I’ve been getting a pile of emails from people asking me to write about what Social Work is like in London. However, given I have only been here for two months, I don’t feel that I have a comprehensive overview of what it is truly like in the eyes of someone (a North American) that has been here for 2, 4 or 8 years. Lucky for me, I have a good bunch of friends that are social workers in the UK that are there to give me ongoing support as I encounter new challenges within my work, and walls of despair. Yes. I said despair. Please allow me to explain.
By the way, the photograph (above) is of the Black Frier Pub. I chose it not only because I enjoy a good drink, but because I met with three social work friends yesterday that provided me encouragement and insight into what I can expect in the coming months and years as I progress in the field as a UK social worker.
I may have mentioned a bunch of posts back that I didn’t want this blog to focus on Social Work any longer. I feel that this is necessary because Social Work in the UK is not regarded as the heroic and esteemed profession that it is known as in the USA or Canada. In the UK, people actually “hide” their identities as social workers because in this country, they are regarded as baby snatchers and as people that destroy families. It is sad. Really sad.
In comparison, back home, the organizations that I worked at would have signs all over the place that would state that there was a zero tolerance for assaulting and abusing Social Work staff. Over here, there is no such policy. Get prepared to be insulted by schools, police and medical professionals. For some reason, if a child is harmed or if there is concern for the safeguarding of a child, it is the job of the social worker (and not of other professionals) to assure that the child remains safe. If somethings DOES go wrong, it is always the social worker’s fault… not the midwife, not the physician, not the nurse, not the teacher.
I have been called a dirty slag no less than twice since beginning this role.
One of the largest differences that I have observed as a social worker in the UK in comparison to in North America, is that there are few, very few jobs in which an advanced/senior social worker can be employed as a therapist in a school or in a hospital. The majority of roles remain within statutory social work, in Children’s Services.
Okay, woah. I sound really angry and disheartened by Social Work in the UK. Don’t I? Well, it’s really not as bad as I make it sound. Over all, I can give a much longer rant about Social Work in Canada if giver the opportunity.
The most amazing part about Social Work in the UK is that there are jobs. There are jobs galore. If you are lucky to get a position here, you will never have to ever worry again that your contract is ending or if you will ever get that promotion. The sky is virtually the limit. One of the hardest things that I have had to wrap my head around since arriving here is that the job that I have now is not the position that I will be in next year. There is a lot more movement between roles and I find that it is highly encouraged by management to explore new opportunities within your local authority.
As far as advice goes, I feel that having an opened mind will be very beneficial to you if you do decide to give Social Work in the UK a try. I can tell you this straight out, your life as a social worker (at least in London) will not resemble the film Love Actually in any way, shape and form. Your position will likely involve many home visits, riding around on buses that smell like urine, sweat and gum disease, and you will be dressed accordingly… especially at the beginning. But, overtime you will learn the life hacks that are necessary to survive this mammoth city. You will settle into a position that suits your lifestyle, you will learn how to drive on the opposite side of the street and things will get easier. It depends what you are looking for.
At the moment, I am at the phase where I am frustrated. I am working an insane amount of hours and I am not socializing and experiencing the side of London that I came here to see. I am slowly carving out a career progression that would work better for my lifestyle. I have to be patient but also focused as I try to obtain it. It feels good because there is something to progress to over here.
Since being here, I have done a pile of traveling within London and have also started exploring other parts of England. I am planning some holidays in other countries and am also getting exposed to new and exciting things every day.
The fact is, I love it here (despite this city being incredibly harsh and lonely at times). Work is incredibly difficult but also rewarding.
If you are thinking that Social Work in the UK is for you, do your research. Seriously. Do your research. First learn the credential assessment process, the visa process and (if you can) try to learn as much about the local area that you are interested in working in. Once you get here, don’t be disappointed that you don’t have the ideal flat, job or lifestyle in comparison to what you were hoping to get off of the plane. Take it day by day and be open to learning opportunities. Slowly, you will begin to get some of the things that you came here to find.
The policies are different, the clients are different and the procedures are different. Some of your colleagues will be really, really good at the job, whereas others will be really, really bad at the job. Just like back home.