‘While I had been working to improve relationships in one family, I felt like I was sacrificing my own’

A children's social worker reflects on the challenges of training while raising a young family

Photo: Jenny Sturm/Fotolia

by Paul Fitzimmons

Being a student social worker is a journey like no other. It is intense, mentally challenging and often involves working with families and children in crisis. Emotional resilience is a key skill, regularly put to the test. I have found this particularly challenging, as I am the father of a beautiful, funny and at times very mischievous two-year-old.

In July 2016, when she was only 5 months old, I packed my bags for the five-week residential Summer Institute that begins the Frontline programme, leaving behind my wife and daughter. I knew that this was not going to be the first time that I would have to sacrifice my time with my daughter as I pursued my career in social work.

I received my Diploma in Social Work, and officially qualified as a social worker in September 2017. Not only do I work 40+ hours a week in a North West local authority, but the programme also requires a great amount of studying in my own time – assignments and other academic work such as reflective logs, which take up hours of my evenings and weekends that I could be spending with my little girl.

I remember last Easter with less than fond memories. As my wife and daughter embarked on an Easter egg hunt with other family members in the local park, I was confined to the four walls of my bedroom, swamped with books and journals; which I must confess did not make much sense to me at the time.


I was completing a 10,000 word parenting intervention assignment, which detailed an intensive piece of work that I had completed with a family to improve relationships between family members. The irony of this was that while I had been working so hard improving relationships in one family, I felt like I was sacrificing my own.

And yet, the role of a social worker is also like no other. The intense and challenging situations we find ourselves in often result in an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and reward, and if I can go home after a full day’s work knowing that I have changed somebody’s life for the better, then the demanding nature of the day has clearly been worth it.

Every day I can leave home knowing that my little, cheeky daughter is in the safe and capable hands of my wife, but unfortunately this is not a luxury enjoyed by every household in our country.

Our role is to empower families to provide that safe pair of hands. To do this, we not only support and challenge parents and family members, but also must have the courage to challenge professionals, using our influence and knowledge of legislation to advocate for the child. This support, advocacy and determination to promote and protect a child’s most basic human rights is why I became a social worker. On a daily basis, I see that it is life changing work at its very best.

Last year I worked with a 13-year-old boy who had a very negative outlook on the world. His behaviour in school was deteriorating and becoming very challenging. His parents had separated and the emotional impact of ongoing conflict within the family unit contributed to his overall lack of motivation and self-esteem.


The majority of my sessions appeared to fall on deaf ears and change was a struggle to implement; his most common response to my questions was “what’s the point?”

After months of direct work, using a range of different methods and techniques, I received a thank you card from him. Inside, the words simply read “Paul, thanks for everything you’ve done. Thanks for making me realise that not everything is bad in life.”

These words still resonate with me on a daily basis, and remind me that my work as a social worker, regardless of how challenging it can be, is all worthwhile in the end.

It is not easy to dedicate yourself to the needs of other families, while sacrificing time with your own. But being a father and a husband has brought me so much joy and support over this last year, and having the amazing family that I have has afforded me this excellent opportunity to excel in a career which many say I was destined for.

For the sake of those who lack that support, I will continue to develop my skills, reflect on my interventions with families, and ensure that the service I provide is the best it can possibly be.

Paul Fitzimmons is a children’s social worker

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0 Responses to ‘While I had been working to improve relationships in one family, I felt like I was sacrificing my own’

  1. HelenSparkles March 27, 2018 at 9:01 pm #

    This is unbearable. If you are already martyring yourself on the alter of self sacrifice, maybe you’re not in the right profession.

    • Paul March 28, 2018 at 4:05 pm #

      No martyring of self intended whatsoever, just a summary of what had been a difficult personal and professional journey. I know this is the right profession for me thanks for allowing me to reaffirm that…

      • HelenSparkles April 4, 2018 at 6:18 pm #

        You wrote the article and it speaks for itself.
        & your response, well passive aggressive is still aggressive.

        • ria April 11, 2018 at 11:45 am #

          this is how all of us feel & thats why we are doing this job, we are all extremely passionate & committed to our jobs & the many people we try to help & support, we are here to make a difference! we all have our own families/children & it is difficult, especially when you have young children as you often feel guilty for neglecting them but we still carry on!

  2. Cha March 28, 2018 at 6:08 am #

    Paul, we’ll done. Balancing the demands of a social work career can often present itself with immense difficulty. You have managed the transferability of those skills into your persinal life, with your insight you will have increased empathy but clearer expectations for the children and families you are working with. Wishing you ongoing success.

  3. Shaz March 28, 2018 at 9:48 am #

    I am professional social worker myself. Both my parents were social workers, their working patterns had a detrimental effect upon my well-being, despite being in a good place now it took 10 years of therapy and a long journey. Always consider your family first.

  4. Sw111 March 28, 2018 at 4:05 pm #

    Well done Paul. You felt a sense of satisfaction when you felt that your input had the desired outcome and you were valued by the child and you were able to make effective changes. To sacrifice your own family is something no one would recommend.
    It’s good you have support, skills and understanding to be able to manage the juggling tasks. From my experience I would say that clients, ie children and parents would value your input particularly when relationship based model is the driving factor. However, be mindful of the management because appreciation is rarely forthcoming from them.

  5. sad March 29, 2018 at 10:48 am #

    Paul if you don’t look after your self and your family no else will do it for you. You cannot sacrifice relationships and time with children for a substantial period of time without something/someone being affected.

    Social work is emotionally draining as well as time draining and over a period of time this is corrosive and no -one in the profession will be there to support you.

  6. Ed Nixon March 30, 2018 at 9:52 am #

    Yes. It’s a very demanding job; always has been if it’s to be done well.What is the purpose of pieces like this? Almost seems indulgent, as potential social workers we know it will be difficult job but so are so many others. We social workers may do better to make our point using a less emotive style and language

  7. mark April 1, 2018 at 10:17 am #

    Paul, I wouldn’t sacrifice my family for anything. I spent years building my career, and in the end you get absolutely no thanks, so myou advice would be to work hard when your at work and leave it behind you when your not. Nurture your family relationships as these will give you the energy to continue within the profession.

  8. Sam Pearson April 4, 2018 at 3:53 pm #

    Paul, I don’t think you’re alone. I know many ‘career social workers’ who have put their families second. It’s not time you can replace and your kids will suffer, without doubt. Priority should always be your children.

  9. Steve G April 5, 2018 at 11:08 am #

    I found this a wonderful read and brilliant insight into the (oft forgotten) sacrifices made by social workers in order to provide the highest service to the families with whom we work. It takes a certain level of bravery to reflect not only on how your personal life and responsibilities impact upon your professional work but also how you can continue to, as you say, develop your skills and look back on and learn from your interventions with families.

    I am sure of people reading this can relate to your situation and the juggling act you have had to perform.

    My advice to you would be to remember that you’re a father first, husband second, and probably social worker third. Social work is certainly a journey, with plenty of ups and downs and twists in the road but as you set off on your journey, from studying hard at weekends to putting in the hours in the office at work, don’t lose sight of the fact that your future hasn’t happened yet. You shape it. You’re in the driving seat.

    Good luck, Paul

  10. Emma April 11, 2018 at 3:59 pm #

    Really nicely written article! You are doing an amazing job as a social worker, father and husband. All the best!