Meet Liz, an everyday hero working as a Frontline Consultant Social Worker at Staffordshire County Council.
Below Liz has shared her story to show what a career in children's social care is like.
What's your role in a nutshell?
I’m a social worker and part of the ‘safeguarding’ team that helps keep children safe from harm, abuse and neglect. The parents themselves, the child’s school, doctor or neighbour can contact us and raise concerns about a child. We work with the child and their family and together plan what support and care is needed. This might be to help the child stay at home, and if this really isn’t possible, look at options within their wider family, or other care options such as a foster home or a children’s home.
It’s hugely rewarding - I can really help make day to day life better for a child. It can be challenging too as we are working with vulnerable children and young people.
Was this a planned career or one you fell into?
Planned most definitely. I’ve always been interested in understanding people and did my degree in Sociology to find out more. I then decided to do a post graduate course in Social Work. While studying I worked part time at a charity that supported foster carers that really fuelled my interest. Next I got a full time job at a council and learnt loads from the experienced staff around me. I also got to work directly with children and I took the time to really understand them and find out their needs.
Are you a doer, manager or leader?
All three! I work very directly with children and their families. I also manage a ‘learning unit’: a team of fast track students in the safeguarding team who get an intensive education with us - they learn by shadowing all aspects of our service, working with children and parents. I’m a leader too, leading the team of those involved working around the child.
What do you love best & love least about your job?
I always wake up wanting to go to work. Really. No day is the same. I like that I don’t know what to expect.
I really enjoy building lasting relationships. I’ve worked with one girl since she was six who was in a long term fostering placement, and managing to stay, at times, with her mum, then back to placements. She’s now 20, with her own child, in her own place and doing well. I know I’ve made a difference to her life, because I’ve been consistent with her and consistently there over all these years. It’s a privilege to have been able to have helped her on her, at times, difficult journey.
What I love least isn’t the paperwork as people might think – I actually think that it’s really important that we do write down and record what we do; we are involved in people’s lives, we need to be accountable for our decisions and actions.
No, the hardest part of the job is when someone comes into the service too late or the ones we can’t seem to ‘hold’ and help; the vulnerable young person with the horrendous background that ends up in a detention centre or serving a custodial sentence for example. The damage to a young person may last a lifetime. That’s the frustration of not enough resources to help everyone who needs it.
But the rewards when you know you’ve made a difference to a vulnerable young person make it worthwhile. I remember getting regular hate letters from one young person I was working with. She would cancel my visits at the last minute and was full of anger and ended up in secure care. But with my support and consistency she eventually stayed in a residential children’s home successfully and improved her life significantly. She has recently got back in touch, all these years later; it’s taken years to build that trust.
Do you need: Qualifications? University or apprenticeship or special skills?
You need a degree to be social worker. I’ve also done a Psychology diploma. Special skills needed are all around people – empathy, persistence, excellent listening and a willingness and ability to build lasting relationships. Being really organised and good at managing competing priorities are also essential skills for social work.
Routine or variety?
There is a series of set processes and procedures that are in place and needed to run a fair service. But each day brings new challenges and each family and potential solutions are always different too. Definitely more variety than routine.
Pay check or calling?
For me it's a calling, a really strong sense of purpose to make a difference to people. But actually social work is reasonably well paid too and with a recognised career progression.
Is there development support available or is it DIY?
There is loads of development support, training and opportunities. I’ve recently become a MACE (Multi Agency Child Exploitation) Champion for my council and sit on other partnerships and groups to broaden my learning and impact too.
Staying put or moving on?
I’m happy for now but I’d like to be dealing with the really complex, traumatic safeguarding cases at some point in the future. Very challenging, but I know I would find that extremely rewarding too and it would put my experience to good use too. I want to stay hands on; the people we help I want to keep helping directly.
Can you share a life lesson or specific career advice?
Take the time to really understand people. And always look after yourself. I’ve rarely been ill or had time off sick, and I think that’s because I know my limits. There will always be more demands on your time than the time you can give. I’ve learned to protect my time – I’ve three young children that need me too. The ‘to do’ list will always be there. There will always be emails in your inbox.
My advice – if you love people and want to make a difference to difficult lives, then try out a social work role. Volunteer, do a placement, once you get a foot in the door and find you like it, you will not look back.
Liz, is an #EverydayHero, working to change and make better the lives of others.
"Liz genuinely cares about the children and families she works with, she is restorative and respectful in her practice and management and this shines through in the difference it makes to the lives of many, she is a credit to our service and to Social Work practice" Assistant Director for Looked After Children & Disability Services, Staffordshire County Council
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