The power of positive relationships

Sheila Smith
Friday, November 8, 2019

My blog might read more as a ramble this week for two reasons. First, I've spent the last two weeks hard of hearing and croaking as I've had a bad cold which has reduced my thinking abilities.

Second, I've moved seamlessly from worries about Brexit (especially following the helpful reminder from the Secretary of State to ensure that our free school meals children don't go hungry even if the shops run out of food) to focusing on preparations for the upcoming General Election - also aided by a second helpful letter from the Secretary of State reminding us not to spoil children's December celebrations by taking over their schools as polling stations.

In the middle of this week I had a blast from the past as we welcomed the energetic, thought provoking Lemn Sissay to Weston super Mare. His contribution, alongside that of The Big House Theatre, will stay with us all for a long time. For me there was also a personal resonance as I started my career as a social worker in an authority next door to Wigan and I remember working with a couple of young people who stayed in one of the same places as Lemn for short periods. This led me to begin to think about what has changed and what has stayed the same over the intervening 40 years. The big old institutions run mainly by ex-service personnel are long gone but so too are the small family group homes whose staff often provided stable, warm, nurturing care, enabling siblings to stay together. Now, when we review our children's care plans, we do it with them, often led by them, rather than as a paper exercise. Our social workers are now able to build relationships with smaller numbers of families rather than the 45 for whom I did my best in the early 1980s. My first application for care orders lasted an hour in a magistrate's court and I walked out with four care orders on the strength of my evidence and a four-page report - a far cry from the plans and statements that our social workers have to produce.

What has absolutely stayed the same is the social work mission to focus on improving life for children and families whilst challenging the wider social context. I spent some time with our Frontline workers last week and was blown away by their compassion, their deep reflections and their drive to work with families from a strengths-based approach - they are joining a children and young people's workforce who share that drive to do the best for children and young people whilst always learning, challenging and celebrating. So, I've come full circle because that's what I saw when I came into the profession and although there have been ups and downs, I believe that the power of positive relationships only increases our collective strength to build a better future.

Sheila Smith is director of people and communities, North Somerset Council. This blog was first published on the ADCS website