Making a difference to people’s lives every day
Social workers work tirelessly in our communities, care homes and hospitals to provide care and support to some of the most vulnerable people in the borough. To mark World Social Work Day on 21 March, we speak to Michelle Witham, Islington Council’s Adult Social Services Principal Social Worker, who reflects on a 22 year career dedicated to supporting vulnerable adults.
“My career started working in a care home as a Saturday job when I was 15. I went to college to do a preliminary course in social work and eventually qualified as a social worker in 1995. I’ve worked in adult social care ever since.
“Although the profession has changed over the years, I think good social work remains the same. It’s about the quality of conversations that we have with people. Talking through information or advice they may need, exploring resources they may already have in their own social networks or the community – and thinking through with them how they can achieve the outcomes they desire.”
In Islington around 3,000 people are accessing social care services at any one time. Adult social care provides a range of services and support for older or disabled adults as well as for people with mental health problems and learning disabilities.
“If someone feels they need more formal support from social services they have an assessment to find out how we can support them to build on their strengths, reach their own goals and fulfil their potential. That could be anything from an introduction to a community group, a piece of equipment to help with their mobility, support in their homes to help them live independently or accessing education, leisure activities or employment.”
Islington is a relatively young borough, with less than 10% of the total population aged 65 and over. Despite this, more than half of adult social services are dedicated to supporting people over 65. This reflects one of the biggest challenges for adult social care services across the country. The population is getting older and people are living longer with long term conditions and disabilities.
“Increasingly, social work is focusing on prevention. The more we can help people to be proactive about their health and wellbeing and deal with issues early, the less likely it is that they will need social care support as they get older. We are working more closely with health care colleagues, to provide more coordinated care for people and help prevent deterioration in their health. We are partnering with charity and voluntary organisations to make sure people have an opportunity to access support before they reach a crisis in their lives.”
Social Work is a highly skilled profession which requires excellent interpersonal and communication skills, empathy, patience and determination. Social work can be stressful and emotionally draining, but it’s a profession that is all too frequently overlooked and under-valued.
“It’s unfortunate that people hear the most about social workers when something goes wrong. I’ve worked in Islington for 14 years and I never fail to feel inspired by the work that my colleagues are doing every day.
“When I look back at my career in social work, I think it’s been exciting, surprising, personally stretching and has taught me things I never knew about myself. All that, and you get to be the person who changed someone’s life for the better!”
If a social worker or care professional has made a difference to your life or someone you know, you can nominate them for a Dignity in Care Award and help celebrate the great work of staff employed in the care sector. The closing date for nominations is 31 March 2017.