice, passionate about advocating on behalf of the vulnerable, passionate about making a real difference.
But the more I have worked as a social worker, the more I realise that the only difference that has been made is the difference in me, as a person.
The passion has turned into bitterness. This is a real shame and it breaks my heart that I don’t have the strength to carry on.
The author is a child protection social worker (@socialworktutor)