I am glad I chose Social Work and am privileged to have worked with so many people and their communities. I’ve worked in nursing homes, “group homes” for people with disability, youth detention centres, jails, hospitals, people’s homes and “the streets”. I did my work in Sydney, remote Indigenous communities, the USA, England and in Greece. There is no doubt my choice to work in social care has led me to meet people and experience things that have shaped my view of the world.
But it’s not easy work and like most “care” professions it is undervalued. The burn out rate is high and the impact of people’s, sometime horrific and mostly unjust life experiences can be exhausting and make you sick. But (thankfully) people are choosing to work in social care even though they can get “better money” working elsewhere.
In the early days I was working with women and their children escaping domestic violence. I was fine for the first few months but as women began to disclose the awful circumstances that had led them to leave their own home with their children, I began to lose sleep. The monthly supervision session with my “senior” was useless and more about my administrative accountability (how many home visits had I conducted, how many referrals had I made, how many clients had I seen) than supporting me to understand and deal with the trauma of the work.
I moved on and worked with people with mental health problems. Most of them admitted to a psychiatric hospital because of their illness. I was groped, spat on, sworn at and threatened. All in a day’s work. I knew then that my work would centre around creating contexts that enable practitioners to support people in better ways.
Delivering care in institutional settings (hospitals, nursing homes, jails etc.) is very different than delivering tailored care in a person’s home. In an institutional setting there is always someone else to rely on. You are not alone. Working directly with someone in their own home can be very challenging. Building our front line skills and experience is important but focussing programs on emotional resilience is equally important.
In a changing social care system, we must turn our attention to resourcing our front line people to understand the circumstances that lead to people’s behaviour and choices. To know how to manage their own thoughts and feelings about what they are dealing with and to always be driven by their choice to make a real positive difference. The work social care practitioners do requires skill and experience. Most of all however it requires a great deal of emotional resilience. Most front liners are unprepared and even worse, unsupported. We must better invest in our front line social care workforce.