What does it mean to be a Social Worker?

Felicity Shenton

In the past week I attended the ‘Challenges and Opportunities in the Changing World of Social Work Conference’ at Northumbria University and listened to Sue McMillan – (Trustee Member of the Skills for Care Board) talking about her journey through 40 years of being a social worker and about the importance of ‘intuition’.

‘If it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t’.

I attended a training session on ‘Influencing others and developing relationships’ delivered by the Public Services Academy (http://northeastpsa.co.uk/) where we focused a great deal on the concept of integrity and the importance of developing and demonstrating integrity. Someone with integrity is a person who does the right thing even when no one is watching.

I heard from Siobhan Maclean, a highly renowned social worker with years of experience as a Practice Educator and as a trainer who says: I have now been a social worker for more than half of my life. If you cut me in half it would say social worker all the way through. Social work is not just what I do, but who I am.”

At an induction session for 1st year social work undergraduates I was asked ‘What advice would you give students about becoming social workers’?

My answer: I have also been a social worker for 35years and, although I have not been in a job with ‘social worker’ in the title for some time and I haven’t been in front line statutory social work practice for many years I still consider myself to be a ‘social worker’. And, importantly I always carry that ‘social worker’ in my head. It is my moral compass, my political conscience and my safeguarding radar. I am very proud to have been a social worker throughout my career and to have used my social work skills and to continually use my values and principles. Be yourself as a social worker, know that you can rely on yourself and listen carefully to yourself. But, importantly, always ask for help and don’t struggle on your own with anything that you don’t understand or you’re not sure of’.

At the conference we heard presentations from social workers who are working with survivors from Grenfell ‘Experiences of Grenfell’ and from a social worker who has been involved in working in Newcastle with children, young people and vulnerable adults who are or have been sexually exploited ‘Operation Sanctuary; Empowering Social Work’ and from a social worker working internationally with refugees https://www.socialworkerswithoutborders.org/.

We come in many different shapes and sizes but once you’re a social worker I suspect you’re always a social worker.

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