Please note, this blog mentions distressing and emotive forms of harm which some readers might find uncomfortable. The names in this blog have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
With 6 years’ experience working in children’s social care, a senior social worker in London discusses the complexities of supporting families on the frontline and why the day to day variety of social work makes it such an interesting and fulfilling career.
Before becoming a qualified social worker, I had experience of working with young people as a mentor. I decided to step into the career because, encouraged by a family of public sector workers, I felt it was important for me to do something meaningful where was I able to have a direct impact.
Over 6 years, I’ve worked in three London local authorities. Though the experiences have varied, my thoughts on being a social worker haven’t. It can be difficult, intense and sometimes heart-breaking but every day is also incredibly rewarding - being part of this profession is a privilege.
Virtual working has brought new challenges which can feel out of our comfort zones. After all, social work is about relationships, connection and support. Before the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic left us largely working from home outside of visiting children and families, this is what my day as a child protection social worker might have looked like.
The day starts
9.15 - The day starts with a core group meeting at a school to review the progress of a child protection plan in place to promote the welfare of a sibling group. I’ve come together with the family, primary and secondary school child protection officers, the school nurse, the adult mental health social worker and a student social worker.
The children are at risk of emotional harm and there is concern about the impact of them witnessing their mother’s overdoses and self-harm, as well as her partner’s alcohol misuse. The children and their mother share their thoughts and concerns. We then hear the views of the management and schools before discussing the resources available to the family.
Working with multi-agency groups can bring challenges in terms of competing priorities but it is an enormously effective dynamic. Together we are able to support the family with different elements of their lives while having the shared goal of wanting to make things better for the children.
The core group can see that risks are being managed, though there are clearly support needs for the family. We discuss stepping down to a child in need plan.
11:30 - Between meetings, on the bus, I tackle my inbox. I’ve been allocated a new private law case from my manager, there’s lots to keep me busy.
12:00 - Now I head to a joint Section 47 investigation with a police officer to speak with Laura, in her early teens, who has reported suffering sexual abuse by her uncle over a number of years.
She feels confused and guilty, as she doesn’t want to get her uncle into trouble. In speaking with Laura, I discuss her feelings about speaking out and validate her strength in coming forward. She is relieved that the adults present seem to believe her and would like to be supported by a therapeutic service, which I will refer her to. Her mother expresses a lot of guilt and shock.
From the visit, we have clearly established the risk of significant harm, however the immediate risk has been removed through police arresting the uncle. The family will be supported through an assessment of need and the police will continue with further investigations to substantiate the claims.
14:00 - On my way to the office, I receive a voicemail from a young person’s teacher. Cleo has left the school premises today after mentioning an argument with her foster carer. She’s at risk of permanent exclusion.
Cleo has left me a series of angry text messages to say she’s not going back to her foster carers’ house. I call her to see what’s happened and where she is.
I convince her to meet me at her foster carer’s house in 30 minutes.
14:10 - Hungry, back in the office, I’m offered a delicious-looking slice of cake. A mum has made it for a member of my team to say goodbye. There’s a card as well, which says they’re doing amazingly at their refuge.
14:30 - I meet Cleo with her foster carer.
I use a trauma-informed approach to explore what has happened in the context of her past trauma and relationship with her foster carer. A remark which the carer has made has led to her feeling rejected.
We talk this through when Cleo feels calmer. I model that things can be repaired in a calm way rather than using the threat of violence to get the upper hand, as she has experienced in the past. It is important that these discussions take place when she feels calm and the adult takes the lead in repairing the relationship.
15:00 - Back in the office, I make a start on an updated statement to support a court case. I then have a check-in with my manager, who says a huge thank you for all my work today.
18:30 - I carry on completing reports, write-ups from visits and referrals until my partner messages to make sure I’ll be home soon. I pack up and head for the train.
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