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The importance of relationships to create change

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: COVID-19 support, Leadership

Sam Clayton has dedicated her career to helping make a difference to children and young people’s lives, working in children’s social care for nearly 30 years.

Having recently received an OBE for her services to social work, here she reflects on the changes in social work practice and why professional networks and trusted relationships are key to working through the pandemic.

Colleagues having a video conference.
*This image is a representation of colleagues having a video call.

I have worked with children and their families since the late 1980s, having started work as a part-time youth worker and then progressing to working in children homes. First, in the private sector and then for a local authority.

It was whilst working in the children’s homes, with children and young people who were living away from their families, that it became clear to me how many of the young people had little or no connection with any of their family and were quite lonely, isolated and unsupported in a wider community outside the children’s home.

The strength, tenacity and sheer determination some of these young people demonstrated was remarkable given some of their early life experiences. Working with them was some of the best times during my working career to date and is one of the reasons why I decided to become a social worker, working within the Children’s Social Care ‘system’ to see if some of the things I had experienced and witnessed for and alongside these young people could be different.

Receiving an OBE was an unexpected and humbling experience. Social work is a hard job and not a typical ‘9 to 5’ role. Most of the social workers I know and have worked with throughout my career come to work to make a difference and all work hard. It’s really positive to have my small efforts recognised but in the wider scheme of things, if social work was to become more valued in wider society, I would see that as the best possible outcome.

Adapting to new challenges

The pandemic has brought new and diverse challenges to society and social work and has demonstrated the critical role social work plays in supporting individuals, families and communities to make sure the vulnerable are supported in times of crisis, upheaval and distress.

Social work is continually adapting to respond to these challenges, with social workers needing to address the inevitable legacy of the pandemic for some years to come, dealing with the things they are already very familiar with but were perhaps not as prominent in the public eye: poverty, human distress, family breakdown, violence, addiction and loneliness.

The greater exposure of these issues during the pandemic will not be negative if, as a society, we move forward in addressing them through positive change, doing some things differently.

More than anything else, this period has allowed the opportunity for people to reflect and re-evaluate what is important in their lives, and I think as a consequence of the pandemic people will want to make a change and focus more on what they value. I hope this will include their relationships with others.

Taking care of one and another

Having co-chaired the Principal Children and Families Social Worker (PCFSW) Network from 2016 - 2018, I feel it is now more important than ever to provide a forum to connect with colleagues, talk about both work and home life, share experiences and help each other with professional and personal reflection and dilemmas.

During these challenging times, it is important to have the support and backing of your team, manager and other professional support groups to give a voice to social work experience and shine a light on the experiences of the people social workers are working with.

Trusted relationships can really help gain and share knowledge, develop practice and also come together to discuss the issues everyone is seeing on the ground in order to develop responses and new practice.

I think connections and providing support to one and another is particularly important for newly qualified social workers and students who are learning in this unique environment. It is vital whilst most social workers are home working that they maintain their professional networks as a source of support and a sounding board to ideas, situations, practice issues and decision-making processes, using these forums to tap into the practice wisdom it can provide.

As a social worker, it’s so important to ensure that you look after yourself, making sure you are able to function well in your role as well as sustain yourself into the future. This is now even more essential as we work in such an isolated environment.

I encourage everyone to find time for self-care, no matter than how small that might be. This could include:

  • Finding time to have fun
  • Spending time doing things that are important to you personally
  • Investing in relationships with people who are positive in your life as this will help sustain you in the months ahead

For more advice on working through the pandemic, visit Rashida’s blog.


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