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Jonathan Pearce on the life of a palliative care social worker in Wales

BASW Cymru met with social worker and 20 year BASW member Jonathan Pearce this week to find out what it’s like to be a palliative care social worker in Wales. Jonathan discussed a number of issues including the unique challenges and joys of working in palliative care, the importance of relationships, dealing with austerity and benefits.

Speaking to BASW Cymru, Jonathan said: “Palliative care social work has given me the opportunity to practice social work in the way that I think it should be delivered from a traditional, holistic, relationship and strength-based perspective. It’s given me huge scope to get to the crux of supporting people to find out exactly what means the most and then responding accordingly. For anyone interested in a career in palliative care social work, I would definitely recommend it”.

“When I started, I was like some kind of over-excited puppy running around the valleys with all the right answers for everyone. But you don’t listen like that, you’re too excited to do good for people. You need to slow down and be quiet and listen to what people say so that you can go at their pace. It’s not important to show them that you are an important professional and that they need to be grateful to be in your presence. You should turn it around so they can get what they want, when they need it. Gaining that trust and rapport is everything in this role.”

Jonathan Pearce

Palliative care social workers deal with a lot of complicated issues around death, as Jonathan explains. He said: “On a recent visit, a lady who had a long mental health history and had recently been told she had cancer (although then informed it was pre-cancerous) told me ‘just to let you know, as soon as I re-home my dog I’m going to kill myself’. So, on our first visit we explored that and then on the second visit we met with her son. We were able to discuss the different effects dying from cancer would have on her son compared to the pain of her suicide. A lightbulb went on, it resonated with her. When she was discharged and asked about her care she said that we put everything in a way she could understand and the process was very sincere and reflective.”

Jonathan discussed how often the most needed support by his client base is financial, he said: “There is often a big difference on what is being delivered as a service in different areas. When I started my work, I found out a lot of my time was dealing with benefits, quite often people don’t touch benefits in more affluent areas, but some weeks 40 or 50 percent of my time is spent on assisting with forms and subsequent conversations.”

“When myself and my colleagues go out to provide a psycho-social assessment we look at a number of areas to assist. Financial tends to be a huge part in Blaenau-Gwent. In the year 2018/19 we helped to generate an income of around about £650,000 in benefits and other savings. This financial year we have surpassed that figure already. So, we tend to do a lot of navigating systems that our clients tend to have no idea about what-so-ever”.

The two decades BASW member spoke on the different challenges that he and his colleagues face working in Blaenau-Gwent under the ongoing influence of government austerity policies. Jonathan Pearce told BASW Cymru: “I live in a county within a country within the UK that both experience higher levels of poverty and austerity than average. I don’t see how helping people financially couldn't be people’s top priority? Austerity has meant that three or four years ago burial fees went up 90 percent, we use food banks to a level now that I’ve never known previously. The only advantage people in the area have in receiving benefits is that we have a fantastic team helping to navigate people receiving them and a good relationship with the local job centre".

Find Jonathan @Jonathan1Pearce and about his work @HOTVFundraising

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