Promoting the importance of human relationships – reflections this World Social Work Day

17 March 2020

I started my first job in social work, in a therapeutic community, years ago (more than I wish to remember). It was a job I loved, and one I chose because I wanted to give a voice to children who were overlooked, who struggled to communicate with the adults in their lives and the wider world. 

At its core, social work is about relationships – with children, families and other professionals. Relationships take time to build and grow. I learned to take time to get to know the children and young people I worked with and not to make assumptions. I am so grateful for all the people I have worked with over the years who were generous with their time and feedback.   

By building strong relationships,  we can offer support and guidance when familial relationships have suffered some kind of rupture or breakdown. We can facilitate change and take remedial action when the information we have suggests that change is not possible. 

This is demanding (and hugely rewarding) work and often we are asked to do more with less. I am enormously proud to have joined an organisation that wants to support and facilitate that work by providing evidence about the way in which we practice.  

To mark World Social Work Day, I have invited some of the social workers  across the organisation to share their reflections and celebrate our profession.

Belinda Christian, Head of Practice

I’ve always enjoyed jobs where I’ve been able to work with people and felt like I’m doing something worthwhile. Training as a social worker seemed to be the perfect way of doing this whilst learning new skills, taking more responsibility, and working within a professional framework. Since qualifying I’ve worked in child protection, on a project with children in care, and in CAMHS, before starting in my current role at WWCSC. 

The theme of this year’s World Social Work Day really resonates with my experiences – I’ve always felt that first and foremost people are social, and everyone wants to feel respected and loved by those they care about. As a social worker, I think focusing on these goals is the key to creating sustainable and positive change, regardless of what immediate difficulties someone may be facing. Part of my motivation for wanting to work at WWCSC was an awareness that this isn’t always possible for social workers today, and the motivation to  work towards a place where respect and care are always at the heart of social work practice. Social work has the potential to make the world a better, kinder place, and this is what I will celebrate on World Social Work Day.

Daniel Kearns, Research Assistant

I have always thought that being a social worker, managing all the competing tasks of the role, was rather like spinning plates on poles. The trick is to keep the momentum going for each plate, carefully ensuring that any sign of a wobble is quickly addressed. On good days, the plates happily spin and there is time to consider future plans. There are days however when a plate will wobble and as you focus on rescuing it from falling, another plate begins to wobble and maybe another. On those days, as I sat wondering what to deal with first and feeling overwhelmed with competing demands, there was always, without fail, a colleague who would be there to give support and kind words.

So on World Social Work Day, as we focus on human relationships, I would just like to say “Thank you to all those who helped me keep the plates spinning.”

Take some time out today to say thank you to a colleague who has helped you out.

Bev Curtis, Practice Development Manager

I came into social work because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people who are going through difficult times. While it was immensely rewarding work, I experienced a system under intense pressure and strain. This can have a range of adverse effects, but one that stood out for me was workforce stability. For me, having continuity of social worker for families and young people is key to building strong relationships and good practice. I understand that in order to create workforce stability, we need to invest in, value and look after our social workers.

I left social work practice, for now, to study ways in which organisations function and can be improved. At WWCSC, I now use my knowledge and experience to improve the context social workers practice within every day. I have seen many social workers go above and beyond – working in difficult conditions, to develop meaningful relationships with families and be that consistent, supportive person in their lives. Social workers want to practice in ways which promote the importance of human relationships – let’s develop the system to give them the space and tools to do so.

Abby Hennessey, Research Assistant

Social Workers are human too: the importance of human relationships

Without human relationships, we’re destined to lose ourselves. Since our existence people have been part of systems. Everything in the universe is organised in systems – solar systems, ecosystems, financial systems – all working in conjunction, held together by a common thread: the stars and planets by gravity; plants and animals by food; institutions by money. Then there are societies; people held together by relationships.

However, systems fall apart; stars implode, animals go extinct and businesses fail. Societies, on the other hand, have the ability to maintain. That’s what Social Work facilitates, strengthening society by improving human relationships. Promoting the importance of our interconnectedness means recognising and honouring the rights and dignity of our fellow beings. Could the rise of mental health problems be due to the lack of close human relationships? How might bureaucratic and discriminatory policies affect the importance of human relationships? What could our potential be if we knew human relationships are vehicles for change; enabling connections and healing?

As Social Workers aim to maintain relationships, who maintains them? I challenge you to speak to a Social Worker and ask how they’re doing. Not only ask, but listen as if they’re the centre of the universe for that moment.

Andrea Ferdinand, Practice Development Manager