Rescue me

In the office we referred sarcastically to a colleague who seemed to want to rescue those they worked with. Every office had one. They invariably came from a 'good ' background and were perhaps over compensating for the benefits they had enjoyed, they tried too hard and were always prepared to  give their client the benefit of doubt and another chance despite the evidence of experience. Of course their clients took advantage, called them "soft" and dismissed them as "do gooders ". We considered ourselves more street wise and knew the value of not speaking 'posh' and dressing casual, only managers or probation officers wore a jacket and tie. The group we respected were the unqualified social work assistants who lived on patch and had amassed a lot of local knowledge having been the backbone of the team for years. They were mostly older women but defiantly not the pearls  and tweed brigade. Now I look back on it they had to put up with a lot, from the over confident and opinionated not long qualified young social workers. 

The unqualified social work assistants  lacked status and this was reflected in the cases they were allocated. But there was a view around that social work was better done by people who had experience of life. You couldn't get on a social work course straight from school you had to be over 21. There was less concern about academic ability even from the university's, what voluntary work had you done, how did you get on at school, what could you bring to the course, a period of unemployment with its consequent experience of the benefit system was no disadvantage. The idea was to produce social workers who could relate to their clients, so if you had been to the local comp, if you were a bit rebellious,had a strong sense of social justice and now wanted to do something worthwhile chances were you'd be accepted. 

Employers were not necessarily like minded they complained of social workers coming off the courses ill prepared for the reality of working in local government with its emphasis on recording rather than relationships. " Spent more time on  challenging racism that studying child protection legislation", directors complained. 
The profession wasn't too happy about the effect on its status. If anyone could be a social worker then the courts, the police, GPs and head teachers wouldn't take their assessment and recommendations seriously and social workers pay would suffer along with their status. The obvious solution was to be compared to teachers a three year university training combining academic rigour with practical experience through supervised placements.
And so it became a better paid profession,  a more confident profession. 

I thought about all this when I read about the new social work training course for graduates (Community Care 27/4/16) and the course tutors boast that it was attracting Oxbridge graduates. And I thought how will these social workers be viewed by colleagues, as future high flyers out of touch with the real world or do gooders sent to rescue the poor and disadvantaged? 

Blair McPherson former social worker and director

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