Case study

Social worker — Ella Dawkes

Ella enjoys the flexibility she gets from working as an agency social worker. Discover what her day involves and her advice for others

How did you get your job as a social worker?

When I graduated I did some work in a nursery to build my experience of working with children and then completed my Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) in a team in Staffordshire.

Lots of people I worked with were agency social workers and I liked the idea of having the flexibility to move around and learn new things, so I joined an agency and was placed in Gloucestershire. 

What are your main work activities?

My day involves checking emails, meeting professionals, visiting children at school or with their families, but it can all change with a phone call. This could be anything from a team member needing support, a child disclosing abuse, a parent in an abusive relationship wanting to open up, or a mum giving birth as she's due in court. My job is so varied, you never know what each day will bring.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

Since starting out in social work, I have become more confident, especially around challenging parents. I have a great senior team to learn from and to support me, which has really helped me grow in confidence. Social work is continually changing, and I've learnt to be adaptable to whatever comes my way.

In the future, I see myself in more of a mentoring role as a practice educator supporting new social workers. Taking people under my wing is something I naturally tend to do, so I think this position would suit me.

What do you enjoy about your social work job?

Enjoy isn't the right word. I wish my job didn't exist and it wasn't needed but it does, and I'm glad I have the resilience and skills to do it. My favourite part of my job, even though it might sound backwards, is the closures. This is where I say 'bye' to a family I have been working with, possibly for the last 12 months or more. It's bittersweet, but saying goodbye means I've done my job, and a child is safe.

I often tell my caseload, I'm like Nanny McPhee. I'll be there when you need me but don't want me, but when the time comes that you want me but don't need me, I have to go.

What are the most challenging parts of your social care role?

Limitations in funding cause huge challenges. So often we identify a need but find there is no support available to signpost people to - for example, foster care. There are so many children that need to be moved out of situations but there are not enough foster places available. At times we are visiting every day but ideally that child would be removed to a foster home. That is so frustrating and heartbreaking.

Working in the Cotswolds has its challenges in terms of distance. Visits are so spread out, I can spend three hours a day just getting to each place and back.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

Do it. It's the most rewarding job anyone can do.

Take on board any support offered. Do any training you can - shadowing, joint visits, anything you can do to learn, say 'yes'. Take advice from advanced practitioners too.

Be kind to yourself. Taking care of yourself in this fast-paced, high emotion job is so important. Enjoy your weekends, take annual leave and make sure you don't burn yourself out. If you don't look out for yourself first, you can’t help others.

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