What I learned from working behind the scenes in social work policy

MA student Charlene Legg explains how her previous experience working at the College of Social Work has helped her

Like many social workers, I am attracted to social work because I want to make a difference. To help others and to empower people. But I also struggle with this notion and am aware of the complexities of statements such as these.

I grew up in a lone-parent family, living on the breadline. Like many social workers, I have experienced things in my personal life that have given me a passion and drive to change things for the better.

However, I am well aware that social workers have to make difficult decisions on a daily basis, and often lack the power or time to empower people each day. They are fire-fighting – often saving lives before they begin to try and improve them.

For the past year, I have been working for the College of Social Work. I helped to set up and co-ordinate the volunteering programmes that are on offer to its members.

I watched as experienced social workers provided mentoring to their newly qualified colleagues, often helping them to gain employment.

Timid social workers came to the office for media spokesperson training, and I felt a great sense of pride to hear them on the radio or watch them on a news clip a few weeks later. It’s great to see social workers expressing a stronger, more positive voice in the media.

I spent my final six months at the College of Social Work in the communications team, where I promoted the new professional capabilities framework and the communities of interest practice debates, and helped produce a series of toolkits to make it easier for social workers and students to understand the changes that are being implemented as a result of the social work reform board.

Prior to the college, I worked for a small migrant and refugee charity called the Forum as part of a management graduate scheme in social care with the National Skills Academy. I conducted case work with migrants and refugees with mental health problems, ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to depression.

I spent a year helping people apply for benefits, locate housing and find their way around London. I was shocked and appalled at the abuse the people I worked with suffered on a daily basis – both from professionals and the general public.

I read an article recently that said that social work students were not political any more. This certainly isn’t the case for me, and for many of my fellow students on the MA in social work course at university.

We are well aware of the cuts to vital services that are having an impact on people who use services as a result of the current government’s austerity measures, and are determined to challenge these as we enter the profession.

During my first week at Goldsmiths on the MA social work course, I have already watched my fellow students get to grips with the professional capabilities framework and we will be using it to demonstrate our skills and knowledge to potential placement providers.

I feel privileged to have come into contact with so many inspiring and talented social workers during my time at the college. My advice to fellow students is not to believe everything you read.

Yes there is a high burnout rate and jobs are hard to come by. But there are social workers who are passionate, who find ways to relax in their spare time, who are politically active, who use social media to debate social work issues and who adore their jobs.

I feel lucky to have met them, and will be embracing this positive attitude as I embark on my training.