By Matt Bee
Here’s my dilemma. I’m a social worker of ten years standing and I’m looking to move on. But not up to management. So where? Recently, Sophie Ayers wrote a fantastic piece about becoming an independent social worker. But what if you want to move away from the profession entirely?
That’s me, right now. And it’s a question that’s been vexing me for some time. While all my colleagues have steadily progressed, training up as approved mental health professionals (AMHPs) and best interests assessors (BIAs), taking on senior roles and being lured into the gravitational pull of a management position, I’ve not once felt a similar draw. Instead, I’ve felt my appetite for frontline practice wane, until one day it finally happened. No longer did I want to be a social worker.
But I still wanted to work with clients – whether they had learning disabilities, mental health problems, drug addictions or had reached the far end of their lives and were battling dementia and brittle bones.
And that’s where the idea of becoming a support worker came from.
The perfect solution
I mean, why not? When you think of what social workers complain about – too much paperwork and not enough time with clients – support work is the perfect solution. And scanning down the job ads at unqualified roles there are countless vacancies for housing officers, drug recovery workers, advocates, family liaison workers, wardens in supported accommodation, and even personal assistants through personal budgets.
Sure, the pay can be lousy, but looking down the pay scale instead of just up and across, you find a whole world of opportunities opening up – opportunities that, as an experienced social worker, you are abundantly qualified to pursue.
Dipping my toe in the water, I’ve taken up just such a role recently, and let me tell you, after years of weighty, serious social work, it’s a breath of fresh air. You still work with the same clients but there’s less pressure, you leave the office on time and you can actually relax and enjoy the role.
I don’t have a headache, don’t feel the need for a drink, and I don’t feel guilty about what I’ve failed to accomplish today.
That’s what support work feels like after social work. It’s rather nice, actually.
But there is a caveat to all of this. On the flipside of having less to worry about, I also have less clout. My signature no longer commissions care services or discharges anyone from hospital. I’ve less status, for sure.
And I’ve significantly less money. While social work salaries hover around the £30k mark, you can halve that for many unqualified positions, which does leave a sizeable dent in the household income. But weekend and evening shifts can help boost that up again, plus I can always earn a bob or two writing. You might have a similar hobby you could turn into a money-spinner once you aren’t flogged to death by the day job.
Admittedly, all this is a little unorthodox. Whilst many social workers progress to become Ofsted or Care Quality Commission inspectors, pursue court work or lecture at universities, not many, I imagine, pull on a pair of jeans and continue working so closely with clients.
Casual dress code
But for me, I love it. I love the casual dress code, the hours and the freedom. And I love how refreshingly straightforward it is to offer someone a cup of tea and a listening ear instead of a raft of complex assessment forms and an allocated slot at a funding panel. Of course, you can sit and chat as a social worker, too, but it’s hard to escape the ticking clock and the incessant buzzing of a mobile phone. Always there’s that guilty feeling that time spent with a client will have to be made up later in the office.
Leaving that frantic pace behind has been no hardship. In fact, the transition from frontline social work practice has been surprisingly easy – although it does throw into light questions about your role, purpose, and even your identity. A career – especially one that can envelop you so completely – can really shape a person. Take it away and what have you got?
Well, in this case, you’ve got someone who is financially poorer but, ultimately, happier. On reflection, deciding to leave the profession was actually the easy part. It was the challenge of knowing what to do next that I struggled with. Yearning for more quality time with clients and less pressure, my options at first seemed extremely limited. But in support work I think I’ve found an answer. A sizeable drop in salary has been a small price to pay for a better quality of life, less stress and more pleasure in the work day.