Hilary Dixon, who studied Japanese & Politics at the University of Leeds, joined Frontline’s 2014 Cohort after graduating. Here, she shares her experience as a social worker on the Frontline Programme, and reflects on the support and opportunities the university provided her with.
Social work, day to day
In a typical week I might have visits with children and families in schools, homes or hospitals, and speak to teachers, nurses and other professionals who work with them. This can be challenging but interesting. I think it’s a privilege unique to social work; to be able to have a window into how many different professions operate and to learn about and try to understand the experiences of the families and children living such different lives within the one London borough where I work.
This is what I enjoy about my job as a social worker, working with people and communicating through difficult situations to motivate and bring about positive change that helps make children and young people safer.
Of course there are also days spent in the office, writing reports, documenting work with families and analysing information to make the best decisions for the children and young people you work with. There are many phone calls, meetings to organise, and challenging conversations which require negotiation skills and determination to try and ensure that the children you work with have access to the resources they need.
There are days that are stressful, emotionally draining, and filled with paperwork but there has not been a day in the last two years where I have regretted my decision to become a social worker.
Any career is going to have its ups and downs but I strongly believe that positive change can be achieved for children, and social work is key to that.
From language degree to social work
Before becoming a social worker I studied Japanese and Politics at the University of Leeds. I often get asked about how or why I got to social work from my degree and to be truthful I stumbled across the opportunity to become a social worker without greatly considering it before.
The University of Leeds have a really good careers department, and after trawling through the career fairs and only coming back with free pens, I started looking on the careers events website, where I signed up to a talk about the Frontline Leadership Development Programme.
It seemed refreshingly different from the usual graduate schemes that I found to be heavily finance and business based and which I knew were not for me.
A graduate scheme such as Frontline also appealed to me as a secure option where, alongside receiving a salary and getting work experience practically straight away, there was also support and continued academic study alongside the vocational side of the career.
I had found the graduate scheme I wanted to do, I had knowledge of the job through family members who were social workers and so I had some idea about the realities of the job. However this also made me worried about how qualified I would be, as a young person just leaving university, to do such a job.
The Careers Centre were helpful with application forms and preparing for the assessment centre but I also found that many of the skills that I learnt at university studying a language have been helpful in a social work career. Experiences in LUUs clubs and societies have given me transferable organisational skills, studying abroad expanded my cultural understanding and challenged me to be more adaptable. Essay writing and my dissertation strengthened my analytical skills and written work.
Yet life experience is also so important for social work. This doesn’t mean you have to be a parent, or have had a social worker yourself to be a good social worker, but you do have to recognise how your own life experiences, good and bad, have shaped how you see things and how you react to situations. Social work is a profession where you are given a huge amount of power, and you must be respectful of people’s different life experiences.
As a social worker you should use your strengths to support families and keep children safe, but also know your weaknesses. If you are thinking about pursuing a career in social work then you have to be honest with yourself and the people around you about what you will find hard .Social workers and everyone we work with are only human.
I would encourage anyone who enjoys working with people, is able to deal with pressure and difficult situations, and who wants to make a positive difference to improve children’s lives, to consider social work as a rewarding career.
Frontline is recruiting 350 participants for its Leadership Development Programme. Want to make real change for children and families? Find out more about a career in social work and start your application by visiting the Frontline Website. Applications close 20 November.