Rebecca Joy Novell is a newly qualified social worker who works with homeless children who have left custody or care.
You will never be bored
In social work, every day is completely different. While you may try and plan meticulously, you can guarantee that there will be several unexpected challenges for you to deal with each week. Social work constantly keeps you on your toes.
It is not a desk job
At any point during the day, you can get a phone call that requires you to drop everything and go to the scene of a crisis. You have to attend people's homes, schools, hospitals and community centres. Being an effective social worker means engaging with the community and this cannot be done from behind a desk. In fact, when you do eventually get to sit down at your desk, you enjoy the short break.
It is a diverse career
When you train to be a social worker, you are trained in all aspects of the profession, from mental health to child protection. While most social workers choose to specialise in one area once they qualify, you do have the opportunity to move between different areas. A friend of mine worked in child protection for 10 years but found that when she had her first child, she found the job too emotionally challenging as she related every case back to her own son. She loved being a social worker and did not want to give up on her career so she has moved in to adult social work and is enjoying the new challenge.
It will challenge you in ways few other careers will
Social work challenges much more than just your typical professional skills. Social work is practially challenging; there are many occassions when I have had to work out how my service user and I are going to move their bed up 15 flights of stairs in to their new flat. It is also incredibly emotionally challenging. The stories you will hear and sights you will see as a social worker will take your breath away. The highs and the lows are incomparable. It is so easy to grow attached to the people you support and their successes and failures feel like your successes and failures. Learning to manage these vicarious emotions is an important aspect of the job.
It will teach you things you never knew about yourself
The situations social work put you in are unique and often extreme. You may learn how you cope when someone tries to commit suicide while you're present; you may learn that you are an expert at dealing with aggressive behaviour. You will learn your different strengths and weaknesses as you constantly reflect on your practice.
It will make you a better policymaker
It is often the case that those making the policies that affect our service users have no experience of the reality of their lives. I went in to social work knowing that one day I want to make big changes. But I know that I do not want to be one of those politicians or policymakers who has no experience nor authority to speak on behalf of those they want to help. My career has enabled me to sit on working groups and other policy bodies to advocate for young people in the criminal justice system. My frontline experience means I am able to give an accurate reflection of young people's experiences and needs.
You get to be the person who changed someone's life for the better
You may not get a thank you card every day, or even every year, but when you do occasionally get a card from a service user thanking you for helping them to overcome the difficulty in their life, you will not be able to stop smiling. To know that you helped another person in some small (or sometimes big) way is one of the greatest rewards you can get.
It teaches you the true value of things
Social work will show you some of the darkest and most upsetting sides of humanity and there will be times when it can all seem very depressing. But you begin to notice the good in people that previously you took for granted. You take pleasure in seeing children being brought up in stable homes or older people being provided with compassionate care. You become extremely grateful for all that you have and realise that true wealth does not come from material things.
You get to stand up for human rights and social justice
Whenever you become annoyed or upset at an injustice you see or experience, you know that you can go in to work on Monday and do something to set things right. I personally become very upset whenever I see someone experiencing homelessness, but as a social worker working in the homeless sector I used that emotion to make sure I gave one hundred percent every day to helping those that accessed our homeless service. Practically working to solve social problems fills you with a feeling of hopefulness as you know that you are trying your very best to make the world a little better.
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