By Michael Mapp
Driving an hour or two away for a child on safeguarding visits means you’re an hour or two away from your own child should something happen at school or on their walk home from school.
So you can check in on the find my friends app, should you have that resource, and I’m lucky enough to do so. But when you have a look at the app, and their location isn’t showing up, the panic sets in. Where are they? Has someone taken them or stolen their phone?
So then you send a quick text – and they don’t reply straight away. Oh no! Something must have happened!
Ninety nine times out of a hundred, your child will be safe, and they will get home absolutely fine. But that one out a hundred times will play on an anxious and over-thinking mind.
Then there’s the time when you have that phone call from their school, needing to pick them up right now. You are an hour or so away, and their other parent is unavailable and is not answering the schools or your calls.
You could be in an urgent safeguarding visit, or a child protection meeting, or something equally as important. What do you do?
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Feelings of guilt
After working in social care for the last 12 years, as a residential care worker, manager and social worker, there have been many times, working with children during weekends and evenings, where my own child has been playing on his own. This feeling of guilt about not being able to be with my own son has always hit me hard. It isn’t so bad during normal office hours, when my child is at school, but in general, when you know your child has to make their own tea, or get watched by Grandma, this makes you feel like a bad parent.
There has been many instances of my family coming second, such as when I hadn’t finished work until 8.30pm, when emergency-placing two kids and making sure they felt safe with a set of strangers. I missed seeing my son, and my partner’s gym night was ruined – again!
As well as my own personal work-life balance, I have to take into account of my partner’s. My partner is a community nurse for a specialist team, and she also doesn’t finish work on time. This sometimes means that my son and stepdaughter not eating dinner until 8pm on a school night. Though this is a rare occurrence, I hate it when this happens, because they should be eating closer to 6 than 8! It also means we can’t spend quality time together as a family.
On a recent visit, I left later than planned, meaning I was too late to take my stepdaughter to Scouts (and be the helper of the Scout group). I was gutted about it, as this was something I share with my stepdaughter and I love this time together, as well as the routine of this weekly group. That meant her mum had to take her.
Why do we keep going in social work?
So when we add up all these negatives of being a social worker with a young family, why do we continue doing this?
I once heard someone explain about missing their own kids. “I know my kids are ok, and they’ll be fine – but the kids I have to go out and see, they are not fine. They have been abused, and need above-and-beyond care and support. I don’t feel guilty because I know my kids are safe, well fed, and we’ll looked after.”
That stuck with me, and I have always made sure that unless my own child will suffer in any way because of my work, then I will carry on.
My son is very understanding of my job. I explain to him in simple terms that the children I work with aren’t as fortunate as him, and have had very hard lives. I always make sure I’m there for my child, and he knows he has a great support network of family and friends.
Loving the job
But it’s also about loving the job.
Recently, I went out to see a child for what could have been a safeguarding concern. I ended up chatting to him while he showed me around his foster parent’s fields. All was fine in the end, and I came away with a big smile on my face and a tear in my eye having been given some fresh eggs from their poultry. For one child that day, I made them feel comfortable and happy that I listened to them – and they gifted me in the only way they knew how. How could I not love that as part of my job? Don’t worry, I will be checking with HR if I need to officially declare the eggs as ‘gifts’!