Social work: a career length of seven years

Julie talks with Anna, a child placement social worker.

I'm sure that across the Home for Good community there will be a plethora of experiences of working with socials workers, some good and, maybe, some not so much.

But one thing is for sure, being on the front line, looking after children and families in the community, is surely one of the most demanding professions there is. To gain a better understanding, I met with Anna, a social worker in the fostering team, to find out more about her role and how she deals with the complexity of seeing hurt, yet carrying hope.

Tell us about a typical day in your role.

Anna: It's incredibly busy! A normal day will usually involve contacting or visiting some of our foster carers - supporting these incredible families, giving some advice or guidance, offering a listening ear and encouragement. In between visits, there is lots of contact with other professionals, advocating for the needs of the children in foster care and advocating for our carers so that they are listened to and supported.

Sadly, I am also usually inundated with phone calls from my colleagues in the duty team, who are on a daily basis desperately trying to find a home somewhere for a child or children to go. This is by far the biggest challenge as the demand for placements continues to rise faster than the amount of people coming forward to offer children a home. This is the most heartbreaking part of my job, hearing about the situations these children are coming from, while knowing the reality of the struggle to find them a home.

Unfortunately, a big downside to the role, which I know many social workers find stressful, is the amount of paperwork and reports that need to be completed. This usually takes up more of the day than any of us would like.

Alongside all of this there are often emergency situations, which quickly become the priority, leaving all of the above to roll over to the next day. All in all, a day in the life of a fostering social worker is extremely challenging, but I do also see it as a privilege.

How do you handle the pressure and heartbreaking situations you experience?

I get asked this so much and the answer really isn’t easy. Having supportive colleagues and management is so vitally important, if I didn’t have this, I honestly don’t know how I would manage. There are days when I get in the car to drive home and there is nothing else I can do but cry. I think allowing yourself to have these moments is important, it is not a normal job to hear constantly about children who are abused or to know the struggles of getting a home for these children, and it's important to acknowledge this.

Self care and allowing yourself (on those days that you can) to leave your work at the office, go for a walk, have a bath or do whatever else you need to do, is so important. For me, listening to worship music between visits can help me put my cares into Gods hands.

Whilst I find it difficult to go home knowing that there is so much more that needs to be done, there comes a point when you just have to. There are rewarding parts of the job too - small, significant stories are so encouraging, for example I just heard that a young boy placed with one of our foster families has made a friend for the first time! Those are the things that keeps you going.

It's well-know that there is a high level of sick leave and staff turnover, and social workers can experience empathy fatigue. According to recent research the average career length for a social worker is just seven years. Not having support or being able to prioritise self-care is not only detrimental to social workers' health, but also to the children and families who need a consistent worker.

What have you learned about God's heart?

In very tangible ways, God has helped me to see his heart not just for family, but particularly his heart for the orphans and the broken. I truly believe God’s heart is completely breaking for the children in our towns and cities that feel unloved, unwanted, unsafe, hurt and abandoned. But most significantly I believe God’s heart is breaking that for many of these children, social services will struggle to find them a home and a family to love and care for them in the midst of this pain.

What do you think of the Church's response?

I genuinely believe the Church is beginning to see with the Father’s eyes these children and his heart for them, and there is a real movement recognising the importance of fostering and adoption. Some churches are making amazing steps towards opening up the conversation about the needs of looked after children and what we as the Church can do to respond to this. However, there is no doubt that we still have a long way to go and there are still significant numbers of children who are desperately in need of a loving home.

How can the Church respond to this?

I think firstly the Church needs to pray - pray for eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to break. Actively talking, encouraging and providing opportunities for people to partner with this ministry is a great place to start. Being a church that welcomes, supports and encourages our foster carers, adopters and children will help these families to love well and care more. I genuinely believe if the Church models love and holistic support to the families already caring, we will see an increase in people coming forward to foster or adopt. Sometimes it isn't always waiting about that 'sign from God' but just seeing it in action, and then being intentional about it and getting stuck in!

How could the Church better support social workers?

I think it is important for the Church to seek to get to know the people in our communities who are doing this job. The value of standing with social workers in prayer, listening to their hearts for the people and community they are working with and encouraging them could have a significant impact on the social worker and, subsequently, the people they work with.

To all those in the social work profession - THANK YOU for all you do for vulnerable children and the families who care for them.

Julie (Village Faith)



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