Guest Post: Creating a strong support network for social workers

Zoe Betts

Zoe Betts

In 2012 I created a support event called Confidence and Competence specifically for social work students and newly qualified social workers (NQSWs). It has run for 2 consecutive years and is now an annual support conference held in London, set to go ahead again in April 2014. I’ve devoted many hours over this year so far to it and have already confirmed names and speakers. It’s very much a work in progress though and being that it’s not until April, this unofficially gave me some time to expand the concept by taking a bit of a gamble and diversifying the idea.

In 2009 I didn’t know one social worker. I started my masters and I didn’t have a social care background, which didn’t put me in good stead to build links. It’s part of the reason I created these events in the first place, because I learnt that I had a responsibility to strengthen my new professional career. Today, many of my good friends are social workers – and to credit them – the valuable and informal support I derive from them has meant my confidence and practice has strengthened as a result. By meeting people who really understand what this role entails, it’s easier to debrief – and above all – they just ‘get it’ in ways that my dear family and friends can’t, because most people still do not know what a social worker actually does.

I know social workers who have a wealth more experience than me. We meet regularly and unquestionably, they better my practice. We debrief, talk about practice, policy and about intricacies of cases and caseloads. I’m in awe of their legislative knowledge and personal management, which their years of experience have brought them and can now be shared with me. I am able to talk about things I find difficult, ways I can improve and we can identify, informally and together ways of developing and bettering all areas of practice; including time management, being assertive and  communication. It’s incredibly valuable and it’s also very enjoyable.

The idea to diversify the Confidence and Competence events evolved from one of these meet ups. Acknowledging the benefit a mutual debrief provides, not just for students and those in the early induction years of practice I thought this would be valuable for all qualified professionals. Each year my inbox was busy with emails from people 10 years+ qualified asking to come to the Confidence and Competence event. I’d had to explain that the benefit wouldn’t be there because the event is so tailored for students and NQSWs but I was beginning to realise support is needed, regardless of experience.

I put the wheels in motion to build the foundations of iamsocialwork: London: October 1st, 2013. Date agreed, venue secured – now why not aim big?! Let’s go inter-borough, every borough, but let’s go beyond that – lets go out to the counties. Let’s reach Kent and Herts….and Essex and the SW and SE and the voluntary sector and social workers who work outside of a statutory setting. Let’s be as inclusive as possible. I hope the event will grow beyond London because our support links are often weak and need improving regardless of location.

We know professional support is there. There can often be overwhelming amounts of support – that we do not know where to go to, but I feel there’s a special requirement and a void for us to link with each other. And having felt the benefit of this I will happily devote an evening to it. Every time I connect with social workers from other teams or depts. I leave feeling more confident about my practice, reassured and slightly less alone out there. That is a fact and my motivation for running this event. I know the value and now I want to spread that and inject a level of energy, inspiration and just something different to the day job.

I am under no illusion that it does not need to be big or successful to the outside community. The reality is that if myself and two others turn up – we will benefit from that time together and leave motivated, inspired and having had a great time (albeit awkwardly in a very large and beautiful room). The aim is not success of the event in whole, its success of the event based on the benefit gained per person – and my feedback form will tell me this.

So aside from owning iamsocialwork, I work full time in adult social care, which yes, is a complex role. In fact it’s extraordinary and it can exhaust me. The workload is heavy, the pressure is high and two years qualified I learn every day. But I laugh every day. I have a great team. I take hours to write an assessment and I sometimes wake up at 4am thinking of a resolution to a situation. I wake up at 4.38am going through my case load alphabetically (yes, really). But it’s a journey and a constant learning curve. I’m being so open because I want to highlight that I run these events because I’m very much on this journey with you. I’m not standing back having perfected this role watching you struggle; I feel every step of this struggle with you. I know most of you reading this are sighing in agreement with me, if we weren’t bound by confidentiality the remit of our workload would astound most people. But what we can do is to share experiences together to ease the strain and – more importantly celebrate the success we do achieve and remember why we do it.

I often meet my friends, who have great jobs in industries such as travel and fashion, they manage accounts and teams – their perks are holidays to far off exotic places and enormous discounts on very beautiful clothes (a ‘perk’ is not something we naturally associate with our role…) upon an often dishevelled, apologetic and late (*cough) arrival I submit a synopsis of reasoning to them with an overview account of my day in generic terms. They’re enthralled and shocked and intrigued. As a result I have become their baseline of reasoning when it comes to their bad days. Their jobs are far from pressure free, but as they learn a little of the tasks and complexities of the unknown world of social work – their rationale is shifting and they remind themselves that it’s “just jeans and t-shirts” or “just a missed connecting flight”. No one has died, or tried to. No one’s health is suffering beyond medical repair and no one is experiencing poverty in 2013, no one is at significant risk or in immediate danger. Switching off from the emotional tolls of social work is not so easy. I’m no saviour and lots of you know because you do it too. But we need to reflect on the practice and remember why we do it and importantly – protect ourselves along the way, which ever field you happen to be in. We need to step away and remember what we face on a daily basis can be  extraordinary, difficult and not the normal 9-5pm because it is human behaviour and that is never straight forward.

Please go into work tomorrow remembering that we are great as individual practitioners, but we’re a lot stronger connected together. I could write for hours and cover every aspect of my thought process on social work and the ways we work  but it’d be much more fun for you to come and hang out on October 1st. I’ll give you 30,000% of my time and we’ll talk till you drag yourself away. I know that together, in serious numbers, we are stronger.

Book now for the iamsocialwork inter-borough networking evening

London 1st October 18.00 – 21.30 

https://iamsocialwork.eventbrite.co.uk/

Contact me iamsocialwork@hotmail.co.uk

Connect with me on Twitter @iamsocialwork

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One response to “Guest Post: Creating a strong support network for social workers

  1. Hi, I commend you for this wonderful endeavor. I am one of your colleagues across the ocean. I am in private practice in Houston, Texas, U.S.A. I would have liked to join you for the event but the notice is too short. I will plan towards next year.

    Kudos to you and I will keep you under my radar.
    Sherifat Akorede,
    LMSW

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