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Dee Belford is an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) in Birmingham City Council’s citywide AMHP team and winner of the 2016 Mental Health Social Worker of the Year award. The Award judges commented on her special ability of “being able to stand by the side of a service user without appearing ‘with power’”. We speak with Dee to find out more about her and her work in the Spring issue of Sanctuary Social Work News magazine.

My journey into social work 

I originally trained as a state registered nurse and worked in the NHS. In 1990 I joined a mental health trust in Birmingham and was tasked with setting up a daytime respite service for individuals experiencing acute mental health crisis. The new Community Care Act was transforming social care and that’s when my real interest in social work was sparked. Seeing the clear relationship between social deprivation and mental health issues, I became actively involved in various community projects that aimed to reduce poverty and promote social inclusion, reducing people’s vulnerability to mental illness. However, I soon realised that, to make a real difference, I needed to train formally as a social worker. I studied for a BSc and after graduation I began my social work career working mainly in NHS settings within the West Midlands prior to my return to Birmingham City Council. 

My typical day

As a team, we provide a service to general hospitals, psychiatric units and police stations, as well as in the community. We’re responsive to their needs, so on a day-to-day basis we don’t know what’s going to come in and what type of situations we’re going to have to deal with. They make referrals to us and we respond by carrying out Mental Health Act assessments. A typical assessment can last anything from two hours to 12 or more.  We’re dependent on collaborative working and there can be issues, such as finding a bed and availability of police officers or an ambulance. Assessments can take place anywhere in the city, so there’s travel time to take into account too. 

My proudest moments 

Am I allowed to say that my proudest moment is winning the Mental Health Social Worker of the year award? I work with fantastic colleagues and an extremely supportive management team. I do what I do with no expectation above and beyond the feedback I get from them. So it’s great to get wider recognition of my efforts. Just to be nominated for the award was a huge honour. And to win the Gold Award was truly amazing.

As far as my job goes, I get the most satisfaction from making a difference. I will go the extra mile if I feel that I can make that difference. Sometimes it means thinking ‘outside the box’ or taking a different view from colleagues, but I’m always totally focused on the service user’s needs.

Lessons I’ve learnt 

No matter how long you work as an AMHP, you continue to encounter new challenges. It’s a constant learning curve and you need to be open-minded to change. I’m dealing with a community which is diverse and evolving. We have to keep up-to-date with the demographics of our population and be ready to respond to their needs. It’s not just the many languages that are spoken in the city (I think it’s about 40!). We have to be aware of social, cultural and religious differences which can inform our assessments.

To read more of Dee’s intriguing story on her life as an AMHP and how she spends her time outside of work, check out Sanctuary Social Work News magazine (pages 08-09).

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