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Perspectives on social work: individual stories
Perspectives on social work: individual stories

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This is a very personal, but nonetheless valuable activity. There are a number of cultural and other differences in individuals’ biographical experiences which variously influence their present lives and attitudes, and it is it is important that we acknowledge and value such diversity.

People go into social work for all sorts of reasons: to do good; to help others; because of their own family background or experiences of loss, illness or disability; to confront their own problems, or simply by chance.

A 2011 survey of students undertaking social work training found that people were influenced by both personal and career factors when choosing to study social work. Motives included those associated with the following elements:

  1. Altruism – a desire to make a difference, help others and fight injustice.
  2. The personal qualities and experience of the student – an ability to get on with people, work in a team and, for some, a suitable career choice because of their own life experiences.
  3. Career factors – such as a well-paid job with career prospects and flexibility.
  4. The day-to-day nature of the work – variety, high job satisfaction and having individual responsibility.

(Based on Stevens et al., 2012)

As illustrated by both social workers in the videos, making the link between personal experience and what social workers bring to their practice is an important early step towards their becoming a reflective practitioner.

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. Forming a good relationship is the starting point for working ‘with rather than on people’ (Beresford, 2012). It is through the professional relationship that social workers ‘engage with and intervene in the complexity of an individual’s internal and external worlds’ (ibid), and this is illustrated by Mags (a social worker) in the video, as she relates how she used her personality (her ‘self’) to establish relationships with young people in a half-way house.

However, forming a good relationship becomes more difficult when service users’ needs within this relationship are not met, as in the case of Mr Mudd (a carer). Being allocated a social worker who did not speak Welsh made it more difficult for him to engage with her as he would have wished, as he had to ‘think in Welsh and speak in English’. Although speaking in English per se is not problematic for him, the relationship would have been an easier one had it in been established in Welsh. This is echoed in Siân's (a service user) interview - Welsh is, after all, the language in which she lives her life. The introduction of the ‘active offer’ principle (CCW, 2014), requires that in future the identification of language need in Wales will become the responsibility of the professional rather than the service user or carer (who may already be in a position of low status and power, and therefore may not feel able to exercise their right to request a Welsh medium service),

Off camera, Mr Mudd suggested that providing care, while physically and emotionally demanding, may be missed by the carer when the person who is being cared for requires additional support and moves into residential care. The gap left by the absence of that person and the removal of the role of ‘carer’ can be difficult. So it is important to acknowledge that while social work intervention may change some aspects of peoples' lives for the better, the consequences of intervention can also mean that life might now be quite different for all concerned.