One of the Think Ahead fast-track programme participants, Helen, and I are helping a service user move into supported living accommodation. When Helen first encountered the service user, they were living in squalid conditions, with the flat smelling strongly of mould; their previous care package had broken down. It’s a challenging day as the service user is very agitated at times.
This is not the most glamorous part of social work, but Helen, who I’m supervising while she’s learning on the job in our community mental health team, gets stuck in. She recognises the importance of upholding the individual’s right to keep their possessions, respecting their dignity and showing compassion.
By the end of the day, our cars are full to the brim, and we take them to the service user’s new flat. They don’t say thank you, but it doesn’t matter – we go home knowing we’ve made a genuine difference to their life.
It’s time for our weekly case consultation meeting, where the four participants present their cases and link them to theory, legislation, and professional values.
Today, Joshua speaks about an individual who recently became more distressed as a result of receiving a mental health diagnosis, leading us to consider the pros and cons of labelling mental health problems. One participant argues it can be stigmatising while another points out that without a diagnosis people cannot get access to services to aid recovery. It’s great to see the participants confidently asserting their views.
These meetings have become a firm favourite in our group, as they provide a wonderful space to be critical and dissect social work practice. They reflect the programme’s focus on therapeutic and practical interventions – something that attracted me to apply for the consultant social worker (CSW) role.
I’m observing another participant, Charlotte, using a family group conference approach with a mother and son who have an extremely volatile relationship. She prepared for the session by visiting them individually and asking them to prepare discussion topics.
The start of the meeting is very tense, but Charlotte ensures that both have a chance to voice their needs. They have agreed on five shared goals by the end of the session – I’m amazed. Using evidence-based social interventions to support people with mental health problems is something I focus on in my work with the participants.
Unfortunately, another participant, Narek, has had a more difficult day. He met with a service user who he had previously supported to start a volunteering role – one of their main goals is to re-enter employment, but they remain very pessimistic about their future.
I can tell that Narek feels disillusioned, so I take some time out of my day to debrief. I want him to recognise what he’s already achieved in his work with the individual, even if the service user can’t yet see it.
He goes home slightly more optimistic, but I think he’s beginning to realise that days in mental health social work are never the same. Some are more challenging, emotional, draining, or rewarding than others.
Today I am on approved mental health professional (AMHP) duty. Many CSWs continue to practice as AMHPs alongside their main roles and, although challenging, I’m glad to still be involved in this part of frontline practice as it allows me to maintain my skills.
Due to the heavy demand on our service, I have to complete two Mental Health Act assessments in a row. It doesn’t help that the wait for an ambulance is five hours long today and we cannot do anything but wait until it arrives.
I’ve set aside the whole day to write an end of first placement report for Helen. These are lengthy documents, and I need to evidence all nine Professional Capabilities Framework domains. Even though it’s a long task, I enjoy providing feedback to the participants. For me, there’s nothing like seeing how they grow in confidence, forge their identities as social work practitioners, and change lives under your guidance.
I was initially sceptical about whether participants could qualify within 14 months, but after working with a number of different participants over the last two years and seeing them go on to complete their assessed and supported year in employment successfully, I now have every confidence it can be achieved.
I was first drawn to the role at a time when care management had increasingly become the focus of my work and my passion had started to dwindle. It’s been exciting not only teaching the participants new interventions that promote recovery, but also being able to incorporate them myself.
Reflecting on Helen’s progress reminds me how beneficial the CSW role has been for my own practice. I really feel I’ve been able to get back in touch with my professional value base and to apply both theory and innovation to my practice again.
*Some details have been changed to protect the identities of the service users involved.