Last week it was World Social Work Day and I was privileged to open an event celebrating the day with 100 of Walsall's social workers from across adult and children's services. When preparing for it I found a copy of the picture that I used for my ID pass when I first qualified in the same local authority too many years ago to mention. It set me off thinking about the differences between the profession then and now. Caseload sizes continue to increase and present new and complex challenges but for me it was about how old I was - the staff member who said I looked about 10 years old shall remain nameless as will those that laughed at my "bubble" perm - and looking forward to being a real social worker and no longer a student. At the time, I was what you would call a generic worker, working across both children and adult services, with a workload ranging from vulnerable older people and those with mental health issues to children in care.
During the conference, I found myself trying to describe this to an audience of people most of whom had qualified post the separation of adult and children's services and, as a consequence, rarely even meet with each other let alone share work. Despite this, what became apparent during the day was that there remain many shared values including a focus on human relationships and making a real difference in the lives of others that underpins social work practice as it did all those years ago - the only difference is the perm has gone!
In reality, children's social workers will come into contact with both children and adults on a regular basis so it's essential that their needs are viewed in the round. For example, domestic abuse, poor parental mental health and substance misuse are becoming more common among the families we work with and we know that when adult need is left unmet, due to the lack of support services available to them, it is difficult for us to make a sustained difference in the lives of children. World Social Work Day was a great opportunity to reflect on the cross-over between adult and children services but also to think about how we can improve ways of working together. Supporting both children and adults requires specific knowledge and understanding of needs but their overlap is unavoidable, and we must not lose sight of this. The relationships we form with children and young people are incredibly important but making sure that they are sustained into adulthood is equally crucial.
I am told that bubble perms are back in fashion although I have no intention of going back there and I certainly think it's unlikely we will go back to the days of generic social work. However, the focus on relationships for World Social Work Day this year has focussed all our thinking on the connections that still exist despite some of the artificial divide in our ways of working. After all, each day, up and down the country, both children's and adult social workers are working tirelessly to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society and that's certainly something we can all get behind.
Sally Rowe, executive director of children's services, Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website