Play doh



I’m a newly qualified social worker, having only recently graduated from Teesside University and about to embark on my first social work job in North Yorkshire (England) in children’s safeguarding. Before becoming a social worker, I faced my own challenges as a teenager having chronic pain, an eating disorder and using self-harm as a way to escape. Through these experiences I was drawn to the profession, as often the social workers I met were the most compassionate and empathetic. However, I’ve also learnt from my poor experiences of services which has driven my passion to be different and more creative, as often I didn’t want to change or talk to people because of the way they approached me and the ‘process-orientated lingo’. Overcoming what I did inspired me to want to support other young people, to help them fulfil their wishes and dreams or just be there; that person who hears their story. 

My relationship with social work has grown and been nurtured by those I have met and the connections I have made. I’m incredibly driven by building and promoting more positive relationships, to be sensitive in my practice to all aspects of identity that make up a person. Being more trauma-focused in a world that has growing poverty and division, I feel requires a creative and innovative approach whilst also advocating for social justice. I am passionate about instilling this in all that I do, thinking outside the box to work with families and communities for better outcomes. To unravel their stories and help them shine, we must be brave and challenge structural discrimination and oppression. We must be the change; we must be colourful, and we must support safer and happier futures in a more relational and systemic way. 

I chose Play Doh because …

… it reminds me of social work: it’s colourful; it comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes; it’s diverse, like the profession and the families we work with. Additionally, when carefully nurtured Play Doh can become anything, with a little determination and creativity. It can also always bounce back if it becomes out of shape with just a little support. In this way it represents the journey of social workers, their resilience and innovation but also symbolises change with children and adults, a shared and self-empowered activity. I feel this also demonstrates my motivation to become a social worker, my own plasticity when I was growing up. I also have fond memories of Play Doh, of Saturday mornings with my dad and as a calming activity when I was a teenager. All of which I’ve brought forward into social work with me. 

Whereby, it forms a part of my direct work toolbox, it helps me build relationships and find new ways of understanding children, that can also be very fun and calming. Whether we are simply fiddling with a bit of colourful Play Doh to keep our minds busy whilst we talk over difficult things or whether we build figures and animals that represents very important people in our lives. Play Doh opens up our imagination as we can create whatever we like, and sometimes it’s easier to visualise and show rather than talk and write. I have found through doing activities with Play Doh children seem to feel safer and have asked me to come back to see them again. Building trust with something as simple as Play Doh has meant a better relationship, a better child-led assessment and most importantly, a better experience for the child. 

A creative object like Play Doh is important to me as it challenges the process-orientated aspects of social work, the scariness of speaking to a stranger about your life. I’m hoping children and families feel less worried about me visiting, and hopefully we can build better connections through creating with Play Doh.

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