In the shoes of…a social work student | Passionate about personalisation for everyone

Today we have a brand new perspective. A woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, was sneered at by professionals when she was “just” a support worker. So she decided to qualify as a social worker!  For Day 20  of our series of ‘walk in my shoes’ blogposts, this story is not specifically about dementia care but addresses the wider issues of personalisation relevant to ALL vulnerable people. It supports my central Whose Shoes? concept, namely that we need to LISTEN to everyone… (I have highlighted some parts but could have picked others – many points are powerfully made)…

Existing or living?

My name is Sam and I am a social work student. The main reason why I went to university was because I did not have a good first impression of social workers. As a support worker, I had several disagreements with social workers who seemed to make big decisions for the people I was supporting. The social workers I came into contact with were unreliable and rude, although it is important to note that I am not generalizing all social workers to be the same. It annoyed me when I attended meetings because I was ignored and I was never asked my opinion. This was even though I knew the individual the best out of everyone there (many will share this same experience).  As a support worker, I felt inferior, powerless and undervalued. Therefore, after much deliberation and an argument with my dad I decided to study social work. This was to further my career in the social care field but most importantly it was to discover for myself why those social workers had so much power and could make decisions that could change people’s  lives.

In my final year at university, I undertook the personalisation elective. The module was taught by an inspirational and passionate lecturer who made me feel motivated after every lecture. During the module I learnt how real social work should be and how messed up the current social care system is. My own values and opinions were broadened by guest speakers who came in and shared their personal experiences of how the personalisation agenda impacted upon them. For example, through receiving  personal budgets that gave them the choice to choose what services they received. This was a whole new concept to me.

Through the teaching I found that personalisation places the individual in the driving seat of their own care, which empowers the person to make decisions about their lives. It moves away from the negative  label of ‘service user’ indicating that a person is dependent upon services. Personalisation favours seeing the person as an ‘individual’ who has strengths and can be supported to live their lives rather than merely existing. Ultimately, this emphasises that the individual is the expert of his or her own life. Personalisation is a way of thinking that turns traditional social work on its head. Rather than social workers acting as the professional who dictates to the ‘service user’,  personalisation social workers work in partnership and support the ‘individual’ to live their life how they wish.

This message was what I was searching for; this was the reason why I wanted to be a social worker. I feel that the personalisation module was the reason why I came to university; it provided me with the fire in my belly that I needed to go out into the real world and support people to live rather than just exist.

The experience of going out on placement with this new knowledge was not easy. After the module finished I started my final placement with a statutory organisation that provides support to adults in the community. When I started the placement, I was motivated and inspired. However, on the first day I witnessed bad practice, which immediately left me feeling deflated. As time went on I felt that the fire in my belly was slowly dying. On a whole, I found that the staff were not interested in supporting the individuals in a creative way. They just saw their job as a job. Go to work, dress the person, feed them, take them for a walk, bath them then clock off. It seemed that it was not part of their job description to actually communicate with the individual and ask them what they want. The times when I tried to challenge this approach, I felt that I was speaking a different language. I was also surprised as to how absolutely anybody could get a job supporting vulnerable adults. One 17-year-old female who had no relevant experience, qualifications and a very bad attitude was given a support worker job. When this happened, I remember thinking back to a personalisation lecture when it was said, “Why is it you need a degree to get a job in fashion, but when it comes to looking after our most vulnerable members of society any one with no qualifications can get a job as a support worker?” I feel that this is where our system needs to change.

A key example of how personalisation is abused was when I observed an annual assessment whilst on placement. A local authority care manager/social worker from the adult’s team came to the community house to carry out a review. The social worker went straight to the office, questioned the staff about risk assessments and health action plans that were missing from the individual’s care plan. The remainder of his assessment involved checking paperwork and asking the staff questions. Eventually the individual knocked on the office door and asked to come in. At this stage, I was already horrified that the individual was not included in his own assessment. The individual came in and the social worker said, “So, do you like living here?” the individual said “Yeah” and that was the main interaction during his visit. When the social worker packed up his things and put his coat on he said, “Oh yeah I forgot to ask, have you heard about this personalisation thing and the right to control?” I told him that I knew about it. However, to my disbelief he turned around and said:

“Oh well not to worry, it doesn’t really apply to him because he’s lived here so long. It will probably just cause aggravation so he doesn’t need to be told about it”.

This shocked me. I did consider that the social worker probably had a limited understanding but I found this to be very disheartening.

Despite my negative experiences, I am determined to be part of the new wave of social workers going out into practice spreading this positive message. For personalisation to work we need to educate and inform people to influence the way they perceive ‘service users’ and services. This needs to be done from an early age in schools, colleges, workplaces etc. I know nothing is going to change overnight but if we can spread the personalisation way of thinking then it will eventually start to have an impact. I hope one day, if I am ever in the position where I need services, I will have the freedom and choice to choose what services I want. The personalisation module and lecturer have significantly impacted upon my views and have empowered me. I will take what I have learnt and use it in all future practice.

The final point I want to end with that I feel sums up personalisation comes from an unlikely source in Albert Einstein: “Become a man of values not of success”.

I have the feeling that this particular student will make an EXCELLENT social worker – and well done to the lecturer who can be proud to have maintained and stoked the “fire in the belly”!

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About Gill Phillips - Whose Shoes?

Passionate about personalisation in health & social care. Creator of Whose Shoes? - an imaginative approach to helping people work together to improve lives. http://nutshellcomms.co.uk
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11 Responses to In the shoes of…a social work student | Passionate about personalisation for everyone

  1. A breath of fresh air thank you

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  2. Ali Gardner says:

    When a student like this comes along, the job is easy. Their starting point is that it just makes sense and the focus can then become working out ways of achieving it which is exactly what this student has worked on tirelessly during her placement. Social work needs to recruit trainees with emotional intelligence and a passion to make a difference. We need to stop being afraid of students who present a radical, passionate approach and stop grounding them in reality with a “we know best’ attitude or a “you’ll find out once you get in the real world” smug attitude. Instead we need to encourage students to challenge our ideologies and practices and support them to maintain and sustain this positivity and belief on practice. Social work students need to finish the course ‘fit for practice’ not to ‘ft into practice’.

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  3. Reading the above reminded me of the passion I had when I first qualified in 1995. It was not to long after I became disillusioned with the way the system worked. I too went in to Social Work because I was told I was not qualified to make the statement and observations I did. Making a difference and supporting people to make their own choices is paramount to me and is also a passion of mine. Remember the word empowerment this was fundamental to the social work role, empowering people to make decisions and do for themselves. Personalisation is not new, we just got a little lost along the way. I have fought the system myself at a carer for many years, for example not accepting a SEN statement for my son, how on earth do you complete an assessment without ever meeting or having a discussion with the person . It is certainly refreshing that social work practice is being challenged.

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  4. Pingback: Today in healthcare: from Reform’s Rising to the Nicholson Challenge Summit | Birmingham Link

  5. John Powderly says:

    Wow! Retaining that “fire in the belly” is so hard for many professions, but social work is definitely one of the hardest to do so.

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  6. Pingback: Round up of “In my shoes” – Dementia Awareness, Week 4 | Whose Shoes?

  7. Trish says:

    Hi, just wanted to say that as a Carer and a student Social Worker, I found your writing inspiring and have put a copy of this piece in my file, just in case I ever forget why I started on this road. Thank you and best wishes for the future.

    Like

  8. miss myers says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. I too worked as a supervisor prior to commencing the degree and my motivation was driven by the same desire as yours, having seen the oppressive way that individuals were treated.

    I committed three years of my life studying to help to make a difference. Working alongside some social workers who unfortunately lacked the knowledge, passion, or empathy to see past more than a procedural approach to social work. I ended my last placement in children and families in the end, I challenged situations professionally and due to my age and fresh outlook brought the passion you did to my role. Unfortunately some, not all social workers do not like to be challenged instead choosing to work in oppressive ways, I am fighting for my career now after being severely professionally bullied. Too much power is afforded to some social workers and the point I am making is, sometimes it is not about knowledge, some practitioners choose to work with adults and children in an oppressive manner. In my complaint with evidence I have addressed that if these practitioners can treat students however they wish, how are they treating vulnerable adults and children? I have been witness to that question, and that makes for a powerless situation.

    Again thank you for your blog and it is inspiring to know that some practitioners have the passion and commitment for the individuals we are advocating on behalf of. Hopefully it may change, a piece of paper does not make you better as you pointed out, but like you rightly infer it provides you with the power to bring about changes. We need more practitioners like yourself.

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  9. RED says:

    Thank you so much to Miss Myers for sharing your own experience.. I am going through my own battle with placement as a student with bullying at the moment and reading your comment about if they treat students like this than how are they with the service users has really touched something inside me…

    And thank you Sam for your blog… Just what i needed to read as i go through this difficult journey…

    Like

  10. towardchange says:

    Reblogged this on Parents Rights Blog and commented:
    My name is Sam and I am a social work student. The main reason why I went to university was because I did not have a good first impression of social workers. As a support worker, I had several disagreements with social workers who seemed to make big decisions for the people I was supporting. The social workers I came into contact with were unreliable and rude, although it is important to note that I am not generalizing all social workers to be the same. It annoyed me when I attended meetings because I was ignored and I was never asked my opinion. This was even though I knew the individual the best out of everyone there (many will share this same experience). As a support worker, I felt inferior, powerless and undervalued. Therefore, after much deliberation and an argument with my dad I decided to study social work. This was to further my career in the social care field but most importantly it was to discover for myself why those social workers had so much power and could make decisions that could change people’s lives.

    Like

  11. Amy Denholm says:

    I have chosen to write about this blog because I am currently a student studying Social Work and this blog emphasizes reasons that should inspire students as well as highlighting bad practice.

    Social Workers are not there to make decisions for their service users but are there to help them and guide them when making decisions about their welfare. A service user should be treated as an individual who has got their own rights and should be present at any conversation which involves their welfare and needs so that they can give their own opinion. As stated in the SSSC Codes of Practice, for service users it means you “protect your rights and make sure you are listened to”. It annoyed me when the service user never got asked their opinion.
    To be in a career such as social work you need to have the motivation to help people and not just consider your occupation as a way of making money. A guest speaker who attended one of my lectures gave an insight as to what her experience with social workers was like and how she had a negative view of the professionals. She was disheartened and saddened when they promised her a great deal of help for her and her daughter to make everyday life a little bit easier, yet that help was never properly received.

    It is stories such as this, that make me motivated to become the best social worker I can, always putting the needs and opinions of service users before my own and limiting the amount of bureaucracy so I can spend more time with service users.

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