Secret Social Worker: the realities of social care

Reunited families, full-time jobs and PhDs – Lila Halliday on the realities of social care

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So far I feel that my insights into social work have been a little ranty, so here is some light relief: the wins, the good times.

I’m pretty certain that people come into social work because they want to help. Some even have designs on changing the world. We come to realise that our impact can be variable because people have to want to be helped and everyone has the right to choose their life, which is hard when you know that life choice is hurting them and their children.

But positive changes are brought about with the help of social workers every day, children are kept safe, families are supported to resolve their differences and children in care are loved and achieve greatness. So here are a couple of happily ever afters.

A family I worked with, where there were issues with alcohol, neglect and violence, had their two pre-school children removed. I picked up this case when we were in court proceedings and the plan was for the children to be adopted.

I reassessed the parents, who had split up by this point, and Dad had made some significant changes to his life. So with some extra support in areas he was struggling with, and some work with his wider family, we were able to return the children to his care and make sure they saw their mum as well.

I ran into them a few years after this and they were both healthy and happy, and their dad was beaming with pride. We always need to question the plans we inherit – people and situations can change and when it’s possible there’s a second chance to be had.

A girl in care I worked with for a long time was completely out of control in her teens and incredibly unsafe much of the time – using drugs, being sexually exploited, going missing from placements almost daily and never attending school. I saw her nearly every day and, although we had a great relationship, I never really felt like I was keeping her safe or getting through to her that she was worth so much more. But sometimes those messages just take a while to sink in and permeate in a person, and a relationship that’s reliable and meaningful counts for everything in social work.

She’s now married with two children and working part time while her husband works full time. They have a lovely home and a nice car. There’s nothing like seeing a child you used to work with driving around in a Ford C-Max with her two children in the back to make you feel old!

And then there are all the snippets of success you ride on the back of as a manager, while your social workers are out there doing all the hard work. Families coming to our attention in a time of crisis, being supported to resolve their issues, never to be seen by us again. Children being successfully reunited with parents after years in care. Young people going to university and becoming doctors and lawyers. Young people who have spent their whole lives in care who are now doing their PhD.

It takes immense strength and resilience to overcome the adversity that our families and our children face. This notion that people make their own luck and that hard work pays off is mostly a fallacy. If you are born into an environment of poverty, low aspirations and multiple adverse experiences, as many of our parents have been – and often replicate in the care they are able to provide – then you are not on a level playing field with people who have experienced multiple privileges.

This multi-faceted deprivation is insidious and puts up walls around you. Our job is to help you to knock a few bricks out of that wall to let some light in. It takes something really special on both sides to knock it down completely.

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