The difficulty in reflecting upon why I became a Social Worker is that although I can remember the world before I qualified, I can’t really remember not being a Social worker. I’m not sure I ever wasn’t one. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in people, wasn’t upset when I saw people badly treated or angry when I perceived injustice. I don’t believe there was a time when I didn’t think it was my responsibility to do what I could to help.
I’m definitely a ‘people person’. Hopefully, all Social Workers are. Social Workers like people and want to spend time with them. We like to see people achieve but recognise when the odds are so highly stacked against them that someone needs to step in.
The point of Social Workers is that we don’t mind being that ‘someone’. We don’t think we should look away when the conversation is difficult or the situation too complex. The society that we want to live in values all of its citizens and accepts its responsibility to children, to young people and to adults who are vulnerable or who need support to get on with their lives. We enjoy and learn from diversity and also recognise the danger of being or feeling excluded. We seek to include.
Simon Duffy and Kelly Hicks, in their Stand Up Social Work campaign for the Centre of Welfare Reform identify the roots of Social Work as sticking up for and genuinely advocating for people, as developing positive and meaningful relationships, supporting active citizenship, being a part of the community and using our specialist Social Work skills. This is a fair summary of what I understand good Social Work to be and of what I always imagined I would be doing. The need for this has not diminished. With a planned 33% cut in the social care budget, good social work practice has never been more urgent.
I qualified and officially gained the title of Social worker in 1992. I loved the social care work that I did before qualifying. My values, the fundamental terms of reference for Social work practice were well established back then albeit broadly. It’s not altruism. I want to work towards a society where we are all safe, where we have what we need and where we are free to make decisions about how we live our lives.
Social Work training gave me words to express my beliefs and called them Values. It gave me a set of skills and approaches that help me to be useful to people at time of crisis or difficult change. Very importantly, Social work training gave me a broader understanding of the influences that shape us and that can restrict us.
So Social work training stretched me, informed me and developed me but the raw ingredients were already there. I always was a Social Worker-in- the- making.
Now I’m a Social Worker teaching at a university and doing skills training for workers in practice. I always ask the new Social Work students the obvious question; ‘Why Social work?’
Answers fall broadly into the following categories;
- Students see a need for Social Work; either in their own communities or in what they see on the media of the world around them
- Students have experienced Social Work and want to do as well (or better if not good experience)
- Students feel a need to be useful. This is sometimes based on religious or humanistic beliefs
- Students feel like Social Workers; they have noticed that they naturally have the ability to engender trust and be useful to others. They are the one that people come to with their troubles
Some students come straight from school or college, many are parents or carers and may have worked or had other careers before coming to university. All are Social-Workers-in-the-Making. Now we just have to support them as they stretch, inform and develop. As they become professional Social Workers.
So why did I, why did we, become Social Workers? Because there is a clear need to support vulnerable people, to help families stay together wherever possible and to enable people to live as independently as they can. As Social Workers and Social Workers-in-the-making, it’s obvious to us that it is our role and our privilege to work towards meeting that need.
Tanya Moore (@tanyamooreherts) is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire (@UoH_HealthandSW). Join us @SWSCmedia for a live World Social Work Day Twitter Chat on Tuesday (19 March 2013) 8:00 PM GMT / 4:00 PM DST. Hashtag #SWSCmedia