A Day In The Life Of A Social Worker by Rebecca Joy Novell
Sam Wilson, March 18, 2014
Like all professional adults, every morning starts with a feeling of pure rage aimed at the alarm clock. ‘Why must you be so loud alarm clock? Why?!’ Once I’ve stopped glaring at the clock (as if glaring at it will make tomorrow morning’s wake-up call better), I get up and attempt to make myself look and feel human.
Not until I am off the bus and in the office do I turn my phone on. I’m very particular about this. It may sound harsh to compartmentalize my time “helping people” in this way but it is important for my own mental health and stress levels that I keep work life and home life very separate. Once the phone is on, the texts and calls flood in. There will be three or four texts on my phone from the evening before from one of my teenage Service Users, all beginning with “Can you sort...” or “I need...”. I respond to these while the computer loads up. I then spend thirty minutes checking the multitude of emails, ensuring I’m up to date.
Unless it’s a very hectic week, I usually leave an hour in the morning booked off as ‘free time’. ‘Free time’ translated in to Social Work speak, means ‘time in which you deal with an inevitable crisis that occurred in the twelve hours since you were last at work.’ Social Work with teenagers is largely dominated by crises and chaos and anticipating the chaos makes your day a lot less stressful.
When working with young people who offend, a crisis can be anything from a young person being arrested overnight and appearing in Court that morning to a young person being seriously injured. No morning is the same and I have to be able to make big decisions, quickly and under pressure.
Before lunch I may attend a multi-agency meeting such as a Looked After Children Review. Half an hour before the meeting, I will usually be subtly bribing the teenager, whom the meeting is about, to attend the meeting. The promise of a MacDonalds after the meeting usually does the trick. Many young people don’t want to attend meetings that are held about them- which I completely understand as meetings aren’t even fun for grown-ups. But I strongly believe that young people should have a say in all decisions made about them.
On the same day, a teenage girl wakes up at 11am after having a late night and a horrible argument with her boyfriend. She’s feeling alone and depressed. She doesn’t have any family she can talk to and her phone has run out of credit so she can’t contact her friends. She has no money and no food in the house. Luckily, she remembers she has an appointment with her Social Worker at 1pm that day and so waits in the house. At 1pm, I arrive at the house, expecting to do a Keywork session on budgeting. The girl is too upset to talk about budgeting so we talk about the argument, how she is feeling and what we can do to make her feel better. I take her to a cafe and make sure she has a cup of tea and a bite to eat. After 90 minutes, the girl is smiling again and is feeling positive about the rest of the day; she has an assertive plan to sort things out with her boyfriend and we have implicitly sorted a budgeting plan for her. I arrange to ring her at the end of the day to see how she is. She knows someone cares about her and it visibly gives her confidence.
Those 90 minutes are not only what make Social Work a unique profession but also what make facing that awful alarm clock every day and getting up worthwhile.