An introduction to social work in Wales
An introduction to social work in Wales

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An introduction to social work in Wales

4. Social work roles in practice

In the previous section you considered the broad legal and policy framework within which social work exists, and looked at how professional values may be challenged or even at times supported by current social policy or legal developments. Nevertheless, social workers are able to develop and use their skills and knowledge in a wide variety of settings and with many different service users, and they do have opportunities to make a positive difference to people’s lives, even in very difficult circumstances.

Activity 6: What makes a good social worker?

Allow 10 minutes

Watch the videos below and jot down what each individual says about the qualities that makes a good social worker.

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Skip transcript: Siân Parry, Service User

Transcript: Siân Parry, Service User

Sian Parry, Service User
I was born in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Mum and Dad were from Wales and spoke Welsh, but Dad happened to be working there. I returned to Wales when I was around 3 years old. I've lived in North Wales ever since. I had a short spell working in London. I was working there with the police for about two years. I've had quite a few different jobs. I worked for the Welsh Ambulance Service in North Wales for around five years.
After I had children I went to college in North Wale in order to train to become a teacher. I've been poorly for over twenty years now. But after suffering kidney failure things changed a lot. I worked part-time for a period. Things became more difficult for me in school. I had to cut my hours and eventually I finished working.
Everything changes completely when you're on dialysis because you're tied to the hospital on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It's quite a strain to be honest. It's been an enormous change for me to go from a very busy life to one which is a lot quieter. It takes time to come around to the fact that you're not well enough to work. Work was everything. It's where my friends were, that's what I did.
As a teacher, you pray for the holidays to arrive. But I had all this time and didn't know what to do with it. I was very fortunate, because the hospital helped me straight away. Because I had dialysis at home at the start, there was a lot of contact. There's a team of renal nurses who look after you. They come to the house and help you to get set up. But I could only do that for around five years. It was during that time that I had my first social worker. She was extremely good with the children and the family as well. They were teenagers at the time and teenagers aren't the easiest to deal with at the best of times. I was poorly and it was extremely difficult for them. They were able to talk to her about it as well as me. She was there for us all as a family.
Speaking to a nurse or a doctor is difficult. They have a completely different attitude. When she came here, I was able to tell her what was really worrying me. She really helped me. Even though I'd been suffering with different illnesses I couldn't get a blue badge. I wasn't receiving Disability Living Allowance or anything like that. I would have been eligble for that whilst working part-time but I didn't realise. I was too ill to think about things like that. Financially It was a huge strain. She came along and worked on those things for me, and on my behalf when I couldn't fill in those horrible forms myself. It was a lot easier when she worked on them with me.
I've been very fortunate to have a social worker who is a fluent Welsh speaker. I've also had a social worker who couldn't speak Welsh but was willing to say simply "Bore da". It's very simple but it makes a big difference in terms of ethos. It makes you feel very comfortable. Some of the staff wear badges to symbolize that they are Welsh speakers. That's really nice because when you see that badge it's then easy to speak to them in Welsh. I think that the Welsh language service is essential because it's important to use Welsh from day to day. It means a lot to me. I speak Welsh with my family and with little children. It's natural for me to do so. It's a strange thing, If you start off speaking in English with somebody you'll always speak to them in English. There's no reason why we shouldn't all be able to speak a little bit of Welsh. After all, we're Welsh, aren't we?
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Skip transcript: Mr Howell Mudd, Carer

Transcript: Mr Howell Mudd, Carer

Mr Mudd, Carer
My life has been very interesting. I was born in Neuaddlwyd, near Aberaeron. I moved to Banc Y Ffordd and that's where I was brought up. I went to Cynwyl Elfed School and then The Grange School, Carmarthen. Secondary school. After school I spent some time in Torquay, Devon. I then went to near London. After that I got a job with a company in Birmingham. I was there for a while. There were a lot of strikes at that time in the car industry because they were building car parts with machines.
I went to work in St Fagans, near Cardiff, in the museum. Then I went into ministerial service. I was ordained in Cilcennin, near Aberaeron. [INAUDIBLE] I moved to Gwynfryn in Ammanford and then to a church in north Pembrokeshire. I retired back here up until my wife lost her health. Mary went in on the 14th of April. She's very happy there. Perhaps she doesn't really understand where she is. At times she doesn't recognize me. They decided that the best option for her was to go into care permanently. She's very happy there. The reason she's happy there is because there's a day centre in Ammanford.
Every day, after the carers have been in to look after her she goes down to the day centre. She's got to know the staff and the other people who go there. The only difference is that she doesn't sleep at home. She goes to the day centre every day from the care home. Because of that, she's happy mixing with other people. Things are easy, but some things have changed as well. It's easier because I can sleep at night whereas I couldn't before. Because of her condition she'd be waking up and walking around.
To a certain extent it's easier but it's also very difficult because I'm on my own now. I sit here sometimes and think that she's here, but she isn't. I think that I can hear her speaking like she used to. Sometimes she'd talk all night. Sometimes I can't sleep because I think that she's still here. It's a strange experience. To tell you the truth, I do find it difficult because we were happy together. We wouldn't ever go out without each other because that's the nature of being in the ministry. She was a Sunday school teacher. It was hard to make the decision but the CPN nurse and the social worker advised that it was the best option for her. We don't deal with social workers in the ministry. I realize that they are meant to help people. They go to residential homes. I sometimes think they have too many qualifications and not enough practical experience.
I would think that you'd need sympathy and wisdom to deal with the elderly. That's more important than a piece of paper which show's you've done the right exams. Because of their condition, the patients themselves I think you need sympathy and wisdom to be able to deal with them. I've been doing it for years now, and It can be difficult. You can be impatient sometimes. But you need to have patience and understand the patient himself. You need to have Welsh speaking services for the elderly. That's their language. When they were being brought up, there wasn't a lot of English. Welsh speaking social workers are essential. I haven't had any myself. If I had stayed at home, perhaps I would have had problems understanding English. But because I've been away, I could understand them fine. There was nothing wrong with the little bit of Welsh service that I had but something got lost between thinking in Welsh and speaking in English.
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Skip transcript: Mags Jones, Social Worker

Transcript: Mags Jones, Social Worker

Mags Jones, Social Worker
I tried to find a job, but, of course, I didn't have any experience. So I decided to do some voluntary work with The Samaritans. I think the project was called Youth Enterprise. I was working with the elderly. They matched older people with younger people. There's a notion in social work that you have another persona outside work, but that's nonsense.
I managed to get a job as a welfare assistant in West Glamorgan. It was in Morriston, near Swansea. I went on from there to become a qualified social worker. I then went to Oxford to get my CQSW. I came back to Carmarthenshire in 1984. As a social worker you can help people and make a difference in their lives. And just to stand next to people who are worrying.
Over the years I've worked with people with learning difficulties people with problems, people who are worried. It's a privilege to stand next to people who are worrying and to make a difference. You have to make time to talk about your feelings. This work can be stressful, and you often take it home with you. You worry and you can't sleep. It's important that the worker's feelings are dealt with in the supervision process.
You need time to feel that you matter and that your work is important. You should never feel ashamed to admit you're struggling. When stress levels are high, the case load is too much. There's no money or somebody has been chasing me for something. It's important that the door is always open. You have to be open and you have to respect people. Perhaps some people and their lifestyle choices are different to yours. It's important to accept people as they are and to respect them without thinking about their colour, their beliefs or sexual preferences. You have to be non- judgemental and also have a sense of humour. You have to be able to place yourself in somebody else's situation even if you've never had that experience. If somebody is worried their children may be taken into care. I haven't experienced that, but I know what it's like to be worried.
I know what it's like to not feel in control from other circumstances in my life. You have to try your best to put yourself in their shoes. It's important to use your personality. I had an experience many years ago, before I began to work within teams. You would go to see people for an hour with your diary under your arm. I was working in London, in a halfway house unit. People would go there after coming out of a psychiatric hospital before going out into the community. That was a very different experience, but I really enjoyed it. It took me a while to work out that you have to use your personality. At 3.00 in the morning if they have a nightmare, or 2.00 in the afternoon when you're playing snooker.
I was giving counselling and doing a lot of group work. But it was really important to sometimes leave out the formalities and use your personality. I think Carmarthenshire is one of the places in where Welsh is spoken the most. It's important to me that I'm able to use my first language. I didn't learn Welsh in school but it's my first language. It's important to have that opportunity and that people are able to choose.
I feel it's important to give people the choice. Many of the people we work with don't have much power over their own lives. This gives them an option. I adore it anyway, I feel it breaks down barriers. As soon as you knock on somebody's door you can tell from their accent whether they speak Welsh or not. In this county, and in work, we have a few people who only speak Welsh. That's lovely as well. I think Welsh is starting to become more popular with young people and children. It's critical that there are Welsh speaking social workers, especially in Wales.
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Skip transcript: Linda Thomas Newman, Social Work Manager

Transcript: Linda Thomas Newman, Social Work Manager

Linda Thomas Newman, Social Work Manager
I used to work as a television scriptwriter. As part of my work I researched the role of social workers working with children. I spoke to social workers to find out how abused children behaved and what signs to look out for. I found it so interesting.
The job itself sounded better than writing about it. I hadn't realized that it was in my background. My dad was disabled, and my brother suffered from Down's Syndrome. I was familiar with having social workers in the house. Supervision is important to social workers, especially new social workers. In order to know they're supported and that their work is appreciated.
Often people work long hours. They're unsung heroes out working in the community. It's important they can come back saying, "I've done such-and-such" and that somebody recognizes the good work they've done. It's also a chance for them to talk about anything that may have arisen - things which have worried them, or maybe even upset them.
The work we deal with can be very sad. It can be tragic. It's important they discuss their feelings so they don't take them home with them. The principles noted in the Care Council for Wales' code of practice are important. There are personal principles too - what kind of person you are. You must respect individuals who have problems or disabilities. You have to respect people's differences and not be prejudiced. I never thought I was prejudiced person. But when I was training, the tutor asked, "What prejudices have you got?" I remember thinking, "I haven't got any." But we all have our prejudices Admit you have them and that they're worrying you. It's vital that you're an honest and genuine person and that you try to do your best for the person. What you want is secondary. The person is important. and it's important to leave them outside. Perhaps talk about them in the supervision process.
In order to be a good social worker, what I look for. I've sat on an interview panel once. The personality of a person comes across before they begin to answer the questions. We look for people who are honest, natural and comfortable with people; people who are interested in people and want to listen to their story. Listening skills are very important. I also look for somebody who's professional.; somebody who knows the law and policies and who knows the structure within the council. When we do what we do, we have an important role within the law. The person must take responsibility for the quality of their work - taking minutes, assessment skills, risk assessment. They must completely understand their role. Professionalism comes when they understand their role.
Working in Wales is different because it's a devolved country. The structure of the legislation is very different to England and Scotland's. I'm a mental health social worker. Our code of practice for mental health is different to the one they have in England. They're small but important differences,and you have to know them. The way you apply the Mental Capacity Act is different in England. It's important to recognize that there are differences. We're not the same as England and Scotland. They have small differences in their legislation. Also, the way we work is affected by the traditions we have in Wales the language and the type of country we have. We have areas which are urban and some which are extremely rural.
It's important that service users are able to choose their language. It's their right as individuals who live in Wales. The people we work with are going through a personal emergency. There's closeness straight away. They trust you straight away. It happens, people relax straight away when they realize you can speak Welsh. People can say what's worrying them. They can express themselves better in their own language. If they can tell you what's wrong, and tell you what they need it ensures your assessment is better. You get the truth rather than struggling with a language they're not comfortable with.
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You may have had experience of social work intervention yourself – would you agree with these? Can you think of any other important qualities?

Discussion

Good social work practice is primarily about relationships (Wilson et al., 2011) and engaging effectively with service users, carers and others to enable them to tell their stories. Establishing a good relationship is the starting point for working ‘with rather than on people’ (Beresford, 2012), and it is through the professional relationship that social workers ‘engage with and intervene in the complexity of an individual’s internal and external worlds’ (Wilson et al., 2011).

The service user and carer are very clear about the qualities they think a social worker should have, and these are crucial in establishing a good working relationship. The importance of listening and the other qualities identified reflect the ‘warmth, empathy, reliability and respect’ noted by Beresford (2012) as being what service users want from social workers – that is, the same kind of qualities one would expect in a trusted friend. This is consistently what service users and carers say they want from social workers. It is important that social workers listen to this and act upon it.

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