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Adam Pickford is a locum senior practitioner currently working as a principal social worker at Derby City Council, supporting adults with learning difficulties and mental health issues, as well as older people with dementia. He is also an Associate Lecturer, Examiner and Mentor for the Open University (OU) social work degree programme.

My journey into social work

As part of my first degree in education, I did a placement at a rehabilitation centre in the USA, and I continued to do that kind of work for a few years after graduating. After time spent working within the retail sector, I realised that the work I had undertaken in the US had fulfilled me, and I wanted to explore this further. So, I took a job in a home for children with challenging behaviour, then in a children's secure unit, before finally deciding to train formally as a social worker. I studied for the Diploma in Social Work at Anglia Polytechnic University, graduating in 1999, then joined the Community Mental Health Team in Southend. 

My typical day

I'm usually at my desk around 8am and start the day by responding to emails and dealing with any reports and correspondence that was left unfinished the day before. I may be supervising the duty team, which involves looking at what has come in overnight and helping my colleagues prioritise their caseloads. As well as attending internal team meetings, I'm involved in three multi-disciplinary Community Support Teams working out of GP practices. We meet regularly to discuss any high-risk people with mental health issues in the community, for example, those who may need or be at risk of needing admission to hospital. Between February and August, I also have my OU teaching and mentoring, mainly involving a fixed programme of workshops which I can easily fit into my schedule. There are a few 'pinch points' with a lot of assignment marking, but I just knuckle down and make sure I find the time to get that done.

My proudest moments

The most rewarding times in my social work career have been when I've been working with someone who is very resistant to support, and I've really had to use my skills and experience to communicate and engage with them.

I also get great satisfaction from working with my OU students to help them develop their social work careers.

Lessons I've learnt

I think the most important thing is that you have to maintain your integrity. It's about being someone that service users can rely on, who treats them with respect and follows through on promises. I've also learnt to be resilient. "When you're going through hell, keep going," as Sir Winston Churchill once said. As a social worker, you have to face some pretty difficult challenges. You just have to keep going. If you have one of those mornings when everything is coming at you from all angles, just make a cup of tea and take it one step at a time. 

The most challenging part of my job

Dealing with violence is always difficult. Because I've always specialised in working with people who have challenging behaviour; it's something I've had to cope with throughout my career.  I've had formal training in conflict resolution, but it's experience that really counts. You develop a sixth sense that tells you when a situation has the potential to become dangerous. You're always aware, and you instinctively prepare yourself with strategies to minimise risk, such as sitting close to the exit door or keeping your hands in view when you're interacting with a vulnerable person. 

After work

I'm a keen skier and cyclist, and I've done some extreme sports, such as a triathlon and an Ironman event. However, these days my leisure time is mostly taken up with relaxing at home and working in the garden. We have an eight-year-old son, so I'm also kept pretty busy doing all the usual dad things.  As for getting away, my wife worked for an airline, so over the years we've had some fantastic holidays around the world. These days though, we tend to stick to one destination. We've got a small apartment in the Spanish Pyrenees where we can really get away from it all and forget we live in England.

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