Sarah, Senior Social Worker

An interview with Sarah from Family Support and Protection.

Hi Sarah! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I have been in Family Support and Protection for probably nearly nine years now.

Before that, I was a foster carer; I worked for a large national children's charity and I also did a lot of family support work. I ran a club for children that were on the point of being expelled from primary school to get them back in and engaging with education and building up their family networks.

Why did you choose to become a social worker?

It was mainly because I was a foster carer with a lot of experience with traumatised children and I just wanted to give the support from the other side of it. My husband nagged me for years to become a social worker and I was like, 'No, I’m okay thanks! I don’t want to do that!', until one day I thought that actually he’s got a point - I’ll probably be good at it! So, I got a job in the Fostering Recruitment Team to try and get on the traineeship, which took me a couple of years, and here we are!

What made you choose to work in a front-line team like Family Support and Protection?

I’ve always been in a front-line team. As part of my traineeship, we were placed in what used to be called Intensive Family Support (IFS), which is now Family Support and Protection (FSP), and we did our traineeship there. I never moved out of it. I’ve just always been there!

What would you say are the challenges of being a social worker?

Okay, obviously it’s COVID at the moment, so it’s new people coming in and we’re not getting to know them or other social workers so much, because some people are shielding and some aren’t, so it’s kind of difficult. But we are making sure that we all get together and that we’ve got group meetings set up so we can meet new people, which has helped.

I suppose it’s also organising your time. We are all so busy - you have to be quite regimented with your diary and making sure that you’re also giving yourself some space because otherwise you just get carried away.

I love families and I love working with families and children, so I don’t see that at all as a challenge. It’s mainly about your workload and managing that.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a social worker?

I think it’s doing the direct work with children for me, that’s my passion. I love coming up with new ideas based on what kids ask for or want in terms of working with them. In FSP we can work with families for a longer period of time, so you can actually see how the interventions are working, see whether you need to make changes or not and see if the improvements are being made. It’s all very visual - you can see it happening.

Is there a particularly successful case that makes you feel proud?

I’ve had a few! I had a mum with a family of five. She was in a domestic abuse relationship and he was involved in lots of criminal activity.

There was some difficulties because she lived in a white, middle class area and she wasn’t very white or middle class, so there were difficulties in the neighbourhood. There were difficulties in the responses she got from the schools and all that kind of aspect to it.

We were actually heading to court with this case, but mum managed to engage really well with me. I think the foot in the door was the Child and Family Intervention Service (CFIS), so we got CFIS involved and her whole outlook on life changed!

She managed to get through that relationship and move on. All of her children were going to school and she managed to become quite reflective about the impact of the arguments in the home and the criminal activity on her children. We closed them probably about two and a half years ago and they’ve never been back.

That’s amazing to hear! So, let’s look back to a year ago to just after the Ofsted inspection. If you could go back, what advice would you give to yourself?

I think my advice to me would be to not be too hard on yourself. You’re actually doing an okay job! Because of Ofsted, there’s been lots of, I suppose, strategic movement about what we’re focusing on, what we’re doing and at points it can feel like 'Oh! I can’t...' you know? I’ve got my caseload but I’ve also got all this other stuff that I need to make sure is on the system, and do.

So, I think it’s just to take a breath! Allow yourself to take some time to manage and focus on what you need to do.

What’s one myth about social work which bothers you?

That we’re always late - I am never late! It really annoys me, haha! I am either early or always on time.

I know exactly what you mean! So, why did you choose to work in West Sussex?

Well, one of the reasons are that I’ve got a family and I live in West Sussex. So strategically, where Horsham office is based, it’s ideal for being able to do school runs and things like that. Also, I know a lot of people in other teams and they were singing West Sussex’s praises when I first joined.

I think working for a local authority works well for me. You have a great pension scheme, you have sick pay, you have holiday and all of that kind of thing and it just works better for me.

What do you like most about working in Horsham?

Ahh, so it’s a nice office, it’s not dreary! It’s close to the town. We’ve got a park just down the road, so you can go and sit and have your lunch there or meet your friends, obviously paying attention to social distancing.

How are you supported here in West Sussex?

Oh well, that’s a biggie! I don’t think I would have stayed in this team for so long if I didn’t have the kind of support that I have. My manager and group managers are amazing! I like to work quite creatively, so they allow me to do that... within reason.

They let me get across my professional judgement and I respect that. I think the level of support here in FSP in Horsham is incredible.

Good to hear! Finally, what would you say to somebody considering joining us?

I mean... absolutely! I think the wealth of experience that the team can give in FSP, and the variety of work. You know, you could be working a child in need case, you’ve got child protection, or you’ve got court cases - it changes.

The variety of it changes every day. It keeps you interested, it keeps you busy and the support is there if you need it!