There’s too much pressure on Social Workers to be perfect
When I decided to become a Social Worker, I had no idea just how much of an impact it would have on my entire life.
Like most people, I came into this career to ‘help people’ and because I wanted a lifelong career that left me with a sense of giving something back to the world. I kept up-to-date with news and politics so I knew the job was demanding; the Victoria Climbie and Baby P cases in England throwing the difficulties of child protection Social Work wide open for all to see. But, for all that I felt I was going into this career with my eyes open to the pressures of the job itself, I didn’t know just how much of a burden would be placed upon my personal life as well.
I didn’t know that I would always have to be a Social Worker and that I could never leave the job behind me
I got the first inkling about the pressure for Social Workers to be perfect during my second year at University. In a classroom debate with some fellow students we got onto the subject of state benefits. One of my cohort had commented that ‘people on benefits should be given food stamps to stop them wasting their money on fags and booze’. Although I wasn’t naïve enough to think that such views were uncommon, it shocked me to think that somebody who was a few months from qualifying as a Social Worker held these beliefs. Rather than take it up within the University, I put a post on my personal Facebook page sharing my concerns (without naming the person in question).
The University’s reaction… they pulled me into a meeting to warn me about commenting on anything to do with Social Work or University on my Facebook page.
At that time I felt too disempowered to challenge the illusion of formality that was attached to a ‘quick chat’ to quell my anger at fellow student Social Workers having such oppressive views about the people we were training to serve. However, looking back, it was clear that the pressure was put on me to conform to a way of thinking that Social Workers should be seen and not heard (yeah, quite ironic now given the following on my blog…).
That same pressure wasn’t unique to my University or my era, and when I speak to students all over the world they are still being told the same:
“Don’t talk about your personal life on placement”
“Don’t say anything that could offend anyone”
“The only way to be safe is not to say anything at all on social media”
The message is clear: To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing
I bowed to the pressure and subscribed to this way of thinking for a long time myself. I changed my Facebook name, locked down my social media accounts, deleted all online pictures where I was having a drink, took myself off electoral register websites, avoided making any public comments about anything and kept all individual opinions to myself in the workplace.
My life became bland and I became boring.
There felt like little other option though. I had seen my professional regulators’ need to “uphold public confidence” used so freely and loosely to investigate my fellow professionals that it could seemingly apply to any situation where a Social Worker was deemed to be acting out of turn. Religious views, political affiliation, choice of partner, actions of family members, comments made on social media- all these things could see you subjected to years of investigation, so keeping your head down was the safer option by far.
But what kind of life is that?
The average starting wage of a Social Worker in the United Kingdom is around £26,000 a year. It doesn’t all come down to money of course, but is that wage worthy of being put under the spotlight for your whole life?
Is it worth dreading your name being spread all over the country because you once made a comment on Facebook about a case you were involved in?
Is it worth being put under investigation for telling David Cameron to fuck off?
Is it worth being struck off for being the victim of domestic abuse?
Is it worth being publicly shamed for struggling with your work?
I’m sure some of you will disagree with me on this, but there just seems to be far too much pressure on Social Workers to be perfect all the time.
Be great at your job.
Handle all the pressure.
Be perfect in your personal life.
Never make any mistakes.
Don’t say or do anything that anyone could ever possibly deem to be offensive.
In a profession that is founded in helping other people turn their lives around and get over mistakes, we seem to be severely lacking in affording the same forgiveness, empathy and empowerment to our own fellow professionals.
If you’re great at your job, you should be allowed to have freedom in your personal life too.
It’s wrong to expect Social Workers to be perfect 24/7. We are human beings too.