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If you’ve read the most recent issue of Social Work News magazine, you may have spotted our brand new Social Work Circle feature where we ask social workers to write guest articles. Here, our social worker discusses how practitioners can continue to use their personal fighting spirit to remain an advocate for those in need.


A few months ago, I considered changing career. After 20 years of hospital and local authority work I’d officially had ENOUGH. The battles with policy, a frustration with complex, out-dated systems and a caseload of difficult cases was draining. A colleague had got a part-time evening job in a supermarket and as she told me about the staff discount, I fantasised about the thought of clocking into work and leading a stress-free life. Of course, I know it's not really like that, but it was my fantasy after all. I began to actively think about an alternative to my social work career. 

During this period of reflection, I attended a multi-disciplinary meeting at work, about a difficult in-patient case. The subject being discussed was a course of treatment with potentially significant side effects. It was a medically-led meeting and the discussion was long, heated and intense. I was alarmed to realise that the wishes of the patient were barely being taken into account. Their history of abuse was not mentioned, and the family’s views ignored.  As I listened to the doctors arguing about the pros and cons of the proposed treatment, there was no sense of who this patient was. Their journey and past experiences were never considered, nor how they came to be in hospital. I felt a sense of injustice burn inside me and it was only when a fellow social worker, clearly feeling the same concerns as me, stuck their hand up in the air and raised a number of valid points, that I realised what I'd miss if I left social work. 

There is probably no other job that requires a person to fight for people’s rights like social work does. Because that's what it is about a lot of the time. Call it social justice, empowerment or not giving up easily, but dealing with injustice is part of our bread and butter. It’s not easy. It can make us unpopular, especially, as I've found, in multi-disciplinary teams dominated by medics. Our role often requires intervention when it is least welcome and that takes tenacity, a certain amount of bravery and a real professional belief in what we do.

Is this innate within every social worker or can it be taught and developed? I think it's a bit of both. That sense of social justice, of fairness and equal opportunity is instinctual in most social workers I've met. It’s often why we became social workers in the first place. It draws us together at meetings or conferences. It takes confidence to be the only person in a meeting to object to something or to flag up a concern. One of my hardest jobs was being the only social worker in a multidisciplinary health setting because I felt isolated and vulnerable. I sought out other social workers to meet with regularly for a bit of support from like-minded professionals.

In difficult times, when the job feels all consuming, it can be a comfort to know that most of my colleagues share a sense of social justice, and that they believe in intervention, however difficult. We want to improve things for those people who have been disadvantaged by circumstance, class, age, race or gender. Social workers are not easily put off, not easily dissuaded and won't take no for an answer. And I love that about my job. Sure, there are times when I feel the fight in me waning. Usually it's when systems aren't working, or management aren't supportive. Sometimes it's because I have battled for so long. Austerity measures have certainly made things more difficult and services are stretched even tighter.  The job can feel utterly relentless. But, with a proper rest, a good rant to colleagues and meaningful supervision all go a long way to help restore one’s belief that you’re making a difference. The fight is within us, but it needs to be embraced, nurtured and celebrated, to be our most powerful weapon. 
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