Assistant Practitioner to Social Worker

Alison is an advocate for people’s human rights and social justice. She worked as an assistant practitioner before she became a social worker. 

What made you decide to become a social worker?

I did a variety of jobs before coming to social work later in life. The main reason is a personal one, and I think this is true of many social workers. There is usually something in someone’s life that points them in this type of career direction, it’s not usually a childhood dream – mine was to be a vet! In my case, my eldest brother sadly died of a drug overdose and I spent several years following this wishing to ‘do something meaningful’ or ‘give something back’ or ‘help others in some way’. By pure chance I got a temporary job as an administrator in a children’s services team and the rest as they say is history! I was inspired by the dedication and commitment of those around me in the social work teams where I worked. I worked as an assistant practitioner before taking a career break and going to university to qualify as a social worker.

What qualities do you think you need to become a social worker?

The main skills I would say are patience, curiosity and empathy. Social work is a profession that is involved in people’s lives when they are in crisis. The people we work with are in situations of extreme stress or anxiety, and often life changing decisions are needed. Patience is needed to accept that things are not straight forward, especially when you are connecting with people’s feelings and beliefs. Empathy is crucial, you absolutely need to be able to put yourself in someone else’s position and be able to know what life is like for them. You need a level of curiosity, why is this person doing this? What makes them think that? Is something else happening that is not obvious?

Can you describe your role?.

It can be so wide and varied. What I would say is this, on a basic level my job in adult social work involves visiting people to assess their eligible need for care and support under the Care Act 2014. I work in an ‘older people and people with physical disabilities’ team. Our biggest client group is older people, often who are experiencing difficulties at home due to a decline in their health, mobility or dementia. Some people we work with often have other difficulties in their lives such as mental health, addiction and homelessness. Depending on what people wish to achieve, we look to commission services to help and support them. Sometimes however we can often find solutions in the local community and we have a wide variety of other professionals we work with such as GPs, community nurses and occupational therapists.

How many people work in your team?

Around 70 people, a variety of professions – social workers, occupational therapists and assistant practitioners in my team currently. This is larger than ‘normal’ as we currently include the hospital social work team due to the coronavirus pandemic.

What does a typical day look like? Describe the kind of decisions you make throughout your day

There is a huge responsibility as a social worker as decisions can have a major impact on a person’s life (and that of their family). There is great societal pressure to make ‘the right decision’ and social workers are often ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t’. This can equally apply in adult social work as it does in children’s social work.

Often we are assessing risk – can this person live safely at home on their own, are they at risk, what can we do to mitigate the risks. Often there is a huge amount we can do to help people remain at home as safely as possible, and sometimes the solution can be quite small but have a massive positive impact. For example, a person with dementia going for a walk and getting lost/hurt/taken advantage of by others due to the problems they are experiencing with memory and confusion. The Herbert Protocol is really useful here, enabling quick and efficient liaison with emergency services.  Another example might be a person with Parkinson’s who is at risk of experiencing a fall and injuring themselves. In this case, a falls sensor linked to a community alarm, whilst not stopping someone falling, would alert services that they have fallen and to send help. As a social worker it is important to accept we can never remove all risk from anyone’s life, all we can do is work to reduce the risks in accordance with people’s wishes.

I generally work with people who are hoarding or neglecting themselves or their home in some way. In these cases the risks can be very high for the person, equally however, I strongly believe in their right to live how they wish to live. It’s not for me to impose my own personal values about the cleanliness of their home, their ‘hoard’ or whether or not they have/want central heating. Sadly, these people are frequently excluded from society and have become isolated as a result, often attracting complaints from neighbours, particularly during the pandemic.

Decision making of course has to mindful of the law and various laws come into play such as the Care Act 2014, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Mental Capacity Act 2005, the Mental Health Act 1983, the GDPR 2018, the Equality Act 2010, to name a few.

Describe the challenges during the pandemic, how has it changed the way you work?

The last couple of years have been difficult both personally and professionally, as it has for many people. It has changed the way we have worked, being more remote, and using technology. For the client groups that we work with, lockdown has meant increased risks particularly with regard to domestic abuse. Our client group is often more vulnerable in this regard than the general population as they are more likely to have factors that prevent or inhibit them to seek help. Working from home has been very isolating, the banter and support with colleagues in an office environment is particularly important in social work due to the stressful nature of the job. In addition, there has been greater personal risk  with the fear of not only catching but passing on COVID-19 to other people, particularly older clients who are vulnerable. Whilst some conversations with people can be done via phone or other media, often a home visit is still essential.

Like various other professions/key workers, we worked throughout the pandemic. Our role has also been made harder as resources have become more difficult, for example day centres have been unable to run in the usual way during the pandemic. Day centres whilst being enjoyable for the person attending, are often a crucial break for our hard-working unpaid carers on whom this pandemic has also been particularly hard.

What do you like best about working as a social worker?

I love being a social worker because it is such a privilege to be allowed into people’s lives and enable them to make changes which solves difficulties they are facing. I have lots of conversations with a wide variety of people and really enjoy visiting people at home, understanding their ‘stories’ and helping them to find ways to live their life how and where they wish to.

What would you say to someone who is considering a career in social work?

Do it – but only if you feel passionately about it and are not doing it for the money or glory! If you are going to be a social worker, be the social worker you would want to visit you, be an advocate, fight for people’s human rights and social justice, this is at the heart of social work.

Social work is not just about children, there are many career paths in social work including working with adults, those with mental health difficulties, forensic social work and palliative social work. You also don’t have to work for the local authority, many charities and other organisations employ social workers and there are also oversees and international opportunities.

Social work is not for the faint hearted and can often be thankless. There are a lot of myths and misrepresentation about social work in the media or in TV drama which can be upsetting and frustrating. However, it can also be exceptionally rewarding making a difference in people’s lives, whether that’s just brightening someone’s day with a conversation and some information that provides hope or helping them to make major changes in their lives.

We are recruiting now for social workers all over Norfolk. See our vacancies page and apply today.