With the development of social media it has never been easier for social workers to connect and share practice. I recently saw a post from someone wondering what a social work job consists off and how they would know if it was the right career for them. It made me think how as a profession we convey to newbies what we actually do and what it looks like on a day to day basis – is this even possible? If we were to split the social work discipline down the middle to the core of it what would we see, what holds it together and what makes people commit to the profession and continue practising in often difficult and resource deprived times.
When we are trying to locate what is truly important to us we are usually advised to focus on what we value as important rather than holding material gains as a measure of success and happiness. What is the common denominator for social workers to make us want to continue striving to make change for the most vulnerable.
Often when asked social worker students narrative of opting to pursue social work is quite simply ‘I want to help people’. This certainly was my response and I can remember being asked by lecturers at the time what this phrase actually meant and it was really difficult to quantify.
The thousand dollar question ‘what is it that motivates and drives social workers?
Generally I don’t think that it is financial gain as social work is averagely paid when you take into account hours worked and the impact of the job. There certainly are no fancy packages, company cars or up-to date software. So what is it?
In my experience social workers want to connect with others, they want to get alongside people and help them to achieve their potential. Whether that be as a parent, supporting choices in care provision or exploring independent living. After much thought I think the common theme for lots of us social workers is the relationship that we make with individuals and being privileged to watch growth but also being there to support them to negotiate new terrain when growth is not always possible. When I tried to think about why relationships were so important to social workers it made me think to try and do an annogram in order to illustrate what we hope we demonstrate, provide and want to achieve for individuals within the relationships that we build. Equally these are things that you will learn from those under your care.
When I thought of all the ways that I wanted to ‘help’ this covers all bases. Relationships can be the vehicle for change. In our encounters with the most vulnerable and distressed we all have the ability to offer new safe, supportive and helpful relationships that hopefully can be used as templates or memories for them being able to engage with others in the future.
To the potential new recruit who posted their wonders, I want to thank you for making me think more about what it actually is at our core and what continues to demonstrate our identity as a discipline. Rather than focusing upon what the day to day job consists of which as we all know is hard to lock down as social work is a vast area. But instead to hold in mind what it is that keeps the social work community growing and ticking over. The following are things that I am certain despite what area of social work you go into will all apply:
- You will work with people at their most distressed and during the hardest situations in their lives
- You will make decisions that feel uncomfortable and hard but are in the best interests of individuals and sometimes you will be the source of their distress
- You will find yourself in a bureaucratic minefield that will frustrate, disappoint and anger you
- You will see individuals against all the odds feel empowered to take control of their circumstances and thrive
- You will not be able to change the past for people but you will help them to change their future.
- You will feel inspired and want to continue to improve upon what you know in order to bring about change for others.
By Samantha Lowe, NHS Trust and OSS Ambassador.