Juggling balls

 J O N A T H A N   P A R K E R

08 Jonathan Parker    Juggling balls

I am Professor of Society and Social Welfare at Bournemouth University, with wide experience in social work and social work education, a passion for social justice, compassion and learning across social work and a love of Malaysia as the country strives to professionalise its social work services and education.

In the 1980s I worked in a variety of voluntary and (then) unqualified social work positions with young displaced adults and people with learning disabilities, liaising with my own organisation, local authorities, probation and others to give these people a voice. I found this kind of multi-tasking alongside working in the gaps so energising and meaningful that I returned to university in 1987 to take a Master’s in Social Work determined to work with people with learning disabilities afterwards. In fact after qualifying I worked in a medical social work team, a ‘patch’ team which was mainly child protection and juvenile justice before moving into a specialist dementia team and working as an Approved Social Worker (the precursor to Approved Mental Health Practitioners).


I chose these Juggling balls because …

… they epitomise my experience as a social worker and as a social work academic. The link, perhaps, may be considered rather obvious but the ability to juggle many different and often conflicting demands at once almost becomes hidden behind its wide acceptance as something social workers must be able to do.

In my last role in practice I also began teaching at what was then Humberside Polytechnic (now the University of Lincoln) and the University of Hull, researching and writing taking up a full-time academic position in 1994. It was during this first academic post that I bought these juggling balls to demonstrate what social workers in care management need to do on a daily basis – I only hope that I was a better social worker than juggler, although perhaps we all need to be allowed to drop our juggling balls now and again!

The balls have stayed with me as a social worker undertaking competing tasks, and as an academic juggling the teaching, research and external demands; they exemplified my doctorate which focused on learning in practice settings, and they have served as a constant reminder of change and the need for balance and focus in social work practice and education. They are also, interestingly, a great stress buster. They can be squeezed and thrown perhaps showing how we can all use what is happening around us; taking control and moulding our work and our lives rather than being subject to impossible demands!

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