A Social Worker’s Proudest Moment by Rebecca Joy Novell
Sam Wilson, April 29, 2014
Talking about your proudest moment is not something that comes easily or naturally to a Social Worker. This is partly because you rarely take time to stop and reflect on the good work you are doing. Weekdays are spent rushing between scheduled meetings, unscheduled crises and typing up numerous assessments. However, the difficulty of reflecting on our work is not merely a result of limited time; it is also because, as is human nature, a happy ending is a very rare thing.
Pride has to be taken from small moments of success but with the realization that there will always be a next chapter to the story- and that next chapter may not always be happy. That does not mean you’re not doing a good job as a Social Worker; it is just part of the natural unfolding of any human life.
Nonetheless, even though most feelings of pride in Social Work may be ephemeral, they all mark another small step on a positive path. After being asked to write this blog, it took several days of repeating to myself: ‘what is my proudest moment in Social Work?’ before I had a moment of clarity. It then became perfectly clear that my proudest moment is any and every moment in which I’ve helped a young person achieve something that they themselves are proud of.
Just like for Social Workers, pride is not an easy emotion to feel for many of the young people I work with. Years of abuse and neglect have shattered their self-esteem and the result is that many of them build an identity around the fact that they are bad at everything. Often a young person can achieve something positive and not feel any sense of achievement whatsoever. It washes over them unnoticed. Being able to numb positive emotions is an entrenched and often essential defence-mechanism. When a young person does have a moment in which they realize that they can be good at something, it can be a very unsettling experience for them.
Daniel was a seventeen year old boy I worked with as a Youth Justice Officer. He had been selected for an arts course and was part of a six week programme to gain his first academic qualification. One morning, Daniel was shown how to do wood carving. This was the first acitivity he had shown any interest in over the whole of the course and subsequently spent several hours using a chainsaw to carve a huge face in to the bottom of a totem pole.
When he finished, both Daniel and the professional wood carver stood back and admired his work. The artist, completely genuinely, was astonished by Daniel’s end product and informed him that his work was better than anything he could produce. And frankly, it was incredible. No one could quite believe it.
Daniel was showered with praise for his achievement. He stood there for several minutes, in silence, staring at the face and then walked over to the artist’s tool bag. Within seconds he had taken the chainsaw and carved five large gashes in to the face, completely destroying his work. He placed the chainsaw down and walked away. Later, when asked why he had done that, Daniel could give no explanation other than a uninterested shrug.
Working with young people to reach certain, practical targets is often only half of the battle for children’s Social Worker’s. We also have to work on the development of self-esteem so that service user’s don’t self-sabotage. Through Relationship-Based Practice, it is our job to show the young person that not only do other people care about them, but that they deserve to care about themselves. It can be a very long and slow process.
However, when you do eventually see a young person achieve something amazing and you watch them stand back and tell themselves that they did well and that they deserve to be happy, it is quite an overwhelming feeling. Whether the young person celebrates securing their first home, getting their first job, or walking away from a fight for the first time, you know that if they feel a happy pride in what they’ve done, it won’t be the last time they succeed in something. When these moments happen, both myself and the young person can confidently say, “Yeah, today, I did something I am proud of. Today, I made a positive difference”.