I normally encourage my students to stay up to date with the current news in social work, but now I’m hoping that none of them have come across the recent ‘Social Work: Conditions and Wellbeing’ report.
It says that 61% of social workers are looking to leave their jobs in next eighteen months citing ‘chronically poor’ working conditions and extremely high levels of stress.
It’s important research and certainly resonant of much of what I experience when I go into local authorities, however, it’s not an easy thing to process if you are a student giving considerable time, money and energy to studying social work.
Hope seems in short supply in our profession at the moment. The trouble is universities aren’t always great at hope themselves. The Brain Pickings writer Maria Popova says “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naiveté.”
Universities, such as mine, are very good at teaching people critical thinking skills. I’m not sure they are so good at communicating hope.
Hope is not an easy thing to transmit. I wonder what makes us feel inspired, especially in the context of challenging times for organisations and ongoing funding cuts. I think my own enthusiasm is renewed by collective experiences and people’s stories.
Of the conferences I have been to in the last few years what has most stayed with me is hearing Lemn Sisnay’s account of being in foster care and listening to ‘Annie’ of Surviving Safeguarding’s talk about her experience of having her child removed and then returned to her care.
I wonder if hope is something inspired by our emotions rather than our intellects.
Although I am very aware I am no longer in the very difficult current challenges of practice, lecturing is still not easy. This morning my class is responsive and I am energised by their interest and enthusiasm. It’s not always like this.
There are times when I know the back row is on Facebook and they only prick up their ears when they think there is something that might be relevant to their essay. I try to be pragmatic and resilient, but teaching, if it is heartfelt, is a vulnerable thing.
There have been a number of times when a little bit of me has died; I hope it’s not too much of me. Like everyone in this profession I need to stay as positive as I can and be very grateful for the good days.
Today I am having a series of tutorials with my third-year students about their career plans and aspirations. It is encouraging to see them and I enjoy hearing about their journey through the course and their plans. Several people describe their passion for working with service users and how they enjoy direct work. I find myself talking with them about alternatives to local authority work.
Universities are very focussed on preparing people for statutory work, but I hope the opportunities in the third sector doesn’t get completely lost. While I have faith in the protective elements of the assessed and supported year in employment [ASYE]. I know there are still genuine concerns for students starting their careers in statutory services. They know how pressurised and deskbound so many social workers are.
‘Make sure you don’t lose your passion’, I say to several of them.
These are great students. I hope the profession is somewhere they can thrive.