"I enjoy empowering vulnerable people and supporting them to get their life back on track"
Edward McKim reflects on receiving a special recognition at the SASW Awards and on what inspired him to become a social worker.
At the age of 26, I had a steady job with ample opportunity for career progression - but I had a burning desire to do more with my life. I knew I had more to give and that I didn’t want my life to pass me by before I could give it. I had friends and family members who were teachers, nurses, carers, who all felt something about their jobs that I lacked: passion! I started to reminisce about my undergraduate degree and how throughout my four years of study, I volunteered with Victim Support Scotland. During my time with the organisation, I managed a caseload of victims affected by all types of crime. This included assessing the emotional and mental state of those victims, offering practical and emotional support and signposting them to other services within the community which could offer further support that we could not. I enjoyed empowering vulnerable people and supporting them to get their life back on track so much that I would offer my free time, twice a week, for 4 years. This led me to social work.
I started studying a master’s in social work at The University of the West of Scotland. I was very fortunate with both of my placement opportunities, getting to experience both the statutory and voluntary sector – a valuable experience for any Social Work student before practice. My statutory placement was based in a community mental health team. I got first hand experience of the benefits and drawbacks of integrated working between health and social care. I was based in a very integrated team of CPN’s, OT’s, Doctors, Social Workers and Care Workers and it was very comforting to see the holistic approach to care and how everyone played a valuable role in the process. I got to witness the balance of power between professionals and how a health led approach can overshadow a social led approach and vice-versa. I gained invaluable experience in undertaking comprehensive risk assessments, hospital discharges, care home admissions and managing service users’ care packages. Like any student going into their first assessed practice, a great mentor is essential. I was fortunate enough to be able to learn from one of the best. What was great about this team was that everyone took the time to let me shadow different approaches and methods of providing care. I didn’t realise at the time just how vital this was, as we are fast becoming a more integrated workforce. Being able to understand different professional points of view will only increase the best possible outcome for those who use our combined services.
I need to be honest, like a lot of final year students, everyone wants a statutory placement for their final year. There is this sort of unconscious want to be placed within the statutory sector, as if that is the only real effective way to learn ‘social work’. I could not have been proved more wrong with my final year placement. The practice learning opportunity I was placed in was a Family Support and Youth Services organisation within the voluntary sector. The agency worked in partnership with local Social Work, Education, Health and Police services in the North of Glasgow. The duty of this agency was to work within statutory guidelines in providing specialised family support services for vulnerable and marginalised families. A range of areas like domestic violence, drug and alcohol issues, homelessness, bereavement, suicidal tendencies, potential eviction, poor and low school attendance and behavioural issues were covered within this agency. The agency operated on two components: Family Support and Youth Services. Youth workers would engage with young people in the community through street work, drop-in activities, drama groups, sports/arts and crafts. Additionally, the service provided holiday programmes to provide activities and respite as well as build positive attachments and relationships between parents and children/young people. The service offered the opportunity to work with young people on a one-to-one basis, providing employment and training support as well as education surrounding drug and alcohol awareness. This practice placement changed me in ways I never imagined possible. I witnessed first-hand the extent of deprivation and poverty and what this does to individuals and a community. I engaged with people whose lives had been ruined by alcohol and drugs but still managed to maintain a glimpse of hope in what often appeared to be hopeless situations. I learned more about front line ‘Social Work’ and how to engage with people who did not want to engage with you – no matter how hard you tried. Carrying out this work often made me tired (more to do with the long commute and that I had a part time job), but I never once felt depleted, I was energised by the work I was carrying out, in a way I had never been before.
The experience of this placement was made even more worthwhile when I was contacted by the Scottish Association of Social Work. I was informed that I had been nominated for Student Social Worker of the Year, by a family that I had worked with. I was speechless. I was told the nomination was from a family that wanted to remain anonymous, which left me puzzled. I later realised why they wished to remain anonymous when I read the letter that they had sent in. A common theme in all the families I worked with during my last placement was that they did not want to draw too much attention to themselves. I can only imagine how nominating me must have pushed them out of their comfort zone and this made my nomination only more humbling. I was invited to attend the award ceremony in Edinburgh on World Social Work Day (19th March).
The SASW Awards was nothing short of magical. A glistening gathering of over 100 people, who were there to celebrate the work of Scottish Social Workers. From the entertainment of the evening to the hospitality of it all, it was something everyone in the profession should experience. As Social Work is viewed with tainted ambiguity, celebrating its triumphs makes it all the more essential. I got the opportunity to mingle with like minded people in the profession and share stories of practice. Little did I know that I was to be awarded the second award of the night – The Special Recognition Award by Users of Service. Like a deer caught in the headlights, I made my way to the stage to collect my award after my name was called. I shook Maree Todd’s hand (the Minister for Children and Young People) and I can remember telling her that I followed her on Twitter, to which she laughed and promised she would follow me back – true to her word, she did! With my award in one hand and the microphone in the other, I couldn’t think of anything witty or intellectual to say in the moment. All I could do was speak from the heart and so I did…
“This award is a testament to never truly knowing the impact you can have on another human being, and for that, I am very humbled.”
Words I can only do my best to live up to, in my career as a Social Worker.