S U Z Y C R O F T
I am proud to be part of the profession that is social work. Social workers work with people who are often at the most vulnerable time of their lives – those who may be very old and frail, have mental health problems, struggling with the effects of poverty, ill-health, substance misuse, family breakdown, unemployment and debt. Social workers also face the challenge of working with and dealing with the effects of those who are prepared to abuse others whether adults or children and they have to know how and when to take action to protect the most vulnerable and stop the abuse.
Every day social workers will be making the most complex decisions in areas where the answers are seldom black and white. They are trying to do this skilled and often complicated work in the framework of attempting to work alongside service users, supporting their rights and needs.
I hope that is what I have been able to achieve in my job as specialist palliative care social worker and Team Leader in Social Work and Bereavement at St. John’s Hospice, London.
I chose Memory jar because …
… for me it represents some of the most poignant but also the most positive moments of my work in the hospice.
As part of our Children’s Days for bereaved children, which we hold in the hospice, we ask the children to make a Memory jar. The coloured layers in the jar are made by rubbing chalk into salt and we ask the children to make a colour that represents a memory of the person in their life who has died. At the end of the session the children will then usually choose to tell each other what the colours represent and in that way they talk about the person who has died. I vividly remember one six year old Sri Lankan girl whose mum had died. She had only been in the UK for a short time and neither of her parents could speak English so she had had to do a lot of interpreting for them. During the Children’s Day she took several other children under her wing including three siblings whose mother had also died and who clearly found it very hard to talk about what had happened. In the Memory jar session this little girl took the lead and described how she had a layer of brown for the colour of her mum’s skin, pink because it was her favourite colour, green because their front door was green, and so on.
Not only are the Memory jars a useful way for us to help bereaved children but they teach us about the resilience of children and how they can and do survive with all that may happen to them. We know that children can cope with life changing events, serious illness, death and dying, if they are given the right support and it is important that nothing that is happening in the family is hidden from them. One of the most important parts of my work has been supporting families and children through such events and knowing that specialist palliative care social work as a profession has such an important role in the care of those who are dying and those who are left behind.