This blog was written by Steven, a care-experienced social worker and IMO contributor. For more insights into social work and the care system, follow Steven on Twitter.
I’ve been involved with social workers since the day I was born. I first started to think about pursuing a career in social work whilst studying my undergraduate degree, because I noticed a clear lack of involvement between social workers and the young people that were accessing their services. I thought to myself, “I’ve lived and breathed social work, why can’t I do it too?” And so, I began my journey into social work in September 2017 at the University of Sheffield, studying on their Masters program.
During my training I felt that there was a distinct lack of emotional support provided. I was glad that I was fortunate enough to have support from my leaving care worker, as without it I am sure that I would have struggled to complete my studies. I also received help and guidance from an organisation in Wakefield call The Samantha Sykes foundation. They encouraged and supported me to fully reflect on my first year of social work practice, and all the emotions that come with it, and I will be eternally thankful to them for that. I also gained vital insight into what a career in social works looks like on a practical level from the IMO (in my opinion) project; I’ve been in direct contact with them for some time.
Finishing my Masters felt amazing. At times I felt like giving up and I had a bit of imposter syndrome. But when I walked across the stage at graduation, I felt such a strong sense of pride and self-fulfilment, and I hope that by sharing my story I can inspire others to succeed at university and in their careers.
I’ve seen a significant increase in the number of care-experienced people wishing to study social work in recent years. This is amazing, as people with direct experience of the system bring something different to the profession. However I do feel it’s important that care experience is backed up with professional knowledge and practice as well.
I trained and now work in the local authority that placed me in care, so understandably my journey has been difficult at times. Here are three things I wish I’d known before training to become a social worker:
- That my past trauma could resurface during training – for example when carrying out observations, and that care leavers are sometimes talked about negatively in the training environment.
- That once other people become aware of my care status, they may think of me differently. Thankfully, I haven’t had any negative experience of this, but I have sensed at times that colleagues might feel threatened by my care status.
- That as a care experienced person you will understandably experience inner conflict. At the beginning of my social work career I found this immensely difficult to overcome, as your feelings are telling you something whereas policy and legislation are telling you another. Social workers are expected to work with the evidence available to them, and comply with legislation, and putting your feelings aside can take some getting used to.
If you’re care experienced, and you’re thinking about studying to become a social worker, here’s my advice:
- Be open to and prepared to work through thought-provoking issues.
- Make sure that you have a strong support network around you, and seek out professional support if you feel you need extra help or support.
- Be aware that issues from your past may resurface. For me, it was supervising a family contact session that reminded me of my own time with my sisters and brother.
- Ensure that you use regular supervision, and if you are struggling, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help.
My social work team were a brilliant support throughout my training, listening to me and offering invaluable advice and guidance. My foster carers provided the emotional support that I needed, and I had regular reflection during supervision sessions which also helped.
I’ve now started my doctorate at Sheffield University, researching the educational pathways of children in care. I’d love to work in policy and influence decision making, as I believe that this is the best way to make changes to the social care system and improve the experiences of young people. My ambition is to climb the social work ladder and hopefully one day become a manager.