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Social work, me and an MBE

A much-loved friend of mind suggested I called this blog: ‘From South London to Queen Bev’, ‘Queen Bev’ being a title bestowed since news reached him that I was to be awarded an MBE in June 2018. The citation is for the management of frontlines services and services to vulnerable children in Coventry and for over a 22-year career as a social worker.

How have I received this news? Initially when I saw the On Her Majesty’s Service envelope, I thought ‘oh no, I can’t afford to take time off for Jury service right now, I got too much work to do!’  A typical Social work manager response I fear.

On a personal level I am thrilled for me, all my wonderful colleagues and fellow collaborators, at times co-conspirators in navigating the line been state actor and committed human rights liberator. Thrilled for those who managed me, one special person, although at times she may question if she ever did.

I am a first generation Windrush Child, my parents hail from Jamaica. I grew up in a working-class neighbourhood in the London Borough of Lewisham (shout out to Ian Thomas) and the only white kids I knew were Irish. I learned that like us, they were the unwanted ‘others’ in the Mother Country- ‘No dogs, No Blacks, No Irish’.

That kind of understanding radicalises one and it was for me a key reason I fell out from legal training and went into Social work, bitterly disappointing my Mother, who still refrains ‘but you could have been a lawyer’. Thankfully her Grandson has out trumped us all with his Double Doctorate achievement.

There is so much I want to say but so few words for this blog, so I must give thanks to family and friends and my departed love. I ended my journey in Coventry late 2017 and started another with Walsall and the wider BC sub region trying to build a Family Drug and Alcohol Court with the support of NU FDAC.

I give thanks to the universe for being blessed with the sense to be able to make sense of things. That’s kind of the art of social work for me. I want this award to be a recognition for the art of the possible that social work is. It is not just a set of technical skills, devoid of politics and action that some may wish it would be.

We are not actors in a play without theory. I came to know that we co-create theory every day in practice within each other and with service users. This is deepened by our relationship with the academy even now helping us to connect how Poverty is a social determinant as much as ACES, or the traumatic harms of repeatedly taking children from mothers.

After the struggles of CCETSW and Paper 30, I worry about poor kids, BAME and their struggles to keep a foot hold in the profession and their subsequently reduced chances to progress into the higher management and influencer roles as the Public-Sector shrinks through Austerity yet young white guys keep on rising.

I end with words that I would say to my younger self. The things you thought knew, you didn’t. The things you need to know you got from the people who taught you about their lives. You learned that nothing is built without the support and collaboration of others. The rest that’s left is to practice the art of not knowing. Indeed, on reflecting on this award, I know and feel that nothing is built without love.

Our teams loved each other and more importantly, we transferred that love for one another into a huge empathetic mass that embraced, supported, challenged and cared for the families we had the privilege to know and work with. This work was sometimes in the most distressing places but we found human resilience, recovery and a responsiveness to just being cared that evoked change.

As I use to say to staff ’from I to you and from you to me and back again’.