Skip to main content

Plans for association of care experienced social workers tabled

Expressions of interest sought to set up new support network

Published by Professional Social Work magazine, 18 May, 2021

The creation of an association of care experienced social workers is being explored.

The new network would aim to provide a safe forum for practitioners and students who have been looked after to support each other and share their insights.

Expressions of interest are currently being sought through social media via #CareExpSW ahead of a meeting to set up a steering group to push forward the plan.

Ian Dickson, a retired social worker who was in care himself and is among those spearheading the drive, said: “We see being both care experienced and in social work as bringing unique demands, stresses and responsibilities.

“It can be lonely and isolating, having a foot in two camps that are sometimes at odds. You can sometimes be treated with suspicion by both.”

People with care experience studying to be social workers often experience added anxiety and worries – and sometimes even discrimination, said Ian.

“Some find it difficult to get placements because they are care experienced,” he said. “They say people will stop talking about care experience in front of them.

“And some service users might see you as a ‘traitor’ because there are things social workers have to implement in law that sets them apart from the people they serve and sometimes grew up with.”

The December/January edition of PSW featured an account by Mick Finnegan who says he was nearly put off a career in social work because his ‘difficult’ background was questioned by a social work manager.

This included a period sleeping rough in his teens due to a breakdown of the family home and time in psychiatric care.

Ian said if and when the association forms, part of its aim will be to lobby for better support for social work students who have been in care: “Past the age of 25 there can be significant difficulties for care experienced people going to university. Support ends at 25 but university doesn’t.

“People with care experience tend to go later because they are dealing with other things when younger.”

Ian spent 16 years in care during the 1950s and 1960s. He said: “I was homeless for a while. I came out of care aged 18 with no support whatsoever.”

He went on to have a career in social work including time as a residential manager and an Ofsted inspector for children’s services.

“In my day I was one of very few care experienced people in social work. Someone asked me the other day if I knew of any association or network of care experienced social workers. I didn’t but with so many care experienced folk now in social work it seems like an obvious step.”

Ian added part of the ambition of the association would be to help people who had been in care reach their potential within social work.

Every care experienced person can achieve,” he said. “All they need is the right support at the right time. It is important we encourage care experienced people to try and when they do, we have the recourses and opportunities to support them. That includes in social work.”