Statutory Director of Social Services in Carmarthenshire County Council, Jake Morgan has written a very compelling honest piece discussing his journey as a Social Worker and some of the challenges social workers currently face in Wales in 2022
Social Work- A Personal perspective for World Social Work day
Being a social worker is a fantastic. When we get it right we are able to transform people’s lives in a way few professions can.
I came into the profession through the traditional route - via secondment from my role as a residential social worker in 1990. Local Government provided a pathway that didn’t require A levels but an access point to higher education for people who could demonstrate skills with people, adaptability, creativity, a commitment to anti discriminatory practice and crucially a desire to make a difference to vulnerable peoples lives. It focussed less on academia and more on a key set of skills that were then refined and tested academically and whilst on work placements.
It was on the placements that social workers learnt how to apply these skills, to advocate for an older person, to get through the door of a distrustful parent to check on a child’s welfare; how you speak to a child in distress. Crucially on placement I learnt how to reflect and learnt from my mistakes. Most 20-year-olds who become social workers won’t do what I did and spend 30 years in the profession. Many will change careers a number of times, however the ability to learn, reflect and engage with people are skills that can be applied across all work settings.
Social work has a profound effect on people’s lives. Doing the job well can mean the difference between a child being removed from their family, an older person dying in hospital rather than at home or someone with a disability living in an institution rather than as a part of the local community. This is a heavy responsibility and explains, in part the challenges we have to persuade people to join the profession.
The Social work task does not, of course exist in a void. Integrated work, national policies, culture, poverty and resources all play a part to make the role of a social work easy or hard to fulfil. Wales is on a journey to create the right policy environment for social work to flourish. However, it is a journey that is moving firmly in the right direction with a range of initiatives and policies that point to valuing the profession. Positive moves nationally include;
- A national case review process that does not seek to simply blame but learn lessons from cases where things have gone wrong
- Relative protection for departments over 10 years of austerity when compared to local government colleagues in England
- An inspectorate that seeks less to rank social work departments rather to understand users experience of services
- Legislation that embeds prevention and users voices at the heart of decision making
- An intent to rebalance the care sector to ensure local government is both a provider and commissioner of critical services. Funding provided through the pandemic supported providers across the sector at an unprecedented level.
However, despite these progressive moves we still have much to do. Wales still has, one of the highest rates of removal of children from their families in the Western World and a vulnerable adult population who we cannot always have their voices heard in decisions that have direct impact on their lives. Social workers should be key agents for change in Wales to take these next steps. In particular where poverty is so often enmeshed in the causes of neglect, we need to establish better support and monitoring of vulnerable families to reduce the current high levels of children who are removed from their parents care.
To do this complex work well social work needs further investment to enable smaller caseloads, user friendly IT systems and clearer models of social work intervention. Our teams deserve to work in organisations that support their well-being with effective leaders and managers who empower them to take measured risks supporting vulnerable children and adults in the community. If we can continue to make progress in these areas social work in Wales can be amongst the best in the world.
Thank you to all of our social workers who, everyday continue to support and protect the most vulnerable in our communities.