To celebrate World Social Work Day, I wanted to share my comments from the Social Worker of the Year Awards Parliamentary Reception I attended last week.
It’s fantastic to be here today to be celebrating social work. Because we don’t celebrate social work enough. We talk about the failures, we look at serious case reviews but we don’t shout about the successes.
The one exception to this is children in care. Children in care – even when they have been let down and messed around – always single out the professionals who have been there for them, who they have trusted, who have helped them regain confidence in the world around them. The whole system should learn from these children and turn the deficit model on it’s head.
This is something I see all the time through my helpline, Help at Hand. In case you don’t know, my office runs an advice and representation service for children in care and care leavers. We tend to get cases which need to be escalated, either because local advocacy services have not managed to get a resolution, or because the cases are so complex they involve multiple partners.
My office intervenes to help the children who have been most let-down. But what we see are systemic failures, and within these cases those individuals who really believe in their children, who go the extra mile, stand out all the brighter
I think this is really well illustrated by one girl who we are trying to help, who was sexually abused and cruelly mistreated by her step-father. Thankfully, she and her two siblings are now in a loving foster home, and they are thriving.
The social worker contacted my office because this girl wants to see this awful man prosecuted. She knows he should be in jail, and she wants him there, not just for what he did to her but so he does not do it to others. She knows this will mean going to court, it might mean re-living the experience. She knows there’s no guarantee he will be convicted. But she wants to try and is up for the fight.
And when the CPS said no, she has fought back. She wants to see change not just for her, but for all the children let down by a system that does not believe children and other survivors.
This incredible girl has gone from being confused and scared, to strong and empowered. Taking on her abuser and the whole system that fails children like her.
And this incredible turnaround has been made possible because of the unwavering support, commitment and love of her social worker and foster mum. People who believe in her, and whom she can believe in.
This is what you as social workers do: you believe in children so they can believe in themselves. You change not just the material conditions in which children live, but the way they see themselves in the world. You not only make children safe, you make them feel powerful.
So I want to say congratulations to everyone nominated at these awards and the winners from both 2019 and 2021, and I want to celebrate everything you have achieved and all the children you and your colleagues are helping.
From me, my whole team and all the children we work with, thank you!
You can find out more about the awards and winners on the Social Worker Awards website.