After a career break prompted by personal factors, I’m returning to frontline social work practice in my first agency role.
I had been feeling excited about getting back to work. However, after a frustrating, tiring and unsettling start, anticipation has been overridden by anxiety. I am somewhat reluctant to step into my new office and see what this week will hold.
I finally have system access, which means I can now get going with work. As I walk through the door, I try to adopt a more positive mindset by framing today as ‘Day One, Take Two’ – an opportunity to start again after my unsettled start.
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My job is to arrange and complete numerous overdue and complex multi-professional assessments, which could involve changing or withdrawing services.
Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that certain people have very high expectations but are less forthcoming with information about their processes or how anything works on a day-to-day basis.
I’m thrust a list of names and told in no uncertain terms to get on with it. I feel overwhelmed and dismissed. Fortunately, I’ve always had a good ‘poker face’ and I manage to grit my teeth, pick up the phone and begin making connections.
At lunch I feel the need to get out from the cramped and noisy office and be by myself. I resort to sitting in my car to hide, eating my lunch, slowing my breathing and regrouping. Now I’m ready to go again.
In the afternoon I join a general visit to a client, so I can begin to put faces to names. It feels good to get out of the office and interact with people and their networks, even if briefly. At this stage, I can’t offer much in the way of answers, but I do my best to offer sincerity and a sense of calm.
I have a meeting this morning with the service which partly oversees the team I have joined. I arrive armed with a list of queries and it is a useful discussion. As well as getting some clear answers about how systems work, their bafflement about what I have been asked to achieve is somewhat reassuring.
My remit is both vague and enormous and seems to highlight a lack of high-up understanding of the situation on the ground.”
I know that as an agency worker I have been brought in for a specific purpose and I am prepared to work hard, but I’m not prepared to cut corners or leave clients at a disadvantage for service convenience. I feel more empowered to take ownership over the situation and to step up rather than be put upon.
With a newfound sense of purpose, I set about doing the two things I do best – analysing and planning. I feel focused as I read, write and formulate a proposal for priority tasks. I request time with the team leaders, and they seem grateful and relieved.
I get the impression they are uncertain about how to get started and seem happy to follow any guidance or suggestions I can offer. I get back on the phone and start booking appointments and making referrals. This time it feels less like I am faking it, and more like I am finding a way of making it.
This morning is interesting as I’m attending a virtual ward meeting and then accompanying a nurse on an assessment at a local hospice. My colleague seems responsive to my input and I enjoy reflecting with them on the meeting dynamics and our interaction with the hospice staff and patient.
This afternoon I am out by myself to start meeting clients properly and to outline the process and expectations for future involvement. At the first appointment I feel nervous and rusty, but by the second I feel warmed up.
The family offer me thanks and appreciation; I can see they want me to guide them through a complicated time with a perhaps unwelcome outcome. I resolve to do my best to step up and act in a compassionate manner.
As I drive home, I critically reflect – a more positive phrase than ‘brood’ – on the various ups and downs of this week. I’ve only been in the role a short time, but already it has begun to hone my thinking about what might come next.
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It’s also highlighted which aspects of the job I am glad to get back to, such as interacting with clients and colleagues from diverse backgrounds and acting as a facilitator and as a resource.
But there are many parts which I have not missed and, while stressors aren’t completely avoidable, perhaps greater insight will support building some balance.
Today is not technically a workday, but I am mindful of getting my notes recorded from yesterday’s visits. However, system access issues surface yet again which a call to IT can’t resolve, and I am left having to type up my notes in a Word document ready to copy across next week.
Disruption is to be expected, but a lot of problems could be prevented with simple planning.”
It’s not ideal either from a case management perspective or for me personally as I don’t get that sense of closure and I feel frustrated I can’t fully switch off – I don’t like leaving loose ends.
In the evening I meet up with an old friend, and now ex-social worker. Her departure was triggered by a series of unfortunate, and perhaps preventable, events, and I feel it is a real loss to the profession.
I feel thankful to still feel in control of my career path at present.
It’s back to work today, but in a different role this time. I have a weekend job at a local shop, and I love it. There’s a real sense of community and I enjoy interacting with customers and offering support of a different kind.
It involves much less responsibility than my social work role, which I know would not suit me full-time, but it is freeing in other ways and being on shift always gives me a boost.
Social work involves working in complex, often fraught circumstances, and I am realistic that I will not always feel a sense of excitement when my alarm clock goes off in the morning.
But I hope to find a role within the sector where my commitment to the wider cause carries me through the difficult times. My current assignment is only short-term, and I don’t know what will come next, but I am hopeful it will be another step in the right direction.
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