For World Social Work Day, Kirsty Rowe explains why there’s no other job she’d rather do.
Not many people go to work, to do a job like mine, every day. It’s unpredictable and no day mirrors the day before. I didn’t always want to be a social worker, I don’t think many people do. I doubt it makes the list when children are asked what they want to do when they grow up.
I actually wanted to be a French teacher, but then decided I wanted to do something where every day would be different. So I reflected and that was where it started. I remembered the impact social care had on my life – my dad, some of his siblings and their mum were all registered blind. Seeing the effect this had on them, mentally and in relation to their independence, made me want to do something to support people in similar situations.
I was one of the few people who went to university aged 18 to study social work. Most of the others on the course were mature students. It was quite daunting at the time, but I am so glad I overcame that so I could go on to have a job I am passionate about.
I often hear of people saying children’s social workers should not do the job if they don’t have children of their own. I am not an older person, I do not have any disabilities of my own and my memory is intact (ish), but I still have the empathy, warmth and understanding that is required to fulfil this role.
I am now a social worker on a locality team for adults over the age of 18. Each case brings its own unique challenges. I work with young adults with physical disabilities, help people in their work and family life and identify young carers, putting support in place to minimise their caring role and the impact this has on their lives.
I am working more and more with adults with young onset dementia. I hear how this diagnosis has impacted on their life, how they and their families feel increasingly isolated because their friends don’t understand and stop visiting them, or they find it difficult to socialise in the way they used to so they stop going out.
I support people with long term progressive illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease, assisting them to make decisions about their future care and their legal rights. I ensure that they are aware of Advance Decisions and Lasting Power of Attorney’s so they can make decisions now about their future treatment, ensuring that when they are no longer able to express their wants and wishes, they are still respected and upheld.
I have the opportunity to support people following life-changing illnesses such as a stroke. I provide them with the support they need to enable their return home and to remain safe, well and continue to have the opportunity to access the community.
I love that I have a job working with people from all walks of life. No two people are the same – they each bring different life experiences to the situation which impacts on the support they want/need. Social work is about building relationships and empowering people – I am lucky to have a job working with people and not doing things to them.
Social workers challenge injustice and work with people who feel on the margins of society due to mental illness, physical disability, homelessness and drug/alcohol misuse. Sometimes my offers of support are accepted. On other occasions I am seen as interfering or nosey – each situation needs judging to ensure I don’t overload people with information.
There are so many types of support available and so many ways in which it can be accessed. This can be overwhelming, but with assistance to understand the details, people are able to make their own decisions and control their own care.
A huge part of my job is assessing and managing risk. This can at times feel all consuming and it takes a lot of experience in the role and ongoing reflection to ensure I am not becoming risk averse. When risk is not managed successfully the result can be life changing, even fatal and this is very challenging.
It is so important that the people we work with have a voice. Sometimes they want to take risks in life, but their families are so concerned about their safety and want to protect them from harm. As a social worker I have to ensure that any person I work with has capacity. When they do, the law states that they can make an unwise decision. This can be hard to support, but ensuring that person still has their voice is paramount to fulfilling my role and crucial in building trusting relationships. After all, what is a life without risk? How many of us smoke despite the risk of lung cancer or cross the road with a red man at the risk of being knocked down? Just because we are getting older or have an illness/disability, does not mean that we do not still want to take risks and certainly should not mean that we are not allowed to take any risks. I love having the opportunity to work with people to live their life in the way they choose.
It is so easy in this job to focus on the negatives – a mistake can have serious consequences which will be broadcast by the media. Because of this, we remember the cases where things don’t go to plan, even when we have put everything in place to keep that person safe. Because these cases are so few and far between and because I am so eager to learn from them, they stick in my mind, but I can reflect and learn from them and improve my practice.
Despite this, most days are positive. I support people leaving hospital to stay in their home when they are struggling to manage looking after themselves and maintain relationships at the point of breakdown because family are providing care for a loved one.
Being a social worker isn’t something you just do at work, it’s not a uniform you put on each morning and take off at night. Being a social worker is ingrained in you, it is a value base embedded within. I walk into people’s lives and make a difference. It is my job to ensure that is a positive impact, even when at first I may not be welcome.
Many times when I tell people I am a social worker they say: “I couldn’t do your job.” They’re probably right – and I’m proud that I can.