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The truth about change

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

I’ve recently been thinking about what it’s like to be a social worker, or indeed any other profession within the children’s workforce, in the 21st Century. It seems that our workforce, in the modern day, need to be experts on everything.

Some 30 years after I was first a social worker in Walsall, I guess there is a danger that I could fall into that age-old trap and find myself saying “things were different in my day”. The truth is, things were different in my day, but not from some rose-tinted perspective, but from an acceptance that as society adapts to modern innovation, different stresses and whatever this month’s new normal is, so do the situations that workers encounter as they walk through a family’s door, as the recent events in a London Borough sadly showed.

In 1990 we could barely imagine the powers of the internet, and few of us would have ever considered how it might be used to groom children. The fact that so many children would be carrying, in their pocket, a computer with more power than those that got us to the moon, was unthinkable. The concept of exploitation wasn’t in our language and our understanding of the impact of domestic abuse was, at best, limited to the victim and not their child. Yet today, the average worker will deal with these issues on a “normal” working day, not to mention the other 101 things on their to do list.

At times we might be excused for thinking that there are only two truths in local government, the first being that demand will always increase to fill capacity, the second being that the only certainty is uncertainty. This oversimplifies things, a lot, but it is true that we need to constantly review the service we provide to ensure that demand is managed appropriately, and capacity is adequate. It is also true that we are adept at dealing with uncertainty, be that; the unintended and undesirable consequences of a new technological advancement; a novel virus that suddenly becomes a pandemic; or a tragic event that becomes the subject of the next big public enquiry. All of these things, and many more besides, impact our professions - identifying and managing new risks, triggering additional legislation, and developing different ways of working..

Who knows what the Care Review will bring and how our professions will look three decades from now? But the truth is, being a social worker, a teacher, or a youth worker now is different to the way it was in the 90’s. However, in thirty years’ time when that fresh new graduate from the class of 2021 sits in my chair at Walsall, hopefully they too will look back, not through rose tinted glasses, but with the benefit of experience, and reflect upon how the challenge of change makes children’s services the most rewarding workplace in the world!

Sally Rowe - Executive Director of Children’s Services - Walsall Council

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