The Has Been Cavalry

A quote from the wonderful Jon Boden’s lyrics on the album Songs from the Floodplain as a starting point. If you haven’t heard it then here’s a link http://www.jonboden.com. But I am not ready to “line up with the has been cavalry” quite yet…..or am I ? One wonders indeed what it is a retired social worker can do with themselves. Don’t get me wrong , I would not be retired at all if I thought there was something I could offer to the profession without huge cost to everything I hold dear. But having compromised for some long time in order to earn a bob or two I found I could not continue any longer. This sounds like I was working simply for the money. Not at all, I could manage on my pension but I loved working in children’s services and the money was a bonus. I believed, that although I disagreed with many things about the organisation, the clients were getting a good service from me. I was able to use my experience to work round some of the nonsense in the  department.  I gave up when the organisation was more interested in the completion of an education plan on time than finding a new foster home for a deeply unhappy young woman who had been ejected from yet another family. Keeping Oftsed happy is the new currency. Perhaps I should feel some sympathy for the managers who will have to answer difficult questions or some collective responsiblity for the organisation but I didn’t. I was prepared to deliberately let the organisation down so I thought I had better retire. Or was it retreat? So what can be done with a retreating vintage social worker?

We are a new profession, at least in its modern version, so we have not yet encountered the issue of a retiring group of career social workers. Previously staff were mostly volunteers or middle class ladies doing good community works through charitable organisations, churches etc. They rarely needed to earn their living from their charitable works. I recall when I started my first job as a Social Welfare Officer trainee in the old Welfare Department that there were officers there who had got their jobs from adverts in “The Lady”. The Lady, for those who don’t know, is the UK’s longest running women’s magazine started in 1885. It was the end of the 1960’s and who knows what these ladies thought of the hippy styled young woman with ideas of social change and justice that joined their ranks. They probably thought the profession was going rapidly downhill.

History footnote. The Welfare Dept was one of the pre Seebohm departments of the county council. It provided services for the elderly including accommodation in Elderly Person’s homes under Part 3 of the National Assistance Act 1948. Under the same legislation it provided temporary   accommodation for homeless families. Services were also provided for those with physical disabilities including the blind and deaf who had specialist workers.

The profession has made huge and rapid changes since those days. More Welfare Dept stories later! The speed of change has been so rapid it seems to have left us collectively gasping for breath. It is difficult in the chaos of rapid change to hold to the core beliefs and principles that underpin everything we do and are. I hope this blog will help us to do that, to hold on , to believe and to remember why we work in the space between the state and the poor and marginalised. (Holland and Scourfield 2015. A Very Short Introduction to Social Work). We need urgently to regain our sense of self and the confidence we felt at the beginning of the modern-day profession as in doing this we may be clearer about our direction of travel in the next phases of our development. If we do not do this then there are others who will take advantage of our chaos and make decisions for us. We currently have an administration who have brought forward a bill which will mean we are the first caring profession to be directly controlled by government.

So there is a role for a retreating vintage social worker. I can tell stories, share ideas and thoughts that may help us to put into context the issues we face today by using our past glories and errors. When life was simpler it was easier not to lose contact with our beliefs and values or our reasons for getting up in the morning. So starting with a definition that everyone including our clients can understand would be helpful, or looking to our professional knowledge and skills to help ourselves or giving us back our desks  in an act of respect for our professional status might be a beginning. We seems to have more in common with our clients in being an oppressed minority than we would like to think.

So I am “lining up with the has been cavalry” and we are marching forward. It is a line of attack for our profession and our clients. It will be an interesting journey. We may even have a laugh on the way. So come with me and enjoy your, my, our profession again.

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