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Rob Mitchell is a Principal Social Worker (PSW) and Service Manager for Adult Services at Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire. He won the 2015 Principal Social Worker of the Year award, mainly for his inspirational leadership, infectious passion for social work and tireless efforts to raise the profile of the profession at a national and regional level. We find out more about Rob in the latest issue of Sanctuary Social Work News

My Journey into social work

I consider myself really fortunate to have found social work. I left school with few qualifications and had a number of different jobs, including working for a couple of days as a postman and even training to run a pub. Everything changed when I became a care assistant in a nursing home for the elderly. I knew within an hour that social care was the career for me. After working for a few years in a housing association and other care sector management roles, I realised I needed a proper qualification to progress my career further in social work. So as a 26-year-old, I enrolled at university and never looked back, joining my home local authority as a hospital social worker straight after graduation.

My typical day

As far my as PSW role goes, there are many demands for my time and any two days are rarely the same. For example, yesterday I was lecturing to social work students at a local university. Today I sat on a recruitment panel, did some winter pressures planning, prepared a presentation on safeguarding, held supervision sessions with two new operations managers and had a meeting with the Department of Health about a pilot social work project. Many of my commitments as a Service Manager, such as chairing panels, are regular items in my diary, so I work all of the PSW stuff around those.

My proudest moments

As a practitioner, it’s some of the people I’ve provided social care support to who really stand out in my mind and give me a real sense of achievement. Seeing the amazing love and support that they get from their families is always really humbling too. It reminds you how privileged you are to be positively involved in somebody’s life when they’re experiencing real personal difficulties. As a manager, it really makes me proud to see the career progression of some of the colleagues we’ve employed here at Calderdale.

We made a decision a couple of years ago to ring-fence some positions to create opportunities for newly qualified social workers. Seeing some of those people move into management or advanced practitioner roles is really gratifying. I recently attended a conference on the Human Rights Act and it was great to see that two of the speakers were people I had interviewed for jobs as newly qualified social workers just three years before.

Lessons I’ve learnt

I believe that, as social workers, we should always be reflective and ready to learn lessons. One of the most important things I’ve learnt is to find ways of working effectively with colleagues and partners who, while they may be just as passionate and committed as I am, are inclined to see things differently from the way I do. I won’t compromise in representing my service users. However, in terms of working relationships it’s important to be collaborative and take people with you, rather than adopting a dogmatic and confrontational stance which is almost certain to be non-productive.

The most challenging part of my job

Working with independent service providers can be difficult. Right now some of them are really feeling the effects of public sector budget cuts. As a result they’re struggling to recruit and retrain high-quality staff. If we’re regularly commissioning care but have concerns about the quality of that care, that’s a real challenge for us as social workers. Then, of course, there’s the perennial challenge of winter pressures. It feels like we start planning for winter in June!

After work

Having three sons, I’m kept pretty busy at weekends with family commitments. However, last Easter my wife encouraged me to take up running. It was tough at first because I hadn’t done any serious exercise since school, but now I’m regularly doing 5K and 10K park runs. If I go out early on a Saturday morning, it really energises me and sets me up for the weekend, although I have to stop myself using it as an excuse to eat loads of chocolate and crisps! I’m also daft enough to be a Leeds United supporter. The challenges they’ve faced over the last 10 years make social work look like a walk in the park!

To read more about what it’s like working in different social work roles, including an account from a frontline CSE practitioner at Rotherham, read Sanctuary Social Work News

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