Dear future social worker,
When the idea of becoming a social worker was presented to me years and years ago my initial thought was, ‘what is a social worker?’.
I had an idea from what was shown in the media and on TV, but I didn’t know what the role entailed. I didn’t know any social workers personally and hadn’t spoken to any in a professional capacity.
I knew I liked helping children and working with people – so I thought, ‘surely being a social worker is a perfect blend of them both, right?’.
In hindsight, nothing fully prepared me for what being a social worker entailed. Social work is a multifaceted role, and I found myself adapting quickly for the people that I was there to support.
While we do work with and help people, there is so much more to it than that.
Here’s what I wish I’d known before becoming a social worker.
Yewande’s letter is part of Community Care’s Choose Social Work campaign, which will champion the brilliant work social workers do every day, inspire the next generation of practitioners, and counteract the negative media coverage of the profession.
Read about why we’re launching this campaign, and the five steps you can take to support it.
Would you like to write your own letter to the next generation of practitioners? We’d love to hear from you – email firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s more to social work than child protection
When people think of social work, they may think of children who have been removed from home, placed into foster care or adopted. However, it’s important to clarify that there is more to social work than working within a frontline child protection setting.
When I first started as a social worker, I worked in child protection and was not aware of other roles that were out there. For example, you can work with vulnerable adults struggling with their mental health or with substance misuse, or you can work with children in schools, or even become a therapist.
If you are thinking about becoming a social worker ask yourself: ‘what roles align with my interests, skills and ethics?’, “how can I be most effective for people who need social workers?’ and ‘does this fit in with my personal circumstances?’.
We won’t be everyone’s hero
I believe that sometimes social workers can have a saviour complex. We want to help and ‘save’ others, when in reality there won’t always be a happy ending. We often work with people when they are at their lowest and most vulnerable, and experiencing a crisis. This can be difficult to watch, especially if they are coming to harm.
Being a child protection social worker taught me that reward will come from seeing positive outcomes, and that you need to celebrate the small wins.”
Praise comes in different forms, and job satisfaction helps you to have a long lasting social work career.
Your mental health matters
Social work is a rewarding profession, but there are also moments when it can leave you feeling deflated. You may pour your all in and sometimes wonder when you will receive the same back.
Throughout my career, I’ve learnt that I need to prioritise myself to be able to give the best to others. There is no shame in acknowledging that you need a break. It doesn’t make you a bad social worker, nor does it mean that you do not care.
People will give you ‘permission’ to look after yourself, but the true value in that comes from you accepting you have every right to look after yourself. You are just one person. Although you need to take accountability in your professional role, it does not mean that you have to carry the weight alone.
Take time to learn what strategies you need to process a difficult day. Do you need time away from your screen, more supervision, training or to take annual leave? Asking for help is more than okay, and taking time to process what happens throughout a day at work will benefit you mentally and physically.
Find your work allies
I am a firm believer that you can’t ‘social work’ alone.”
You need to have that solid foundation of colleagues and team. When you’ve had a challenging phone call, some sad news or even when you need feedback, having someone like-minded supporting you can make these experiences easier and help you to reflect.
Plan for your future and not just the now
Consider what kind of practitioner you want to be in the years to come. Think about your development and progression. Where do you see yourself in the future? Do you want to specialise in an area, or do you want to go into management, leadership or mentoring?
Today, I am in a leadership role and provide learning and advice to social workers; something I never imagined I would do. When I came into social work, I never thought about where my career would take me. If I knew even just one of these things when I started eight years ago, it would have given me an informed view about what to expect and the resilience to plan how I wanted grow as a social worker.
Yewande is a manager and practice supervisor. She provides her experiences, thoughts and advice on topics relating to social work on her YouTube channel and Instagram pages @YBSW and @YBSWN.