By Socialis Laborator
Community Care’s latest social work jobseeker survey found one in 10 social workers is now looking outside of the profession for a new job. I’m one of them.
I have been in social work for 15 years and over that time I’ve seen it change with the impact of austerity, government changes, Ofsted inspections, inquiries and reviews and what feels like the ever-shifting sands of expectations.
My vigour to assist and protect children remains strong, but now whenever I take a moment to stop and reflect on what I do each day I realise I am doing more social policing than protective work. This feels endlessly challenging to the values and the ethos that prompted me to join the profession.
No career options open to me
I feel so ground down by systems to the point where I don’t regard myself as particularly well-equipped, safe, or supported to safeguard children at the start of their lives. This is not the view of my manager who regards me as a stalwart within the team, able to absorb endlessly rising caseloads.
I figure when things have got that bad then it’s time to get out.
Some might say I’m just battle weary and have been at the frontline of practice for too long. This could well be true, but I never felt like I had a lot of career options open to me.
Management was always the obvious choice, but I don’t see it as particularly appealing. Even if you work in a smaller local authority you are still managing 6-8 social workers – that’s around 150-180 children to take responsibility for. In my head that equates to a lot of sleepless nights.
You then add in key performance indicators, endless lists of statistics, liaising and negotiating with disgruntled staff…well, it’s not the most warming of offers to get you out of bed on a cold Monday morning.
I’d like to be able to share my experiences and the knowledge that I have built up with the next generation. To be able to inspire them, but I just don’t feel able to give confidence to a newly qualified social worker about a profession that I now find so debilitating. My lessons feel cynical – that you’ll never be able to change the system, as ridiculous as some of the requirements are.
Any ‘resilience’ I have built up over those years now feels as if it has come at a high cost to my motivation.
Perhaps, if I’d been given the option a little earlier in my career to take part in academies, teach programmes or use my experience to help promote great practice, I might be in a different position. But this kind of creative thinking about social worker career progression is only just beginning in a few local authorities and is too late for me.
Instead I leave meetings feeling scolded like a little boy for not completing paperwork and constantly getting it wrong because ‘what we wanted yesterday is no longer what we want today’.
And even as I prepare to leave, I feel helpless to give any real, honest feedback as to the reasons I will be going for fear of getting a bad reference. Hence, why I have decided to write this article anonymously.
Listen to your experienced social workers
If anyone in authority is reading this then I would urge you to stop and take some time just to listen to your experienced social workers. Be creative about their roles and options. It should be a priority for you to ensure they hold onto that precious enthusiasm and passion that makes all the difference to children, families and newly qualified social workers entering the profession.
Don’t just accept the exodus because experienced workers take with them some very hard-won lessons, understanding and skills.
Help us to help others. Please.
It’s too late for me. I don’t even feel any pain about wanting to leave now. I did, but that’s long-gone and there is now an emptiness where my spirit used to be.
I’ll never regret coming into social work and I hope I have made a difference to some people but the time has come for me to get out of the job I once loved so greatly.
Socialis Laborator is a pseudonym for a social worker with 15 years experience working with children and families in England.