For World Social Work Day 2017, I, alongside social workers across the world are celebrating our professional identity and 'socialworkness', and pausing to reflect on what we stand for.
I am team leader, in a large children and family's team in Glasgow's East End, where I have worked for 15 years and lived for many more. It is a crazy, colourful and diverse local community with many strengths and amazingly resilient people; known for their generosity, support and care for one another and their community spirit. My 10 year old son Peter was born here and loves this place. He tells me he can't imagine living anywhere else (unless near Real Madrid somewhere... #Ronaldo)!
Sadly, the East End is often conveyed by negative media portrayals and by the grim reality of our demographics. This includes high levels of child poverty, low levels of adult life expectancy, homelessness, addiction, criminality and many other social ills. This is not who we are however.... by a long shot! There are real issues facing our communities, and these present huge challenges which cannot be tackled in isolation from each other, but they do not define us.
We are an emotionally intelligent, resilient, caring, hard-working, ends-meeting, charity giving, Tunnocks teacake-eating, football-supporting (the list goes on) diverse bunch of individuals and families in the East End. But, significantly and heart-warmingly so too are the team of social workers I work with. Any negative media portrayal of us East Enders is not a reflection of who we are in reality. The same can be said for most of the social work teams in Glasgow, and other places in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and smaller towns I've been. Most of my colleagues, like myself, have 'a social story' which has led them down this career path. We do our jobs every day as much with our hearts as with our heads. It's a vocation.
We are care leavers, we are parents and grandparents who have received support from social work ourselves, we are survivors of the range of adversities life has brought to us as children and adults. We are from different countries and different cultures but with a shared value base in our profession and our humanity.
We care about the hundreds of children and families we work with. As a team, we fight oppression and discrimination of any kind, including the institutional type! We have high caseloads and not enough pairs of hands, a team who have their own personal lives to run and deal with; but who come in every day, to help families and one another to try and tackle the range of crisis, and social work tasks. There is flexibility and team spiritedness second to none, which ensures we are keeping children safe and meeting their needs, but looking out for one another. A team I am very proud of and inspired to be a part of. We do however have our moments, understandably so, as our resilience and our emotions are tested continually. We dust ourselves down and get on with it for our families.
However, we are a bigger team than just us social workers and the families we support. We are a community of good practice, across lots of agencies in our area: health visitors and GPs with challenging caseloads but who always find time to help when asked; and schools and nurseries with children who need extra support, which can range from needing a breakfast, a cuddle and a clean uniform and often many things emotionally and practically in between.
There are also national organisations such as CELCIS who are committed to making positive and lasting improvements to the wellbeing of Scotland's children living in and on the edges of care, who help us see the bigger picture and reflect on what we are doing on days like this and many others.
Families are the heart of our community. This is demonstrated by the huge kinship carer population we have around us, those extended family members who are willing to care for children when care is not possible for them in their parental setting. Unlike anywhere else in Scotland, we have around 1,300 kinship care placements.
We also have tremendous support within our community from the third sector, from early morning visits to help children to school, to evening groups for children, parenting supports, community respite carers.
So on this World Social Work Day, this is a big shout out from me to social workers globally and to my amazing colleagues. I am so proud to be a social worker in the East End, both personally and professionally. I want to say thank you for everything you do. This is not unique to my own doorstep, there are social work teams throughout the world who are doing similarly inspiring work. My message to them is to keep your chins up and your hearts strong. You all make a difference every day.