9th September, 2020
We hear about social workers in a lot of everyday walks of life. Healthcare social workers, psychiatric social workers, community social workers, even military and veteran social workers – the list is endless. But what does a social worker do? We’ve delved into the day-to-day life of one of our very own childcare social workers, Pauline Nolf, to learn more. Pauline is a Supervising Social Worker at Capstone South East – and has provided us with great insight into a typical day in the life of a social worker from perks of the job to areas she finds challenging.
Generally, child and family social workers are employed to protect vulnerable children and support families. They offer assistance and guidance to children and youth, as well as parents and carers. Often, a child social worker will be involved in families that have experienced abuse, neglect or serious mental or physical illness. Overall, the role of the social worker is to protect and safeguard the child.
Pauline’s role as a social worker for Capstone is a fostering social worker – meaning that she is assigned to protect foster carers while providing security and stability to young people. She protects the children in the foster care system by providing supervision to foster carers, building development and safeguarding to all involved in the placement. This is done by regular supervision visits, and acting as the primary link between the fostering household and the local authority social worker (the local authority social worker will be the child’s social worker, whereas the fostering social worker will be commissioned for the foster carer). However, all social workers’ overall goal is to support the child in placement.
Support foster carers’ main role is to support young children and provide supervision to foster carers. This is achieved by building development in families, creating a sense of stability and security, and ensuring that young people are being safeguarded in the carers’ home.
A typical day in Pauline’s life goes as follows:
“First, when I get up in the morning, I immediately look at my diary. A lot can change and isn’t always set in stone, so it’s important to be flexible. Often, there can be many calls and emails to get back to, as well as visits to foster carers. I spend a lot of time creating recordings – which are written records of what’s happening in each foster family. We also have to facilitate inspections, ensure all checks are up to date – for example, DBS, medicals etc – and prepare for unannounced visits, which happen once or twice a year.”
Another part of Pauline’s day to day life involves ensuring that minimum standards of fostering are met. These standards need to be kept up throughout the year, and she’ll abide by policies and procedures to ensure this is the case.
Having been a social worker for 12 years, Pauline actually began in the fostering profession in 1995 when she was a foster carer herself. “After taking on 37 foster children during 9 years of being a foster carer, it became very hard saying goodbye and took it’s toll.” Pauline decided to utilise her knowledge of the profession elsewhere, and both her and husband went into family work instead and became child social workers. “It’s often really helpful for foster carers to know I’ve been on the other side of things.”
When asked what attributes someone should possess if they wanted to be a social worker, Pauline goes on to explain that prioritising is extremely important to managing social worker’s workload, as juggling everything at the same time can be difficult. “Organisation is key – as well as having empathy towards situations, and not passing judgement.” More important attributes for social workers to possess is having patience, good communication skills and being able to negotiate well. “At times, the local authority may have big expectations of what foster carers can handle, and it’s the social worker’s job to mitigate that expectation – and negotiate down that it may not be practical to expect that of the foster carer.”
In terms of support, Pauline explains that her foster carers receive 24-hour support. “We do the monthly supervision visits and, on top of that, we do out of hours. This is on a rota basis – meaning there will always be a social worker offering out of hours support.” A telephone support system is put in place for carers to ring at any time during the event for support, advice on behaviour management strategies, and more.
When asked what the best part about being a social worker is, Pauline responded: “Seeing the children coming in, and a few months later, see them being able to settle and relax. They’ll start achieving in the household, and we can see them becoming part of that family.” She also comments on how rewarding it is seeing foster carers developing and thriving, too, and enjoying being foster carers.
One of the most difficult parts of being a social worker is having to say goodbye. Although it’s naturally a positive situation when children are being adopted, Pauline explains it can be hard to witness foster families being separated. Another difficulty is managing an allegation against a carer. “If an allegation is made, as a support social worker, you would need to step back and not be able to get involved with the foster carer. This could be either if the child has made an allegation, or another member of the public. Instead, FosterTalk would be there to give them support, but it can be difficult to see a foster carer go through that.”
When asking Pauline what her advice would be to an aspiring social worker, her reply was:
“There are so many different types of social work and specialisms – it’s important to do your research, look at the different types of social work that there are, and make sure it’s the right area you want to work in. Find out what it means to be a social worker in that area, and what it means for you, as there are different ways of working for every sector. And lastly, you have to make sure that you’re dedicated to the area. I really enjoy what I do – that’s why I’m still in it. I enjoy working with the foster carers and the children, and it’s really great to see them thrive!”
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