‘People might question how I can be a social worker when my own child was removed’

A social worker who grew up in care talks about having a child removed when she was 14, and how she uses her experiences to give children a voice

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Photo: Elvira/Fotolia

by Steph

My path to being a social worker began with my own.

When I was between three and four years old both of my parents passed away, and I entered foster care with two siblings.

At first, I had a few social workers I didn’t develop much of a relationship with, but when I was about 10, a really nice social worker took over my case. Despite how nice he was, he was prevented from getting to know me and understanding my experiences, because my foster carers were overpowering.

I was in a position where I was having to say the right things, so he couldn’t understand my situation and – as we all do in an evidence-based profession – he went on what he was told and saw, not necessarily what was actually happening.

He was misled, by me, because I was too scared to say things, and by my foster carers, who were very good at saying the right things.

That was when I first considered social work. Maybe not at the time, but in retrospect, it’s apparent to me that the need to understand young people and their situation, really understand it, wasn’t present in my case, and if it was I might have been able to say what I felt throughout my childhood in care.

However, this path was delayed, because when I was 14 I had a baby. My foster carers applied to adopt her, but this was not granted and instead she was made a ward of court.

No voice

I knew people would think, and could still think, ‘How can you be a social worker when your own child has been removed from you?’

I didn’t have custody of her for nine years, and during that period my working life was within the child care sector, so I didn’t really tell people. It’s important at this point to mention that I had done nothing wrong.  No parenting assessments were completed.  This was decided as I was a looked after child with no voice.

But my position has always been you’ve got to really know somebody, and what they’ve been through, to understand the situation they are in, and that’s what I took into social work.

I thought I could do a better job, not because I feel my social worker had done a bad one, but because I felt he wouldn’t be able to do the best for me because he wasn’t informed.

This approach can come with risks though. I had life experiences, many of which would be considered valuable as I could understand where others were coming from. However, while undertaking my social work degree I sometimes found it difficult to hear lecturers talk about topics close to me and my experiences; bereavement, loss, abuse, the care system. I had to learn a lot about myself to get through the course, and then when I entered practice I was sometimes over-identifying with the experiences of the children and young people I worked with.

I needed support, to help me in my role but also to help me develop an understanding of myself, so through counselling and the support of people around me I got there, and I think its imperative for all in social work to understand themselves.

Experiences don’t define me

Working with unresolved issues, from childhood or experiences, doesn’t make for the best practitioners.

That’s not to move away from my experiences. People may look at the facts of my life and say I’ve had a really bad one, but I haven’t, my experiences made me who I am, they didn’t define me, and I use those experiences every day. However, I now find it difficult to put myself back to those years in care, I am no longer that person.

When I was in care, I didn’t feel like I had a voice, I didn’t feel like I was allowed one. This was decades ago, and practice has started to move on, but what my own experiences still give me is that understanding of how people’s voices can be oppressed, and that transcends any modernisation of practice.

My role is to identify a young person’s perspective, the perspective my social worker couldn’t see.

Steph is a fostering placement social worker. 

17 Responses to ‘People might question how I can be a social worker when my own child was removed’

  1. Angela Nichols July 13, 2018 at 3:45 pm #

    Well done Stephanie you should be really proud of yourself , what a Advocate and inspiration you are

  2. Theresa Donovan July 13, 2018 at 7:22 pm #

    As a social worker in the same Fostering Team as Steph, I can confirm she really is an amazing advocate, as well as an incredibly skilled practitioner.

  3. Rachel Burnie July 13, 2018 at 8:33 pm #

    Inspiration I was in care as a child and I never had a voice either now I’m entering the world of social work and I look forward to putting my life experiences into practice. Our past doesn’t define as I know it has made me stronger I have two wonderful children I give my all and they r proud as punch. My mother has been by my side I graduated in sociology and criminology this year very proud moment indeed . My journey continues and it can only get better. Thanks for sharing your story

    Rachel

  4. May Dunsmore July 13, 2018 at 9:28 pm #

    Marvellous and inspirational story, thank you, from a carer of 40 yrs. x

  5. June Smith July 13, 2018 at 9:33 pm #

    Amazing story……I had a baby at 16 who was adopted. The social worker was so patronising that I have vowed to be a better and more understanding social worker than she was.

  6. Jane July 13, 2018 at 10:39 pm #

    Well done Steph for being brave enough to tell your story.

  7. Sean Dunn July 13, 2018 at 11:59 pm #

    Be strong the system can become political as opposed to personal just take each and every case in it’s own terms butblisten to trusted colleagues you will know who there are.

  8. Holly July 14, 2018 at 12:38 am #

    This gives me so much hope for the social work profession. I had a difficult upbringing and since used my experiences as a drive to supporting teenagers within a counselling role, sometimes it can be a stregnth instead and I love that you’ve used it to benifit other’s, to many times victims are treated as if they were perpetrators but from what I’ve read from you all I can see is stregnth. On top of that you chose to develop yourself , you sound like an amazing social worker that comes from a place of empathy and real understanding WE NEED MORE LIKE YOU

  9. Karen Shaw July 14, 2018 at 7:52 am #

    As a social worker, not with looked after children so much, more the front end. What really touched me, reading your story is that you didn’t have a voice because you were a looked after child.. I wonder how often that’s still the case.. That’s probably going to be running through my mind for a while. I hope that it gives me a different perspective. Just to remember am I “hearing” this child in front of me. What is their experience right now. You didn’t have her for 9 years, suggests you remained in contact and got her back. Wld like to hear the rest of your journey so far. Seems to me its an important one.

  10. Mich Owen July 14, 2018 at 4:47 pm #

    You are exactly the kind of person that the profession needs, you’ve a wealth of experience that will nderpin your practice and definitely have the ability to instil hope & courage in others. Thank you, very inspirational to hear that you have been successful despite your experiences.

  11. Allie July 14, 2018 at 8:00 pm #

    Our experiences inform our careers very often. People who experience legal trouble may seek to become lawyers. People who were addicts often become drug counsellors etc. Social work and psychology seem to be one of the few careers where experiences are viewed as something that could/should disqualify you. Self awareness and work are the basis of any successful career. Kudos to you I’m in your career choice and your experiences are your power – not your weakness.

  12. Paul White July 15, 2018 at 12:38 pm #

    Its not where you start but where you finish. There will be no better person to nurture, develop and inspire not just those that Steph is responsible for but her peers , many of whom would have had a stable, loving and supportive family unit, a structure that society follows to develop to their full potential.

    Steph did it on her own.

  13. Tracey Mcintyre July 15, 2018 at 1:10 pm #

    Hi Stephanie Thank you for sharing with us it is beneficial to other social workers whatever area they work in.

  14. Jo July 16, 2018 at 11:27 am #

    Great story of courage, determination and resilience that will give faith to others

  15. Jenny July 17, 2018 at 10:07 am #

    I am too the same as you, only difference is your child was taken away and my sister was the one separated from me and adopted. I am now training to be a social worker, currently finished my first year. I too am finding the same issues arising both from me being once upon a time ‘the service user’ to now being the professional. It is difficult to sometimes separate the two, but like you say you learn yourself who you are from your experiences and they give you amazing insight. I am in no way saying at times my judgement will not be clouded as this is an issue, but I know to seek support and look at the situation from all angles. Well done to you and thankfully there are professionals like me, so this gives me hope.

  16. EJ July 18, 2018 at 5:04 pm #

    “I was sometimes over-identifying with the experiences of the children and young people I worked with.”

    Balance in all things. This could be dangerous because not all children tell the truth, children can have skewed perspectives and if they have a condition such as PDA can confabulate, fantasise or lie.

    Good luck in your career, I hope you make a positive difference to the children you encounter.

  17. sw111 July 19, 2018 at 9:40 am #

    A truly inspiring account, of resilience and determination. I am really impressed and I am optimistic about this profession/work place, where support is in place to enable workers be the driving force to offer empathic and empowering services.
    The real driving factor obviously has been Steph – truly admirable.
    It is really telling how people’s voices can be oppressed that can permeate the profession from top down.

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