Tracy Lormor is a social worker in the family support team in Essex Council's children's services. She graduated from Anglia Ruskin University with a degree in social work in July.
- What led you into social work?
When my children grew older, I decided on a new direction in my life. Although the idea of social work has always interested me, I thought university was out of my reach. But I was told about Access to Higher Education courses, which give you the qualification to be able to study at university.
I was apprehensive about re-entering education. I'm 43 and the last time I had been in education was when I left school at 16. I found it demanding but rewarding and I really did enjoy my studies, which was quite surprising.
- What made you decide on social work?
It's something I've always been interested in. I've always enjoyed working with people and I wanted a job that was varied and not just office-bound. The idea of working with people to empower them to make positive changes in their lives has always appealed to me.
- How easy was it to juggle the studies with parenthood?
I have four children and my youngest, who are 17 and seven, are still at home. It was challenging, because my husband is a security consultant and spends a lot of time out of the country. He was in Iraq and then in Afghanistan.
- What's the job been like since you started in October?
I had my final year placement in the team where I'm working now, so my previous experience helped me hit the ground running. I'm finding it rewarding, but challenging as well. My manager provides great supervision, which allows me to reflect on my cases in a safe environment. I also draw on my manager's practice wisdom to inform my work. My team is made up of workers with lots of different experience and they offer support and guidance every day.
- What are the biggest challenges?
Accepting that we cannot do everything. Cases can be unpredictable and you have to prioritise. You need to learn quickly. Learning the policies and practice used within the organisation has been quite challenging as well.
- Does being a parent help your role as a children's social worker?
I think it does allow you to empathise, but I don't think it's essential. And I think it's important that you don't use your parenting experience to judge other people on how they parent.
I have four children and a grandchild, but there are people in my team who have no children and they're fantastic social workers.
- Have your children been impressed by your new career?
My daughter, who is 23, has nearly finished her Access to Higher Education course and has just been for her interview at Anglia Ruskin University for a social work degree, just like me. She wants to go into children's social work too. It's brilliant, I'm so proud of her. She's seen me achieve and she wants to do it too. She proofread all my assignments at university. The interest and passion she has in social work is unbelievable. She has more of an insight into social work than I had when I started.
- What tips would you give to others entering the profession at a similar stage in life?
If you have been out of education for a long time, you do lose your confidence. But if you are focused, you can do anything you set your mind to. Talk to your managers and do not be afraid to ask questions. Make the most of your supervision and use the expertise of your colleagues. And be aware of the newly qualified programmes available to you, because they are absolutely brilliant.
CAREERS - MY PLACEMENT
I've been placed in the family support team in a Sure Start children's centre in Nottingham for three days a week. It began in October and lasts for 80 days.
Working in a children's centre is a good way to start. I've been working with lots of multi-agency partners: health visitors, midwives, community play and youth teams. So it has been a very good introduction to partnership working.
And it is useful to have a knowledge of children's centres and the work they do, because with the current restructuring of children's centres in Nottingham, more cases will be referred to them.
I work as a family support worker. The great thing about my role is enabling people to realise they have great kids. One case I was pleased with was a family having a lot of trouble with their nine-year-old middle child. He was a bright boy but having trouble around bedtime and I asked if they read with him for 10 minutes a night. The mum was dyslexic, but the dad was happy to do that. It has made a big difference to his behaviour.
The only man
Apart from the caretaker, I'm the only man working at the centre. Although at times this has been a challenge, being male has made me an asset. The centre's caseload is filled with boys between five and 13 demonstrating challenging behaviour. In that age range, boys find it easier relating to a man. My presence has also been reassuring to young fathers. Middle-aged women can be quite daunting at times.
Petros Careswell-Schultz is in the first cohort of the Step Up to Social Work programme, a work-based Masters course funded by the Children's Workforce Development Council