‘What I wish I’d known before becoming a social worker’

    For our Choose Social Work campaign, we are asking practitioners to share their advice for the social workers of the future. Here, manager Yewande reflects on what she would have wanted to know before joining the profession

    dear future social worker image for Community Care's Choose Social Work campaign

    By Yewande

    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 ruth.hardy-mullings@markallengroup.com.

    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.

    What advice would you give the next generation of social workers? Let us know on social media, using #DearFutureSocialWorker.

    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.

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    4 Responses to ‘What I wish I’d known before becoming a social worker’

    1. Alesha Pinto July 1, 2023 at 9:11 am #

      I’m a social worker for adult services. I agree, prioritising self is the only way to survive. Burn out is so common that we must take the time to safeguard ourselves and are careers by knowing limitations and aspirations. Self awareness and reflection will ensure you stay on track and make us better social worker all round.

    2. Margaret July 1, 2023 at 10:03 am #

      The amount of paperwork that repeats the same things. I needed to be an achedemic at a higher level. You had to work very long hours in order to keep on top of your notes court reports planning meetings case conference’s checking in with health visitors GPS school mental health and the all impotent family. Check out support which could be put in place for some level of helpif you have time supervision (what’s that l hear you say)answerthe many emails phone messages and texts..have a wee.
      I appreciate we had to be accountable and work closely with other agencies I love the job the children and the families but why oh why can’t admin cover court reports case notes etc etc ? l left sadly ?

    3. Berni July 3, 2023 at 2:04 pm #

      Some correct thinking and reflection which would be helpful to anyone planning to come into social work.

      However, the last three years has changed almost everything about social care particularly adults and when I trained over a decade ago the landscape was very different although the problems similar but I feel cases are now more complex .

      Social work is not always rewarding . Social work is tough and ever changing. Social work can however be rewarding every now and again and is still a job I would train to do today.

      I just hope things improve and we have services which reflect localised need and hope that social work does not become a niche and marginalised role.

      I also think many people do social work who do not have a job title and whilst I find having a degree smug inducing I just don’t think you need it to do social work. I see a person everyday dropping in and making sure my neighbour has enough food and is ok and is a practical soul who really cares and does a lot but I guess she does not think of herself as a social worker.

    4. Fran July 7, 2023 at 1:21 pm #

      I was a really good social worker however when my mental health worsened, I was made feel like useless and basically they tossed me to the side! They reported me to the HCPC and I fought tooth and nail not to be de-registered . I was then subjected to several occupational appointments, which in fair were good, but the managers got their way and dismissed me from my post. I was never helped to look at redeployment although it was something this local authority falsely said they would. It’s left a bitter taste in my mouth. If you are thinking of becoming a social worker, think carefully, you will have more cases that you can deal with. Support is sparodic, it’s a tough job, I was doing it for nearly 20 years, and the main thing to remember is when “the ***t hits the fan” you will be thrown under the bus.