World Social Work Day is a day to celebrate, not just as social workers but as an opportunity to point out social work’s enduring value in contemporary society. Social work is mostly about supporting the most vulnerable members of society, sometimes those who everyone shuns. But equally it supports you or me – the person next door or the man or woman in the street – if any of us hit hard times. This support has always been important since social work first started in medieval times through the very first charity work.
World Social Work Day is an opportunity to reflect on all of those individuals who are in a complex and often painful transition. They might be transitioning between countries, across continents, searching for a new and better life. They may be in a transition from one family to another or one relationship to another. The children we work with in Cafcass are nearly all in the middle of such a transition. They might be leaving care, or leaving a foster placement for new foster carers or adopters. Others are experiencing transition after their parents’ relationship has broken down. The support they need can take many forms – practical, emotional, financial, informational, therapeutic and more usually, a combination of these. Sometimes, a small amount of support provided at a crucial time of need can make all the difference.
The situations social workers encounter would test the character, resilience and sanity of most people. We see the often unimaginable behaviour that is extreme by any standards. The fact that most pain is inflicted by individuals who are either related to each other or close to each other, shows that education about behavioural impact needs much more focus and investment. I hope that recent publicity about the impact of intimate partner violence on victims – child and adult alike, will itself have some impact on reducing incidence levels, as the greater focus on the damage from smoking, drinking and teenage pregnancy may have done in these areas. However, stress at close quarters within families, behind closed doors, is too powerful a force and driver to be challenged easily.
World Social Work Day is a reminder of the need to continue the work we do for several generations to come, pursuing the utopian dream that one day work like this will no longer be needed. From today’s perspective, utopia is as far away as ever, but I do think that every step we take is a step towards achieving that dream. I think we can be sustained by the feedback from the vast majority of people whose lives are both touched and improved by contact with social workers and social care services. We too often only hear about the cases that go wrong, from those who are dissatisfied or about the undoubted major resource shortfalls across the sector; not the far greater number whose lives have been supported. And in many ways transformed for the better.
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