As we reach the end of our Choose Social Work campaign, we’ve continued to receive emails from social workers, sector leaders and academics to the next generation of practitioners.
You’ve sent in so many that we’ve had to put together a second compilation of letters. In the previous round of letters, we showcased an origin story from rural Ireland, advice on what to remember during hard times and insights into what makes social work a worthwhile career.
In this second round, a principal social worker and an academic share words of wisdom on where you can find inspiration in this sector, how to deal with self-doubt and how many lives you will touch through your work.
Here are Stephanie and Arlene’s letters:
Stephanie Dixon: ‘Social work not only allows you to support others, but if you let it, it will take you on your own journey’
Dear Future Social Worker,
As a social worker, you will get a 360 degree view of inspiration.
You will sit in a position that is surrounded by people experiencing adversity and overcoming it.
You will work alongside inspirational professionals who support these stories, and you will become one of these professionals.
At first it can be daunting. As a new social worker I put a lot of pressure on myself to be just as inspirational. And with it came self-doubt, and questions of worthiness when comparing myself to those I was surrounded by. But, equally, a re-evaluation and recognition of my privilege followed. As a result, I have had the opportunity to develop – and continue to develop – into the best version of myself.
Social work not only allows you to support others, but, if you let it, it will take you on your own journey. This journey will lead you to becoming one of those inspirational individuals.
As a principal social worker, I no longer practise directly with children and their families, but I still hear their stories and continue to be inspired by student social workers, colleagues, partners and managers.
My journey continues, and I would recommend you start yours today with this in mind when you hits those road bumps of self-doubt.
Things I have found useful in my journey that help when those feelings kick in include:
Take time for self-reflexivity. This is the process of looking at your whole self and reflecting on your beliefs and perceptions. Understanding yourself, and how you react in different scenarios, will aid your responses to feelings of self-doubt. It will help you rationalise and analyse, re-centring yourself.
Identify your ‘person’ or people
Identify a confidant, whether they are a colleague, your supervisor or someone you know personally; someone you can speak to when doubt kicks in. They may even know you well enough to see the signs of burnout. Giving them permission to speak up when they do is valuable.
Supervision is often a space where you can reflect, offload and share decision making. This is a space for the supervisor to emotionally contain you, and this should happen regularly to protect you. Your role in this is ensuring you always prioritise supervision as a supervisee. Its importance cannot be overlooked.
I hope to see you soon,
Head of social work academy and principal social worker
Dr Arlene P Weekes: ‘We have a unique opportunity as social workers to role model cultural acceptance and humility towards others’
Dear Future Social Worker,
In writing this letter the image that comes to mind is a mustard seed.
Perhaps the smallest of seeds but, when planted, it flourishes and yields in abundance.
As I look back on 33 years in the profession, the first thing that comes to mind is what a variety of experiences I have had, how many lives I have touched, and how many have touched me – from colleagues, to other professionals and people with lived experience.
The landscape of the UK has changed, and continues to change, so much culturally, economically and socially. Whilst this can be challenging at times, these changes give us an opportunity to think and act in a way that can truly empower the service users we support.
We have a unique opportunity as social workers to role model cultural acceptance and humility towards others.
I would encourage any would-be social worker to consider the profession for its variety and opportunities to advocate for and empower others.
Come join a profession where you can be a change agent for yourself and others – a person who acts as a catalyst of change.
As Mahatma Gandhi said: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a [person] changes [their] own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards [them].”
Dr Arlene P Weekes
Senior lecturer and course lead at University of West London, independent fostering panel chair and management and training consultant
Do you want to write your own letter to the next generation of social workers? If so, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to contribute.