Child protection social worker Sierra Walton swapped New York for Yorkshire after taking up a post at Doncaster children’s services.
The iconic American city, home to 817 Woody Allen movies, that Alicia Keys song and the Statue of Liberty, may have some things in common with Sierra’s new home (mainly that both city and town have an ‘o’ in their name). But the comparisons are sparse. Asked if she’s noticed the differences, she laughs and says “quite a bit!”
Back in New York she worked as a child protection social worker in an inner city hospital. She says there was a major emphasis on therapeutic work.
“I worked within a maternal and child unit, it covered a lot of different areas of the hospital. It covered the emergency department, the intensive care units.
“I was doing pre-birth assessments and post-partum assessments of mother who had babies that were going to be in the hospital for a bit of time, and working with them in a therapeutic way about post-partum depression and things like that.”
Sierra moved to the UK last year with her English husband. After sorting out visas and her HCPC registration, she started looking for jobs and discovered Doncaster children’s services trust – the independent body established to run the town’s children’s services.
“When I was looking at the laws and regulations in the area, the trust did come up in news articles and things like that about how they were this new body being developed to improve Doncaster children’s services, and I thought that was really interesting.
“I’ve always liked to work for places that try new things, are looking into current research and seeing how they can develop that into practice, and I found that really interesting about the trust.”
She started her role on an assessment and child protection team last November. She says learning everything about social work practice in her new home is an “ongoing process”, but she’s being well supported.
“Not just from my managers and supervisors but other staff who have worked here for a long time. If I have any questions about what I need to do next, what I should be doing with a family, they are always open to talk to, ask questions and get guidance from.”
As for the work with families, Sierra says the issues in both locations are similar.
“When it comes down to the child protective issues and types of abuse and neglect it’s all quite similar really, it has translated from the US,” she explains.
In terms of location and population, the differences are a bit bigger.
“It is a lot smaller [in Doncaster] just looking at the general population. But I’m just as busy, there are a lot of child protection issues no matter where you go, and I think as a social worker too generally you’re just always busy.”
However, she says the sheer scale of New York City, and the massive population she was working with before, has made the transition easier.
“I think I’m able to handle a bit more on my caseload. I’m used to dealing with a higher number of patients and people in New York really.”
While she is learning what social work in England is like, she’s taking opportunities to bring her work from New York into practice.
“I think the idea of a therapeutic relationship is really big in US social work practice – it’s important here too obviously – but I think there’s a bit more emphasis on building that therapeutic relationship with families, and I think I’ve brought that here with the families that I am working with.”
She says an aspect of practice in the US she misses is the greater interaction with families she was able to have in a hospital setting.
“It is difficult because in child protection, you always have to think about the safety of the child and you might not always have the time to do the therapeutic work you want to do. But I am learning ways to work with families and the children in a therapeutic way, even in that kind of situation.”