Wednesday, 16 October 2013

And so it begins

Mid-week and the pace has definitely picked up.

I was given a few extra cases this week and I stupidly decided to do 3 home visits with the intention of carrying out initial assessments, all in one day as all were fairly urgent. Big mistake, at least for a newbie anyway.

The first visit was about little lionheart who was given up for adoption by a mother with a drug addiction when he was a little baby. I went to visit his adoptive parents who are struggling to cope with his behaviour in school, he lashes out at people aggressively because he has a sight impairment and struggles to see and understand things. He also had a tragic accident when he was a toddler which left him mentally scarred, has severe attachment related issues and can't cope in noisy and crowded environments. I left that house an hour and a half later, after mum poured her heart out about her difficulties and his complex needs; it seemed she really needed someone to talk to other than her husband. I felt a little drained after the meeting but confident about certain pieces of work I could do with the family as well as school to help little lionheart communicate his feelings and understand what's going on around him.

Visit two almost made me cry, luckily I went with one of the student social workers who, despite being inexperienced, knew his stuff and actually put me at ease. Mum had experienced domestic violence and after being held prisoner with her daughter by this man, plucked up the courage to stand up to him and boot him out, leaving them with nothing. The damage had been done however, and it was clear even in this first meeting that mum had no self esteem and felt worthless and ashamed. Mum appeared frail having severe arthritis and is barely able to care for her self, so daughter blueyes is caring for her almost full time alongside school and has become unable to cope, self harming in the process. The point that got to me most was when the student and I commended them both for being so brave going through so much, and coming out at the end of it still fighting, to which she remarked that no-one had ever said that to her before. She broke down.

Final meeting, which resulted in me coming home at around 9pm: a mother with depression who was not adequately caring for her daughter, a daughter who previously claimed she single-handedly looked after her two little siblings, bathing them, feeding them, as well as cleaning the house, and as a result was struggling with her school work. This claim was something that I was advised to be weary about without getting both sides of the story, though I had a gut feeling that she was telling the truth.

Upon the home visit mother openly admitted this to me and following a claim from the daughter that she had been regularly hit by mum, I challenged mum on both parts. This I found surprisingly easy to do. As the evening progressed and I saw the girl alone, and then the parents, I began to get a clear picture of how resilient this young girl had been, because she had to be. What finally set the tone of the evening was mother stating that she believed this resilient young girl had been sexually abused by her violent ex partner when she was a child, who was eventually discovered to be a paedaphile. She had not discussed this with her daughter, nor had her daughter disclosed this information. This happy, bright, resilient girl had become so resilient that she had fooled everyone, including herself, into thinking that she was ok, that she would be the rock for everyone around her and everything would go on as it was.

She did not see how people had failed her, including those closest to her, she could not see what I could now see.

Having gathered all the relevant information from my visits, I prepared mentally for the initial assessment process on my drive home, thinking about the case notes I had to write, and what the best plan of action would be for all 3 cases. I had no idea where to start and knew I needed my manager and colleagues for support.

I couldn't help but feel powerless to change lives for the better. I thought to myself: the damage has been done, what can I do to help someone turn their life around, what can one small person like me realistically do?

As I pulled into the drive I took a breath and suddenly felt overwhelmed, I knew I was emotionally drained from the day's meetings and remembered being told to try to distance yourself from cases as much as you can. But I also remembered wise words someone once said to me, when you stop caring about a case, when you start to truly emotionally detach yourself from your work, that is when you need to leave the profession.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The "Induction Week"

So I've reached the end of the week (Sunday), alive and with a sense of accomplishment.

I was quickly welcomed by an extremely friendly and strangely funny team, quick to tell me about each of their individual quirks and idiosyncrasies and quizzing me about mine, to which I shyly responded with a couple.

The week started off slow, a few introductions and getting my head around the case note system.
Then suddenly it went into warp speed, being given 3.5 cases to start off with, one of which not even my manager could get her head around entirely, to which she said "welcome to the team".

I was secretly happy that I was already trusted enough to be given a caseload even though I was meant to be case-free for 2 weeks, but I wasn't sure if I would be regretting it at a later date.

Being new, both to the team and as a social worker, I noticed a couple of things which although I was aware of previously, felt strange seeing it and experiencing it face to face.

One: the fear and dislike of social workers by families, even though as a team we are about "strengthening families" and do not necessarily deal with child protection cases unless we need to take one to conference.

Two: the need to protect ourselves as social workers, as a result of this fear and dislike by our families, to the point where I felt the need to lock my car with me inside it, as I was fiddling with the satnav outside a youth centre after a meeting.

I shadowed in total about 5-6 home visits and meetings this week and in every single one, there was an exclamation by a family member that they hate social workers, and two incidents where there was potential for the safety of a team member to be compromised.

It made me think: is this worth it?

Having to think about what car you should be driving in case it gets broken into or damaged, where you should be parking when you do home visits, making sure the door closes and locks behind you whenever you enter the office, remembering how to de-escalate a situation, particularly when you're on your own, thoughts that don't really cross your mind daily in other professions.

Saying that, another thing I noticed from my colleagues was the love of what we do, working with children and parents and seeing how the work you do can actually be the difference between a broken family, disappointed in themselves, broken hearted parents and feelings of abandonment for the child living as a child of the state, and a strengthened family unit, with a deeper insight into the successful functioning of the family, with thriving children.

I'm sure there will be many moments where I will be questioning my reasons for completely changing my career path to become a human punch bag, but I also know that although families and children may not want us, they do need us, and most eventually do come round to realising this.

Next Week: My first independent home visit and two initial assessments!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

A foot in the door

Having graduated from my undergraduate degree and working 2 years in the magazine industry analysing and projecting sales figures, I decided I no longer wanted to be the little minion in the corner with no voice, and no ability to make a difference in peoples' lives, as cheesy as that sounds, I thought what is the point in all of this?!

Lucky for me I got the kick up the ass I needed to make the move when I was made redundant, a seed was planted, so when I was offered another role pretty much doing the same thing, I thought..screw it I'm going to do this! so I turned it down, and I haven't looked back since.

So the journey into social work began, first building up enough experience needed to get onto the course, then finding a university that would take me, and finally surviving the gruelling 2 years of essay writing, being organised (which I really wasn't) and learning about the complexity of people.

It's been 4 months since I successfully qualified as a social worker and I have to be honest, the hardest time were these last 4 months.

4 months of long applications, selling myself, smiling like I've got a hanger in my mouth, and 4 months of trying my dammed hardest to get my first job role as a social worker.

It got to a point where I thought I was never going to get hired, each employer telling me I have a strong application and good interview skills but that I just didn't have enough experience....WELL GIVE ME THE BLOODY EXPERIENCE THEN! I thought to myself...quietly.

Finally, after about 20 applications I was offered a role in a strengthening families team, and I start in 2 days time.

Despite the obvious excitement I feel about this opportunity, a big part of me is nervous, feeling like it's my first day at school. Despite all the training I have had, including actually working as a social worker, giving counselling sessions, attending endless child protection meetings and working with different mental health conditions, I still find myself asking:

Will my team like me?
Will my families like me?
What if I realise I've made a huge mistake and I'm not cut out for social work?
What if I'm actually terrible at my job?
What if I can't take being in one of the most hated professions?
What if I get shot, or stabbed or killed?

I try to convince myself that I'm being ridiculously irrational and that I'm fabulous... to no avail.

I guess we will just have to see then won't we.