Small but Dutiful
Firstly, can I say what a privilege and honour it is for me to be asked to take on the role of ambassador for SASW – though slightly overwhelming and a little daunting at 4’9” to scale such dizzy heights! There you have it: my first paltry attempt at humour because I like to approach serious affairs with a light touch wherever I can. Indeed, humour has been one of my saving graces (mostly other people making me laugh rather than the other way around!) and I think it is a most under-rated factor in resilience for people like myself who have survived traumatic childhoods.
There are many things that have got me through the fallout of that abuse (which I attribute as the direct cause of my 28-year stint of psychiatric (including social work) care as an adult. Chief among these, those of you who know me will not be surprised to hear, was the dedicated care and kindness – which I dare to call love – from social workers and others looking after me in my darkest, most vulnerable times. Along with laughter (often inappropriate!), I am no stranger to despair and therefore count myself blessed to have evaded the clutches of death in my many suicide attempts – for which I have spent considerable periods requiring compulsory treatment and detention.
I am very grateful to the social workers and psychiatrists who cared enough to intervene with the weight of the law to protect me, but I no longer wish to pathologise my suicide attempts (or the voices I hear and the crippling paranoia and anxiety I still experience) as symptomatic of an illness. Like all mental distress, I believe, it has its origins in unresolved trauma and attachment deficit, along with the daily pressures of trying to survive in a pretty crazy fu**ed up world that can overwhelm the best of us. In order words, I see ‘madness’ as a sane and understandable response to unbearable circumstances; and that is the philosophy with which I will approach my responsibilities as an ambassador for your profession.
But my primary concern and motivation for taking on this role is to endorse the valuable work you do, and in so doing to advocate the transformative power of caring relationships in helping people to heal and grow so that practitioners and politicians will protect the essence of social work – meaningful relationships - and not let it be thwarted by bureaucracy, under-resourcing, attitudinal barriers and unhelpful organisational demands.
I believe that committing wholeheartedly to your clients is something to be proud of and to nurture and enable in your workforce. But it can be a heavy responsibility to shoulder for frontline workers who are already stretched beyond capacity, and so often scapegoated when anything goes wrong. For that you need the support of a strong effective professional body to voice your needs and concerns, and to champion your work. Through my involvement with SASW I aim to get to know you better, to listen and learn, and to help where I can in facilitating and endorsing exemplary social work practice, protecting the rights of your clients to the very best of care, and promoting your right to fulfilling enjoyable work in which you can make a genuine and lasting difference, as the social workers who have cared for me have done. So, whilst my contribution might be small, I hope to pack a powerful punch in your corner!