N I G E L P A R T O N
I qualified as a social worker over forty years ago and worked as a practitioner in a local authority social services department after graduation. However for over thirty five years, apart from one year at the University of Keele, I have worked as a lecturer and researcher at the University of Huddersfield. I now work on a (very) part time basis. While my main commitment has been to qualifying and post-qualifying social work courses I have also taught and supervised PhD students with a range of health and social science backgrounds. My main interests have been on child welfare and child protection and the theory and practice of social work more generally.
I chose Hammer because …
… while I have been distant from direct social work practice for many years virtually all of my close friends have been social workers at some point and certainly my very closest friend of well over forty years is a social worker, and this story and Hammer relates to her. When she was in her late twenties, and she looked much younger, she was a social worker on a social services department’s Emergency Duty Team. There was no office base and she worked directly from home. The role involved responding to calls out of office hours, of an evening and at weekends, where it seemed there was an emergency which could not wait until the day teams were next available. Many of the calls were from hospitals, foster carers and the police and typically involved mental health concerns, elderly people, or child care problems.
This particular call came from a foster carer who said that a man who ‘lived up the valley’ was refusing to bring his young child back after a contact weekend and was demanding to speak to a social worker. My friend spoke to him on the phone and, while he seemed in a relaxed mood, was not prepared to allow the child to return to the foster carers. She arranged to visit and called the police asking them to be available nearby. She gained entry and spoke to the man, but quite out of the blue he produced a hammer and refused to let her or the child out of the house and turned increasingly aggressive. This went on for some time but she stayed calm and talked to him to the point that no only did he put the hammer away but agreed to let both her and the child out of the house. The police had been nearby all the time but did not want to intervene.
Soon after she got home and wrote up her notes she became very shivery and a temperature took hold – probably delayed shock – which meant she had to rest up for a couple of days – but she was back on duty again the following weekend.
I have often felt that bravery is a much underestimated quality required to be a social worker. Social workers are required to go into situations which require considerable guts and then respond by simply relying on their own wits. Nor is bravery only concerned with putting one’s body on the line; much of it is also emotional and intellectual – going to places that others fear to tread. This doesn’t mean being reckless but it does require a strength and a humility which is not always given the profile that is required for many of the challenges which social workers face on a regular basis.