10 Lessons from 10 years on the Frontline: 10, Asking for help

By Richard Devine (11.09.20)

Lesson 10: Asking for Help

It turns out that I don’t have 10 lessons. I only have 9! A couple of days ago I realised that I wasn’t going to have a 10th lesson. I remembered, however, that I could do what I have always done when I am ‘stuck’ or feel unable to resolve a dilemma, and ask my colleagues. In keeping with the response I have become accustomed to when I ask my colleagues for help at BANES, I received a delightfully helpful response. The result is a wonderfully rich and diverse set of lessons from a range of different practitioners about what they have learned since they qualified. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

1. Victoria Miles – Deputy Team Manager (10 years qualified)

I have learned that HOPE is the most important word to remind myself & families of – as Everything (in my view) is subject to change.

2. Paul Hartwell – Deputy Team Manager (6 years qualified)

There were many to choose from but the thing that has really struck me is ‘being in the room’. As social workers we spend much of our day rushing from one meeting or one family visit to another, and while you are doing all those meetings and visits rushing through your head is the list of tasks you need to do or should have already done that day. This for me in the past has always been a barrier to ‘being in the room’, be that with a family on a visit or in supervision with a social worker. I have found taking a minute or two to breathe and calm before going into a session makes such a difference, by being in the room you have such a richer and more effective time with someone, you follow the conversation down different pathways, you see more; a change in stance or what the bedrooms really look like or how the family interact, how a supervised responds to a certain question. You also seem more engaged to the person you are speaking to, they pick up the cues that your mind is elsewhere and respond accordingly, if you aren’t fully invested in them why should they be in you?

Accept you will never get to the end of your to do list and make peace with that otherwise you won’t survive.

3. Naomi Crane – Social Work Student (awaiting qualification)

I’ve learned a whole new vocabulary for how to address discomfort, challenge and worry with a family. I’ve seen some fantastic practice which has encouraged me to try new ways of having these conversations… I want to continue to feel that social work is collaborative, particularly as we’re becoming ever more socially separate!

4. Shona Jemphrey – Senior Social Worker

I have learned how to be a lot calmer and more flexible when things don’t go to plan, and that paperwork isn’t the most important part of the job! I have also learned the importance of not being judgemental and genuinely trying to help children and families. And that foster care isn’t always the answer!

5. Ellie Curtain – Consultant Social Worker, Frontline (5 years)

You can’t promise the families you work with that you will never have to say difficult, challenging or upsetting things to them, but you can promise to always be open and honest about your concerns and to share them respectfully and empathetically. I’ve found it helpful to make this part of my conversation with parents/carers when I first meet them, and I then do my absolute best to keep this promise for the duration of our relationship.

6. Cat Pickard – Social Worker (2 years)

I have learnt that it’s a marathon not a sprint, you have to pace yourself to not burn out so your can continue to offer the same level of support consistently even if you’ve been working with a family for a long time. And that trust also develops slowly over time. Consistency is important for building this.

7. Pamela Chambers – Senior Social Worker (10 years)

One of the things that I have learned and developed over the years, which relates to relationship based practice,  is how important it is to be yourself, I can remember the days of shadowing and watching how colleagues managed different situations which is so important for learning, but essentially it is being yourself and forming your own professional relationship with a family that has the most effective results. Just as with all human relationships this will work better in some situations than others. Into this relationship you also bring to your work all your skill base, knowledge and experience, but the most essential thing is being yourself. 

By being yourself, you have to of course own your own values, experiences and standards and be prepared to reflect on and question these. 

You need to decide how much of yourself you are willing to share to help establish a relationship. We expect parents and children to tell us a lot of personal and often traumatic information about themselves, personally I would find it very hard to do so if a person shared nothing of themselves with me. This can be sharing your personality, love of sports or crafts or something of your culture and background, as a Northerner working in the South I can’t avoid this! This is personal and different for everyone but in essence to me it is essential.

8. Rebecca De-Leyser – Social Worker (1 year and 5 months)

One of the stand out things that I have learnt is that substance or alcohol abuse is a solution to a problem and not the problem. And quite a lot of the issues and challenging behaviours that are evident in families; parents and children’s lives are due to the fact that they feel a lack of sense of belonging or love. As social workers we need to be mindful about their systemic experiences and treat them as human beings and not problems to society.

9. Becky Wills – Senior Social Worker (6 years)

– Never book a visit at 4pm on Friday

– Know which petrol stations and supermarkets have toilets in your patch 

– Make friends with admin and receptionists wherever you go- especially in schools- they know how to get stuff done. 

– A mangers request for you to complete “a quick assessment” will almost always lead to a year of work

– If you struggle to save, just wait six months between completing mileage claims- instant savings account. 

10. Freya Barber – Deputy Team Manager, Family Support Team (13 years)

Be present through empathy

11. Toni Mayo – Team Manager, Family Placement Team (11 years)

What sets human beings apart from other species, is the capacity for both great kindness, and great cruelty. People find it harder to be kind when we’re frightened, hungry or unhappy. When people are abusive, it’s usually for one of these reasons. Of course there’s awe inspiring examples of people being kind and brave in war zones; of children in dangerous households looking after younger siblings. But if we accept that people are kinder to one another when they feel good, we can improve the social and emotional welfare of the families we work with by developing safety, and improving material conditions.

12. Andy Black, Social Worker (1 year)

There’s a great quote from the Dalai Lama where he said “Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant impression by remaining silent”. Although the fact that I’ve said nothing is generally attributable to me not knowing what to say, the consequences of doing so never fail to surprise me: space for the person to offer detail, experience feeling, and an opportunity for the relationship rather than words to offer containment. In the same way that I have always strived to be mindful about the language I employ, I now also make a concerted effort to be mindful about when to resist the urge to comfort/question/validate, and simply sit still and listen. 

If you have found this interresting/useful, you may wish to consider scrolling down further, and join 140+ others in signing up for free blogs to be sent directly to your inbox (no advertisements/requests/selling). I intend to write every fortnight about matters related to child protection, children and families, attachment, and trauma.  Or you can read previous blogs here

Published by Richard Devine's Social Work Practice Blog

My name is Richard Devine. I am a Social Worker in Bath and North East Somerset Council. After I qualified in 2010 I worked in long term Child Protection Teams. Since 2017 I have been undertaking community based parenting assessments. I obtained a Masters in Attachment Studies 2018.

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