‘Social workers don’t just deal with spiralling demands – they are people too’

An adults' social worker writes about the importance of self care and supporting her team

Photo: Jacob Lund/Fotolia

by Nigella Howarth

The world of social care is busy. From the moment you step foot into the building until you leave many hours later it is demanding. Phone calls, emails, assessments, reports, meetings, supervision and team chat. All essential parts of the day, all requiring your complete focus, your energy, and compete for your time. Priorities can often change with each new phone call or email.

You can go from being in control of your day with a plan to dealing with spiralling chaos at the next moment due to further demand.

Not only are practitioners dealing with all of these demands – they are people too.

They run out of fuel as they have been so focussed on their day they forget to stop at the garage, they have left an almost poorly child at nursery, their dog needs to go to the vets and then they finally get home and someone has used all the milk and then their world crashes.

In a world so full of demands and constant new crises and priorities how does the practitioner look after themselves? How do they fit in a moment to breathe, relax, or even begin to think about self care?

Looking after a team

When I became a manager, I knew the welfare of the team would be important. There were resources, which might help, but how I could bring those into daily practices or tailor them to the individual needs of people?

Embedding self care into daily practice is essential. I recall times as a practitioner when I neglected my own self care and how I learned the lesson harshly that if I don’t look after myself I am no use to others. My own learning has made me more aware of how vital self care is.

It is important to ensure staff are aware of the available support, resources and opportunities within the service. Mindfulness groups, yoga at work, lunchtime healthy walks and details of the workplace counselling service are all need-to-know.

A recent resource produced by Siobhan Maclean, ’50 Acts of self care’, has proved useful by using these cards in staff meetings, getting the team to pick challenges for themselves and the wider team.

With hotdesking, remote working and flexible work bases it’s essential for staff wherever they are to know the support available to them and that they have open access to the type of support which is right for them, no matter what location they are in or how far they work from the main service hub.

A small group of staff will be accessing Headspace’s 10 session mindfulness resource. These guided sessions – while only being for a short time – can have significant advantages for individuals. It is a time in the day to just ‘be’ for a few minutes, to focus on our breathing, to organise our thoughts, to sit and live in that moment and to have some time aware from the demands and pressures of daily life.

Embedding self care

Self care should not be regarded as a quirky new concept, it should be embedded in social work practice. When we work with clients, we talk about a strengths-based approach, we look at personalisation, we speak of keeping the person central in everything we do, we talk about supporting them to live the life with maximum control and choice. All these values matter to our teams too.

We need to ensure staff have access to information, preventative services, regular planned breaks and they know if they are in crisis who to contact.

Self care is fundamental to supporting each of us in our daily lives and shouldn’t be seen as a crisis response.

I hope my experience of being a practitioner enables me to be the type of manager that is needed in this ever-complex world of social care and that I can promote and encourage all staff to think more about self care and their own wellbeing.

Nigella Howarth is a pseudonym. She is an adults’ social worker. 

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7 Responses to ‘Social workers don’t just deal with spiralling demands – they are people too’

  1. Erin March 12, 2019 at 10:50 pm #

    Managers and the hierarchy do not care about our families or the personal problems we may endure. The job comes first. By the way, what are the alleged support services cal authorities offer to employees working on the frontline? Zilch from my experience

  2. BF March 13, 2019 at 8:41 am #

    Thank you for this timely reminder.. Thought provoking article.

  3. Former Social Worker March 13, 2019 at 11:58 am #

    I wish I had had an enlightened manager like this when I was a statutory social worker! So glad I have left. I get far less money now, working in the third sector but I am valued, appreciated and cared for and that is priceless. We are strongly encouraged to take a break and leave on time etc. I will hopefully stay there until I retire.

    • Former SW March 16, 2019 at 8:01 am #

      My experience is exactly the same as yours. So happy I left and salvaged my mental health. Adore my job in the third sector and feel happy and excited to go to work everyday!

  4. Chudy March 14, 2019 at 7:31 am #

    It is good to know that some managers like you exist in real life. I wish your article will be read by other managers. Social workers do not look after each other but they are faults finders looking for the fault of others so that they can bring them down. It is worst if you are from minority groups, you have to be extra careful because the perception from most of your colleagues are that you are not fit for the job. Back starbing is the order of the day in most teams. Diversity is only decoration, it is important for us to address the reality. I have more to say but I don’t think I am ready for the victimisation as I have suffered enough as a result of speaking out.

    • Yvonne March 14, 2019 at 2:20 pm #

      Well done for speaking out. I fully agree with what you are saying as I have experienced this also. It’s about who you know not what you know.

  5. Lukewarm March 18, 2019 at 8:17 pm #

    Resonate, Chudy & Yvonne. The struggle is real!!!!