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50 things we've learnt in social work

Practice (and snacks) wisdom from the authors of the book Social Work, Cats and Rocket Science

By the authors of the book Social Work, Cats and Rocket Science.

  1. Social Workers love cats.

  2. Social work is not rocket science. As the first sentence of the Care Act statutory guidance says: “The core purpose of adult care and support is to help people to achieve the outcomes that matter to them in their life. 
  3. Social workers are public servants, not masters of the people they are asked to support.
  4. Safeguarding adults is about ensuring all people have their universal rights protected, it is not about wrapping them in forensic cotton wool. 
  5. Article 8 is the nub of the matter. Cases turn on the right to a private and family life being upheld in court. Good social work acknowledges the benefits of family and friends.
  6. Admin are your best friend, be nice and respectful of their professionalism and always bring them back some interesting local sweets from holiday.
  7. Social media is fast and can mobilise large numbers of people quickly. But nothing beats good old fashioned spending time with people, chatting over a cuppa taking a really personal interest, if you really want to change hearts and minds.
  8. Regularly forgetting to pay into the tea fund can seriously damage your professional reputation. 
  9. You can tell the quality of a care home by who answers the door. If people who live there feel it’s their home they’ll control who comes in and out.
  10. Anyone can talk up risk but it takes skill and professional confidence to hold risk and not commission someone else to deal with it.
  11. Social work takes courage. You will not always be popular. Your unique role in multi agency meetings is to ensure that the person you are supporting has the most dominant voice in the meeting.  
  12. Social workers are at their best when they truly believe in people. We are the only profession that is taught to do that. 
  13. The professional capabilities framework is not just a pretty fan, it is a tool to help you reflect on your practice. 
  14. Social workers are usually not competitive, until it comes to a cake off bake off.
  15. It is more important to try to be on first name terms with the person you are there to support than with the consultant.
  16. Social work is political, but using social work to promote party political ideological position is invariably unhelpful in upholding autonomy, choice and control of people social work is in service to. 
  17. Winter pressures in hospitals start on the 1st August (and run through to the 31st July).
  18. Your closest ally in the Multi-Disciplinary Team is often the Occupational Therapist, make sure you never forget to buy them a card for their birthday and don’t mention that they used to wear bottle green trousers.
  19. Social Workers need decent IT. 20-year old laptops with poor wifi, no video and batteries that run out after 30 minutes make great doorstops.
  20. Conversations beat 50 page structured assessments every time. 
  21. If you are talking about pathways, flows and blockages, you might be more suited to a career in plumbing, not social work.
  22. Social workers believe people are essentially good and where they are not we work to alter factors around them to facilitate change.
  23. Students and Newly Qualified Social Workers provide the spark and the challenge to guard against the professional becoming rusty, ensuring social work remains relevant. They are our safeguard and must be cherished.
  24. Contact restrictions between family members must be authorised by the Court. Knowing our legal parameters is vital. 
  25. Unconditional positive regard is the defining essence of good social work practice.
  26. It’s important to fit in. But sharing facilities, workspaces and even having the same employer as the Consultant psychiatrist and the multi disciplinary team is not evidence of acceptance of their opinion. 
  27. Good social workers do not conflate risk with safeguarding, they can be very different. All life involves risk.
  28. Some of your colleagues may become lifelong friends and will mean the world to you and your family. Try and enjoy the social side.
  29. None of us ever really feel ‘practice ready’. From social work student, to Director of Social Services, your study, your interest in research in practice and personal learning never stops.
  30. You can tell a good social work book by the extent it is damaged from being read again and again. It also has scribbles all over it. 
  31. Community social work practice starts with recognising people’s citizenship. Promote the Vote in care settings wherever you can. 
  32. The ‘P’ in AMHP stands for Professional not Practitioner, never ever get this confused and call them the wrong thing! They have long memories.
  33. Being a reflective practitioner means you are able to talk openly and honestly about your mistakes and what you have learnt including how it made you feel. Good employers understand that. 
  34. We don’t need to fix everything, people often find their own solutions which are far better.  Sometimes just being with people and supporting them to see and find hope may be enough
  35. There is so much more to social work than the service you work in and the client group you support, sometimes it’s good for social workers to move around.  
  36. Social workers are often embarrassed by their employers’ rules and regulations and as frustrated by bureaucracy as anyone. 
  37. Social workers know that supporting people who want a job want paid employment, contrary to popular belief lots of voluntary work doesn’t make people “work ready”. 
  38. Referring to people as ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ or ‘sister’ etc without prefixing their names (i.e. John’s mum, John’s sister) reflects the worst aspects of when we get social work wrong.
  39. Social work needs to support people to have the opportunity to find love and relationships as much as it does a day care package.
  40. From 16 to 160 people are adults and they have an equal right to have their sexual citizenship and female reproductive rights upheld.
  41. Good social workers recognise that people they work with should never be asked to evidence a special sixth sense called insight.
  42. A Direct Payment should be the first option, not what you think of because someone is seen as ‘difficult’ or you can’t find a home care provider.  
  43. Social workers eat a lot of crisps and like to talk about their favourite brands on social media.
  44. Strengths based practice isn’t code for getting other people to provide free care no matter what the finance office says.
  45. Practice Educators are unsung heroes. They are great practitioners who become fabulous teachers and mentors for the next generation.
  46. Whatever intervention we put in place must be better for a person than what went before. Managing risk through commissioning of care services on a support plan rarely makes people safer. What’s the point of making people safer if it merely makes them “safe”?
  47. Speaking to people is much nicer than emailing them. Pick up the phone, or better still ask if you can go see them in person. 
  48. Social work is not defined by social work employers, it happens in so many places often outside of local authorities. Let’s make sure we support and celebrate all social work in all settings.
  49. Good social workers know that we are not the professional expert. People their families are the experts of their own lives that we really know so little about. Our unique professional role may be keeping the hope alive.
  50. Social work is human rights.

This article is published by Professional Social work magazine which provides a platform for a range of perspectives across the social work sector. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the British Association of Social Workers.