‘I did not enjoy being new’: advice for young social workers

As part of our Choose Social Work campaign, adults' social worker and YouTuber Kayleigh Rose Evans describes the challenges she has faced in her social work career and her insights for new practitioners

Kayleigh Rose Evans
Kayleigh Rose Evans

Dear Future Social Worker,

A social work career is filled with countless lessons, experiences, and emotions. As you embark on this journey, I’d like to share some insights with you.

Many students entering social work face imposter syndrome, overwhelmed by the perceived need to know everything immediately or daunted by the gravity of their responsibilities.

Reflecting on my early social work practice, I realise I did not enjoy being new to the role. I often questioned myself, wondering, ‘Why would anyone want me as their social worker?’, compared to my more experienced colleagues.

Once, a person didn’t want me as their social worker when I was a student because they were in crisis with their housing and preferred someone who had been in the role longer due to the urgent nature of their problem.

Their decision was respected, and I assisted a more experienced colleague. In the end, they acknowledged my input as helpful and appreciated my kindness.

At that time, I was relieved to have another worker alongside me, but now, I would feel more confident handling a similar situation.

I have also worked with people at very difficult points in their lives who went out of their way to tell me they thought I was in the right job because I obviously cared about people.

Reflecting on these experiences, I have realised that everyone is different. Most of the time, it’s not even about the level of experience but about personal differences or preferences, which highlights the importance of having a diverse workforce.

Being a young social worker

You may be surprised to find that even in a profession like social work, there are times when you might feel like you don’t belong.

My advice is to stand strong. By completing your degree, you have already proven your capability, so don’t let anyone diminish your accomplishments. I share this from personal experience.

When I was young and new to social work, I faced comments about my age that made me feel as though I would be harshly judged and that I had something extra to prove.

I even felt pressure to perform as well as seasoned social workers, despite being just a student and still learning to meet the professional capabilities framework (PCF) standards.

However, I was fortunate to have a colleague who, despite her extensive knowledge, consistently affirmed my capabilities and invested time in my development.

She remained hopeful and inspired even after many years in the profession, which I found incredibly inspiring. Her support showed me the importance of mentorship and encouragement in our field.

Now, I realise that even the most experienced social workers continuously learn and evolve. Coming out of university, I had the advantage of being up-to-date with current legislation and theories, which was useful to share with others.

It was enlightening to see that even knowledgeable colleagues can have moments of self-doubt. No one knows everything, and seeking guidance is not only acceptable but essential in this ever-evolving field.

Challenging times

Social work is a profession that can be both immensely fulfilling and extremely challenging. On days when you achieve positive outcomes for individuals against all odds, it can feel like the best job in the world.

Yet, there will also be days when the weight of responsibilities, complex situations, or mounting paperwork becomes overwhelming. It’s during these challenging times that it’s crucial to remember your core values and prioritise what truly matters: the people you serve, not just bureaucracy or ticking boxes.

I’ve had to cling to this perspective at times, particularly in moments when I felt like I was failing everyone — my manager, those I was supporting — and sometimes you feel like you are wading through treacle with it all!

There were instances when I had to remind myself that ensuring a person’s safety and wellbeing was more important than adhering strictly to administrative timelines.

For example, I prioritised helping someone stay safe over completing an assessment despite it being categorised as ‘late’ or ‘in the red’. These experiences have highlighted the importance of focusing on the human aspect of social work, even when faced with procedural pressures. Good managers acknowledge this as well and support you.

It’s important to recognise that a career in social work can present significant challenges alongside its rewards. If you find yourself struggling, remember that it doesn’t always reflect on your capabilities.

Often, factors outside our control can impact on our ability to perform effectively. In such times, self-compassion and seeking support are crucial.

However, it’s also a reality that the support we need may not always be readily available. This highlights the importance of a supportive work environment and understanding management in our field.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel unsupported, it’s vital to advocate for yourself and consider all available options. This might include seeking mentorship, utilising professional networks or, in some cases, exploring opportunities that offer a more supportive environment.

Our commitment is to those we serve, but maintaining our own wellbeing is essential to perform our roles effectively. Remember, making choices for your professional and personal health is a part of self-care and crucial for a maintainable career in social work.

The power of writing

You most likely chose social work out of a genuine desire to help others. It might therefore come as a surprise to discover just how much writing is involved in the profession.

While some paperwork could arguably be streamlined, mastering effective written communication is crucial. Writing not only helps organise your thoughts but also serves as a powerful tool to advocate for others.

Your voice, conveyed through your words, can promote positive change and provide confidence in your professional integrity.

A key lesson I’ve learned over time is the importance of empathy in our writing. Always approach your documentation with the awareness that the person you’re writing about might read it one day.

Early in my career, I mistakenly wrote that someone did not ‘want support to get into work’, not that they were disabled and unable to work.

This error, once realised, was deeply upsetting, both to the individual and to me. It felt as though I had undermined my strengths-based approach in our interactions. This individual even questioned if I had actually written it, as it didn’t seem characteristic of my approach.

This experience was a stark reminder of the importance of taking the time to ensure accuracy and empathy in documentation. Being supported to have enough time for this is crucial, as not having it is one of the worst feelings in social work.

Rushing through paperwork can compromise our aim of helping people. What we say, and how we say it, matters immensely.

The very essence of social work lies in its core values. Being someone who is trusted, who respects every individual and who recognises the intrinsic value in others, especially when they may be marginalised by society, is a testament to the power of this profession.

Find your community

Equally important is the role you play within the community of social workers. Strive to be the anchor that your colleagues can rely on during their challenging times as most of the time the best resource we have is each other!

You’re never alone in this journey. Social work thrives on community and networks. Lean on your peers, your teams, and your managers.

And remember, as much as you advocate for others, never forget to advocate for yourself. Speak up, protect your wellbeing and always strive to work in environments that empower you to do your best.

Social work might not always bring grand accolades. But focus on those small victories, those moments of positive change, and let them fuel your passion.

Your role isn’t to be in the limelight but to enable others to shine and lead their lives the way they envision. In moments of solitude or when you feel like the lone voice in a room, advocating for someone’s rights, remember why you chose this path.

More from Choose Social Work

Choose Social Work logo

Kayleigh’s letter is part of Community Care’s Choose Social Work campaign, which aims to 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’ve launched this campaign, and the five steps you can take to support it.

On our campaign page, you will find more inspiring stories about the difference that good social work makes, as well as our series of Dear Future Social Worker letters, encouraging the next generation to choose social work as a fulfilling, rewarding career.



14 Responses to ‘I did not enjoy being new’: advice for young social workers

  1. Pauline O'Reggio November 22, 2023 at 5:33 pm #

    Dear Future Social Worker, your experiences of being a student social worker are relatable. Social work is demanding, emotionally and physically because of the demands and responsibilities placed on you coupled with the responsibility to ensure the child’s needs and protection are paramount at all stages of your intervention. Social work is a rewarding profession, a role I believe is much-needed and a role that should reflect the diverse society we all share. Social workers are professionals who are well-informed due to the level of training and continual training you are expected to undertake throughout your practice.

    Where I have observed, experienced, and struggled to come to terms with throughout my years of practice, not all social workers receive the level of support and investments you have received, not all social workers can express their lack of support, without being viewed in a negative light, not all social workers receive the benefit of being given time to learn the role they have undertaken before being made subject to competency procedures where others around you struggle in the same way but are treated with more respect and understanding, not all social workers can express their concerns without being targetted, told you can not express a view without there being consequences to fitness to practice.

    Social work is a much-needed profession I have a great deal of respect for those social workers who commit to providing a service to all sections of the community. If certain sections of the workforce are viewed less favorably, not given the same level of support, and who can find their practice being undermined? certain sections of the workforce and vulnerable families will remain invisible.

    As someone who has been a practicing child protection social worker for 43 years, you are continually learning, it is realistic to recognize you will experience challenges on all levels, and there will be times when you are pushed to question your ability, which will make you question your judgment, your capability, and your self-worth to the service. You should remember you have spent years training to achieve your degree/master’s therefore you have the academic ability to further learn and are capable. I truly believe if you want to make changes you must believe you are just as competent and will make a difference to those vulnerable children we dedicate years of training to support and in my view remain invisible.

    • Mithran Samuel November 22, 2023 at 5:49 pm #

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experience, Pauline!

      • Christina November 22, 2023 at 6:28 pm #

        Indeed every day is a school day. I have been qualified 20 years and still have moments of self doubt!

        Very well done indeed Kayleigh for your honesty, reflection and recognition that you are a caring and capable person who stands strong and is dedicated to making a difference.

        Keep going and stand strong. I will take a look at your YouTube input.

        Thanks to Pauline and Mithran for their kind words.

        • Mithran Samuel November 23, 2023 at 9:49 am #

          Thanks so much for your contribution, Christina (to social work and this thread!). Hopefully Kayleigh has seen your comment but we will flag it up to her if not.

        • Kayleigh Rose Evans November 23, 2023 at 9:13 pm #

          Hi thanks so much for this. I really appreciate your encouragement and 20 years in the job is brilliant! ?

      • Hamzah Shehzad November 23, 2023 at 1:40 am #

        This was one of the best and most hopeful articles I read about social work. I’m studying a course at university with ties to social work and recently I’ve been having doubts about if I’m even capable enough to manage such things that this job requires. But your article here and some of the comments (like from Pauline) have taught me that I’m not alone in feeling this way and all this has touched me more than you know, so thank you and I wish you the best in your journey on this path

        • Mithran Samuel November 23, 2023 at 9:50 am #

          We’re so pleased to know that you’ve found Kayleigh’s article helpful, Hamzah! Good luck with the rest of your course – and with your social work career.

        • Kayleigh Rose Evans November 23, 2023 at 9:16 pm #

          Hi I am so pleased you took this away. I wish you all the best with your course and future role. You sound like you will be brilliant ?.

    • Kayleigh Rose Evans November 23, 2023 at 9:09 pm #

      Really helpful advice. It’s certainly true that social workers need the right support and sadly that is not always there.

  2. Yasin Lutamaguzi November 26, 2023 at 5:09 pm #

    THank you Kayleigh for the article, am a newly qualified social worker, though at the start of my career, its is really helpful to read about similar experiences and not to feel like you are not worth the job. And thanks to the experienced social workers feedback too, they throw more light to role itself.

  3. Pauline O'Reggio November 28, 2023 at 6:42 pm #

    Dear Hamzah, If you decide to choose social work as your chosen career you will have periods of questioning your capability, however, what you do not realize is your colleagues are probably experiencing the same challenges, you are no different, you must have the confidence to discuss your feelings without fearing you are the problem. Social work is about putting the child first, reflecting on practice, and respectfully asking questions to better inform decision-making to provide the best plan for the child.

    Social work is worthwhile, you represent, and are the voice of the child and family. To you Hamzah and all those considering social work as a profession I wish you all the best and admire your desire to enter social work, which is a much-needed profession and an opportunity to be inclusive for everyone.

  4. Kryssi November 29, 2023 at 10:38 am #

    This all sounds amazing but what does one do when the social worker is a narcissist? One that is not caring or interest in who they are meant to be supporting. As you have stated they all stick together. So who do you go to for help?

  5. Pauline O'Reggio December 2, 2023 at 6:08 pm #

    I understand what you are saying as this will bring with it repercussions for the person who brings issues to the attention of managers, which may be about another manager’s practice. It is no wonder practitioners will not put their careers at risk because this too has repercussions for their family life.

    I have observed some behavior and practice that is questionable and goes unchallenged by all. I believe if someone is in a position of management should they not have the confidence to take accountability and not automatically blame the social worker? If you can not speak openly about your concerns and are told social workers do not have the authority to do this, and are viewed as disrespectful towards the manager or those viewed to be in a senior position.

    A newly qualified social worker will not have the confidence to express a view even though their views are valid because this will impact their career. Social work remains a culture of blame and not one where your skills, and experiences are recognized or viewed as an asset or one where management takes responsibility because it is easier to blame the social worker.

    The manager can then put your notice in for you. Therefore I can see why someone would think twice, before expressing a view despite this being one of the social work requirements, perhaps some managers are not aware and become defensive. I would ask is it not for the organization to address this if things are to change for the service.

    I believe in the principles of social work, social work does safeguard children when all agencies work together and recognize each other’s skills and knowledge, this goes for social work managers.Social work can safeguard, support vulnerable children, and is rewarding when you have provided a safe and workable plan for a child. Children have been kept safe, and families have benefited from social work intervention I have experience of children and families who have benefited from safe professional practices. Social workers work hard and are willing to learn, therefore is it not about employing the right people?

    My views are based on my own experience.

  6. Pauline O'Reggio December 2, 2023 at 8:42 pm #

    Why not have a formal independent committee where social workers can express their views without fear of repercussions and having a black mark placed against their integrity? Somewhere where they can be honest because the concerns are valid.