UK/European passport

J A N E T    W I L L I A M S

128 Janet Williams   128-passport

I came into social work when my interests at school, like the then unpopular idea of gender equality, combined with the topics that fascinated me at university. Human geography followed by an international course on Population Growth Studies introduced me to politics, policy making, economics and the inequalities associated with traditional economic models of development. After university I wanted a job where I could do something constructive about inequality, but couldn’t see myself as a politician.  Problem solved after several discussions with a neighbour; I made the decision to enter social work.

I was a practitioner for 13 years in a UK local authority which invested in developing its workforce and ascribed to social work values and theory. The ideas in The Client Speaks, normalisation and later empowerment became significant drivers across the whole Authority.   In the late 1970s I got involved in deinstitutionalisation for adults with disabilities, involving local people and a newly formed local disability campaigning group.   Next I worked in an experimental mental health project, where workers, service users and carers explored and pushed the boundaries with regard to service users’ control and decision making. We were members of national and international networks, exchanging ideas and practices with movements such as Survivors Speak Out (UK), Democratic Psychiatry (Italy) and Patients’ Councils (the Netherlands). The work was exciting partly because we were constantly being challenged by views that didn’t fit the existing mould. Latterly in Higher Education, as my international social work education networks increased across the UK, Europe and globally (through IASSW), my taken for granted assumptions continued to be challenged. I was able to extend these opportunities to colleagues and students through developing exchanges, international placements, modules and curriculum projects.


I chose a UK/European passport because …

… it symbolises my commitment to international social work (ISW), especially in higher education. There are opportunities for social work stemming from globalisation – technology, cheaper travel and the growing number of texts in English – which means that exchanging ideas, politics and practice between colleagues and students is easier than ever. I was heartened to see that Croisdale-Appleby’ s review of adult social work education in England (2014) started by consulting educators in other countries. But, I was most disheartened when all the internationally related requirements for the Standards, and the Capabilities for social work education disappeared as social work in England was moved into the predominantly health based Professional Council (HCPC). The only international requirements remaining for England are in the academic QAA Benchmark Statements which, ironically now, were introduced in 2003 to ensure that the social work qualification would be recognised in other European countries. UK social work is good, but not so much better than in countries where people routinely question their models with reference to systems elsewhere, or by working or studying abroad.

ISW is not widespread so there is little awareness that policies in the UK often result in poverty and problems elsewhere in the world. I would insist that students routinely refer to the Council of Europe, the United Nations and global social work organisations (IFSW or IASSW) as reference points for policy, research findings and values. Our interconnectedness also needs pointing out from environmental and sustainability perspectives. Sustainable communities, including health, food and energy security, climate and air quality, are as relevant to people in the UK as elsewhere. We are not immune from the financial impact of bad harvests or the impact of mass movements of people.

In the literal sense my passport enables me to ‘step over’ national barriers because it serves to authenticates my identity, it demonstrates the obligations the UK has to me so that I can travel and return home safely. I mostly take it for granted except for the two occasions when I found myself without it. However, passports are the consequence of national barriers.   In 2016, with the highest numbers yet of displaced persons globally (UN), the national barriers to movement such as having the wrong passport have become matters of life and death for many. These movements stem not from chance but from economic systems, natural and political disasters. Tackling the root causes, and responding to the individuals and communities involved, is part of the social work role in many countries. This raises the question of what we should do in the UK, how far do our boundaries for concern and action extend; should we expect practitioners to think as global citizens? Social workers have always been a ‘passport’ to obtaining rights for those whose voices are ignored; should this now include people beyond our borders and the social workers fighting for human rights? I believe so. Social work needs to promote our human commonalities; something to keep in mind as we cut our formal ties with Europe and foresee perhaps a world where countries are becoming more protectionist and inward looking.


P O P P Y   M A S H E G O

127 Poppy    127 Stove

I was inspired to become a social worker by my primary school friend’s aunt. I saw her drive around in a white volkswagen beetle (government owned car) conducting home visits.


I chose Stove because …

… the wood burner stove reminds me of the olden days growing up in a family that had very little. We were poor and had no access to electricity, water and sanitation. Despite the hardships, my grandmother ensured that our home was always warm. She was loving, caring, accepting and provided us home-cooked meals, consisting of pap (porridge) and morogo (wild greens). This was food cooked with love and care.

There is a stove just like this one in Nelson Mandela’s home in Soweto, South Africa.

Five decades later, many families still lack access to basic services. As a social worker, my role and responsibility is to provide service users with the warmth and caring attitude, to feed their souls and give them hope. To make them feel cared for and loved. Our office environment should be welcoming, accepting, particularly warm, typical of log fires.



D U D U Z I L E   S O K H E L A

126 Duduzile Sokhela   126 Food

I’m a social worker and published author of Why Urban Rural Under-developed Communities Will Never Develop in South Africa. Mooiplaas Informal Settlement: A Relevant Case Study. In the Front Lines. I’ve served my people working in different non-profit organizations in South Africa. I was inspired by my late sister and my living mother’s altruistic causes in the community I grew up in.


I chose Food because …

… throughout my career in social work serving humanity, I have witnessed and worked with people living in abject poverty, need, want and social exclusion, and one of the direst needs is a basic commodity: food. For each community I enter, hunger is visible.

Box of spanners

  M A L C O L M   P A Y N E

125 Malcolm Payne   125 Box of spanners

I came into social work in the 1960s, starting as a probation and after-care officer and then moving into social services departments when they were set up in 1971 following the legislation that enacted the Seebohm Report. Originally I was attracted to social work at university by the chance to learn about people and society, in a broad social science course including economics and law as well as sociology and social policy. All that offered a completely new take on what had been a very restricted world of a conventionally educated north-London grammar school boy.

I was able to include a lot of variety in my career too. About half my career was spent in agencies and management jobs and half in academic posts. I worked for the Council for Voluntary Service in Liverpool, mainly on community projects for unemployed people, in the 1980s, then developing residential and housing projects for mentally ill people nationally, and for the last ten years of my career worked for a large hospice, St Christopher’s, in south London near my birthplace. So I had the chance to get involved in all sorts of social work. In between these, I worked for the University of Bristol in the 1970s and as head of a very broad applied social science department at Manchester Metropolitan University for 15 years until 2002. I’ve also had part-time posts at the University of Helsinki, Opole University in Poland and the Comenius University of Bratislava in Slovakia, so I’ve had the chance to see social work up close in several different countries.

I chose as my object this box of spanners. I took the photo in the hardware tent at a country fair in the Lake District a couple of years ago.


I chose Box of spanners because …

… it reminded me of a trend in social work that I have my doubts about: developing ‘tools’ for practice.

I first came across ‘tools’ when I worked in palliative care in the early years of the 21st century, the government was promoting three ‘tools’ for practice: the Liverpool Care Pathway, the Gold Standards Framework and I understand the wish for clear guidance and comparability in assessment or intervention. But I don’t like the image of tools, because it implies that instead of seeing the whole person you are working with, you are concentrating on making some mechanical change in some nut or bolt in their make-up.

Then I looked at some of these so-called ‘tools’. The Liverpool Care Pathway, it turns out, is basically a tick-list of things to do when someone’s dying, to make sure you make appropriate decisions and consult people who should be informed and involved. I would hope that, knowing that you are with a person who is dying, you are thinking about what they are experiencing and experiencing it with them. I met a coordinator in a local hospital whose job was to introduce the Pathway, and she went round training staff about the issues, and giving them tick-lists to use to make sure they had done what policy told them to do. I would rather they sat beside people, spent time with carers and relatives, thought about what they might need. It does not surprise me that the later Independent Review of the Liverpool Care Pathway found that people were ticking the boxes routinely when they made the decisions, but didn’t go into the human business of consulting and talking things through with people.

I also looked at the Preferred Priorities for Care document. It is basically a questionnaire. A good thing about it is that it’s short and it has lots of white space. It asked three questions: In relation to your health, what has been happening to you? What are your preferences and priorities for your future care? Where would you like to be cared for in the future? Duh! You mean, people were not asking this? And a questionnaire is not a tool, it’s a questionnaire.

The final straw for me was when I looked recently at the Skills for Care document that promotes dignity in care. It’s called a toolbox. It consists of some introductory conceptual material, and it sets out seven principles for dignity in care. For each one there is a separate document, which contains a brief explanation of the principle, some case examples, a brief case study for you to think what you might do in that situation, and some inspiring quotations from people about the issue. It’s an OK training package but in what way is that a ‘toolbox’?

For me, social work was always a human process. I know that’s difficult, and it’s sometimes hard to bring your humanity with you to sit alongside someone who is suffering or who’s pissed off with you and the world and the social services. But this is another human being here. You can be another human being. Throw away the toolbox, and don’t degrade your humanity by claiming that a social work spanner is the best way of sharing someone’s humanity.

Letter opener (poker?)

     J I M   M O N A C H

122 Jim Monach    122 Letter

At the end of the 60’s we did our degrees, in my case sociology, then whatever we fancied for a bit while we thought about the future. Jobs were readily available, and one could just go travelling if nothing better turned up. For me, there was a spell on psychiatric wards as an assistant nurse, fired up by the writings of Laing, Goffman, Szasz et al. Then a job at London Zoo in pursuit of my lifelong fascination with the natural world. During a quiet lunch hour in the zoo canteen, an advert for a job as social work assistant at the Bethlem & Maudsley Hospitals caught my eye.  I gather there was quite a stir amongst my future colleagues when told the new appointment was a man [to an all female department] currently working as a zoo keeper! The people I worked with as clients and colleagues in adult mental health and addiction services soon convinced me that this was the way to go. Masters at the LSE, then the overland route to Australia, and my ‘career’ in social work began in earnest.


I chose Letter opener (poker?) because …

… not long qualified, I was working in one of the newly-created ‘Seebohm’ teams (a community team of generic social workers). We moaned then at the disappearance of the old specialisms; child care, mental health, old age etc. However the more sensible team leaders managed to make the best of a multi-specialist, community focus by trying to ensure allocation of cases recognising the special expertise and interests of the workers. As some-one with a growing concern for matters of mental health, this meant that I could be allocated a family case in which Mum had a long standing history of serious mental illness with repeated and prolonged admissions to psychiatric hospital, whilst her two boys, 13 and 11, were in long term care in [separate] children’s homes. The boys were in very stable situations, and had been doing well for a number of years with staff who knew them well and cared for them greatly. On the whole they wanted me to leave them alone, but make sure Mum was OK. They made this clear at reviews.

There was one extra colleague in the guise of a hospital social worker who still tended to look after the needs of long-term patients both in and out of hospital, but we could and did liaise closely.

Mum could be very violent, neglected herself, and was severely psychotic. Nobody was welcome in her house, very dilapidated on a run-down estate. But, whilst she had accepted for a long time that they were best off in care, she cared intensely for the welfare of her boys, and woe betide the professional who messed with them. My role was therefore to keep a close eye on everyone, and alert colleagues to any problems, helping Mum and boys as I could.

Out of the blue one Christmas, Mum, gruff as ever, appeared at her door. “Yes, I’m fine. Wait there.” She produced a roughly wrapped parcel. “Here, an opener for all them letters you get. Taraa”.

It turned out to be a fire poker! She wanted no thanks, and did not welcome me trying to discuss it later; but I treasured that acknowledgement that even though the system did little to help her, and she had so little, she could still want to say thank you in her own way for someone’s help, who I like to think she saw as caring towards her and her kids. I’m not sure what the rules about accepting gifts might be now, but know there would have been hell to pay if I tried to refuse it. I have the poker (pictured) 40 years on.


Z A N E T A   S E R K S N I E N E

121 Zaneta Serksniene    121 Puzzle

I came to the field of social work in 2006 when I started my BA at VMU, Lithuania. During four years of studies I didn’t find a place where I could realize myself as a social worker. I have practised in various institutions and I felt that it is not the right place for me. In 2010 I started my MA at the same university, VMU, and then I was involved in group work by one of the teacher. At the same time I got a job at a secondary school with children who have special needs and also I initiated groups where I could teach social skills for kids as well.


I chose Puzzle (as a whole picture and as a piece of puzzle as an individual I am working with) because …

… when I started to work with children I realized that they all are like pieces of puzzle: different shape; color; individual place in the picture; different amount of connections, etc. I see a whole puzzle picture as a result of group work in the end of sessions which I usually have 20-25 during the year with one group. And all the participants for me look like pieces of puzzle, who in the beginning may not “fit” in that place but during our searching or group working we all together find places for everyone. Children are different and, as with puzzle pieces, they are making connections with two, three or four others in a group and by making connections we are making one whole puzzle picture. For me the process of working in a group and putting the entire puzzle together looks similar because in both you have many moments of frustration, impatience and anger and also you have joy, excitement and satisfaction.


    S U E   T A P L I N

Mitten 2016

As a student of Modern Languages in the late 1980s, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to live in Russia and to travel extensively in central and Eastern Europe. This experience gave me an invaluable insight into the difference between merely surviving and truly living, and how a spirit of adventure and creativity, combined with qualities of integrity, kindness and generosity, can help people to overcome privation and difficulty, and how a focus on our common humanity can transcend boundaries of politics, language and culture.

In retrospect I think it was this experience that motivated me to choose social work as a career, and to bring that belief in the power of the human spirit into my practice as a palliative care social worker.


I chose Mitten because …

… I became fascinated by it on my first visit to the Foundling Museum in London. I am sure that most visitors to the museum do not notice Tracey Emin’s tiny bronze, an original baby’s mitten, found on the streets by the artist, then rescued, cast and painted and now ‘waving’ from the railings behind Thomas Coram’s statue[1]. I only noticed a postcard of it in the Museum gift shop, and asked a curator whether it was still in situ. I was delighted to discover it, so small and vulnerable, and so obviously apart from its owner and its other half, being originally presumably one of a pair. But in this very isolation there was hope – someone had indeed rescued it, had taken the trouble to make it strong enough to stand on the railing, thus giving it the chance to be reunited with its owner or, if that was impossible, at least to be visible, to be noticed, and not to be swept away with the rubbish and other discarded or lost items that do not have the chance to be found.

For me this is the true essence of good social work practice – to take notice of the lost and vulnerable and to give people a second chance (and, through so doing, also ourselves). We cannot always bring back what is lost or cure people’s physical or emotional wounds – but we can show that we value that individual or family by being with them, by listening to them and by helping them to become strong and visible, in whatever way is possible for them.

[1] I read the history of the Mitten in Gill Hedley’s unpublished essay from the catalogue ‘Songs of Innocence, Experience, Ambivalence’ (February 2010).