Claire, Senior Social Work Practitioner

Interview with Claire, a Senior Social Work Practitioner.

Hi Claire, tell us a bit about yourself

I'm Claire and I’ve been in social work since 2005 when I qualified, completing a Masters in Social Work at Sussex University.

As a newly qualified social worker, I initially joined Surrey County Council where I worked with older people in rehabilitation services.

I went on to work for Southwark Council and when the 2014 Care Act was introduced, I helped map out the new customer journey, ensuring that the new ways of working and regulations were implemented.

I then took a bit of a break to have my son and I moved to West Sussex. When I returned to work, I chose to join West Sussex County Council (WSCC) as it was local to me and I have to say, it’s one of the best social care teams that I’ve worked for. I like how adult social care is run, the people are amazing, and I really enjoy it!

As of January, I became a Senior Social Work Practitioner within Lifelong Services.

Wow, you’ve had a lot of different adult social care work experiences! What do you think inspired you to become an adults’ social worker in the first place?

Well, I did my first degree in women's studies and sociology and I realised that I couldn't get a job in anything specifically to do with my subject areas. So, I learnt how to type and went to London and became a personal assistant. I then took a break to go travelling around the world, which opened my eyes to different people, cultures and experiences and it really changed my outlook on life. When I returned, I didn’t want to go back to secretarial work; I wanted to make a difference to vulnerable people’s lives and at the time the government were calling out for social workers. Knowing that with social work I could make a genuine difference and gain a wide variety of skills, I got a bursary and became a qualified social worker. I really enjoy my job and I feel that I have landed on my feet!

What would you say you enjoy most about being a social worker for adults at WSCC?

For me, the best thing is being able to make a difference to the community in which I live and am a part of. I also feel that WSCC give me the tools to be able to deliver the best possible service. As a local authority we do of course need to consider budgets, but we work closely with our customers and are clear and honest about what can be achieved. I am proud of the great service that we deliver. 

I love being a part of a supportive and friendly team and the close connection I have with my colleagues.  There is a wealth of knowledge within the service and you never have to tackle issues on your own. COVID-19 has of course had a big impact on how we work, but we have adapted as best we can to continue to work well together.

Talking of COVID-19, how has it impacted on your work and how have you had to adapt?

When we first went into lockdown, the phones went quiet and I think that as a country we just knuckled down and got on with it. As time has gone on though, I think people have generally found it progressively harder. As a social work team, it has been particularly challenging not being able to see people face-to-face. Having said that, we do have the technology to be able to see each other on screen and we have increased the number of varying online meetings we have to ensure that communications remain good, we can continue to work effectively and that the wellbeing of the team is put high on the agenda. One of the meetings we have to support team morale and wellbeing are our ‘tea calls’ where you can enjoy a cup of tea whilst catching up with colleagues!

Is there something that you are particularly proud of that you've achieved at West Sussex?

More than anything, I am proud of when I have helped achieve successful outcomes for customers and two examples come to mind. The first was when I worked with a family that was incredibly difficult to engage and build a relationship with. I will never forget the time, following several one-way meetings with them to try and best support them, they asked me how I was! It sounds like a very small thing, but it was a huge step in building our relationship and we could finally start working together to get them the support they needed. It was just wonderful!

More recently, I was supporting three different clients who couldn’t get the support they needed because their needs fell outside of what our service provided at that time. I was instrumental in setting up a brand new service that could provide them with what they needed, which was amazing and I’m incredibly proud of that.

How has WSCC supported your development and progression?

There is a wealth of different learning and development opportunities available, from the mandatory to the more bespoke to help you develop in the direction you need and want to go in. Due to COVID-19, many of the these have been made virtual.

Prior to becoming a Senior Practitioner, my supervisor would actively encourage me to work on different cases and with different client groups to help develop my skills and competencies.

"Development and progression are definitely important here and you’re fully supported to be the best you can be."

What would you say are the main challenges of being a social worker within Adults' Services?

There are several challenges. The expectations that families have at the outset, budgets and timescales. You have to be open and honest about what you can achieve to manage expectations, and you have to be a good problem solver, often thinking creatively to be able to deliver successful outcomes for your clients. 

When you meet your clients, it is at a time in their lives when things are often not great, and you will be at the receiving end of how they’re feeling at that moment. It isn’t personal though and you’re there to try and change things for the better.

Your clients can often be very set on how they should be supported too, and it is part of your job to help encourage them to try new things that could better help them.

If there is one myth that you could bust about adult social work, what would it be?

What I have come across in my career, is that clients are initially disinclined to talk to me because they think that I will take things away from them and this is simply not the case.  Often my job involves helping clients to think differently and try new things, which could genuinely help them. When clients don’t talk to you, it does make it hard to have honest conversations, build relationships and an accurate picture of their needs to be able to help them, so you have to work really hard to gain their trust.

And what would you say to somebody if they were considering joining us?

If you get the opportunity, go for it! It’s a challenging job but it’s so rewarding when you can make a difference.  At West Sussex, they really care about you and they will help you to be the best you can be, which has been my experience.