Fluffy cushion

 K G O M O T S O   N T L A T L E N G

10  Kgomotso Ntlatleng    10 Fluffy cushion

My name is Kgomotso Ntlatleng. I am third year student in the BSW programme at the Department of Social Work and Criminology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. I have been involved in community work projects with my lecturer, Prof Reineth Prinsloo, since my first year of study. I am currently a tutor for the first and second year social work students to assist them with integrating their theoretical work. My lecturer introduced this blog project in our group work class and it immediately sparked my enthusiasm for my chosen career.


I chose a fluffy cushion because

The softness of the cushion resembles the warm atmosphere that social workers provide when facilitating an intervention process. Initially, most new cushions are a bit hard but the more the cushion is utilised the softer it gets. Just like clients, until a trusting relationship has been established after having had a few sessions then clients begin to open up and thus start sharing. The cushion stood out for me because social work views clients as unique individuals and each client has his or her own frame of reference. Similarly, cushions come in different colours, designs, shapes, textures and sizes.

Just as a touch of cushions help make a room more appealing, furthermore, when leaning against a cushion, one gets to sit in a comfortable position with back support that will help one’s stay in that room pleasant; social work helps individuals, groups and communities improve or enhance their capacity for social functioning. The stuffing and threads were used to get a finished product (cushion); in the same way, one cannot understand a client by just focusing on just one aspect of their life. Clients are looked at holistically in order to make an accurate hypothesis.

When cushions are exposed to dust, sunlight and when they are utilised for a long period they get torn but can always be sewed back together again. Likewise, people have their unique life experiences and sometimes make poor decisions but the Person-Centred Approach believes in people’s ability to self-actualise and that people have the capacity to grow. When the cushion’s cover is worn out, it can be replaced by another one. In the same manner, bad habits can be replaced with good ones. The replacement of the cushion cover demonstrates hope that social workers give to their clients.

A cushion may be worn out but it’s still a cushion. People may have problems, but at the end of the day they are still people with inherent worth and value.

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!


   S A R A   A S H E N C A E N   C R A B T R E E

08 Sara Ashencaen Crabtree  08 Kembang

I am Professor of Social & Cultural Diversity and former Head of Sociology at Bournemouth University, UK. I am a qualified social work academic, but my academic interests straddle the social sciences. I have enjoyed an exciting international academic career in Malaysia, the UAE and Hong Kong, which inspired my work into comparative social work, Social Work & Islam, psychiatry in post-colonial countries, disabilities in the Middle East, racism in Hong Kong and dengue prevention. But the two best souvenirs from these international adventures have been my young daughters, one born in Malaysia and one in the Middle East.


Kembang is a rather special painting that I bought recently on a conference visit to the lovely island of Penang in Malaysia. This large, vibrant picture painted in bright Gauguin shades of pink, red, yellow, orange and summer blue, is entitled, appropriately, ‘Kembang’ (blossom) and was painted by a sixteen-year-old Malaysian artist by the name of Siti Atiqah.  Siti is wheelchair-bound with cerebral palsy and studies at the Penang Cerebral Palsy Children’s Association in Malaysia. I cherish the photograph I have of her which shows a smiling, pretty girl working on another of her vivacious canvases.  In return she has a photograph of me and the family, who are the proud owners of this lovely picture, with our message to keep on painting!

Siti sells her lovingly but laboriously created work through ‘Stepping Stones’, a very impressive and welcoming Penang NGO offering supported employment for people with disabilities, run by Ai-Na Khor, the brisk and friendly CEO of Asia Community Service. Penang is famous for its social activism and range of progressive NGOs, but I was particularly taken by ‘Stepping Stones’, which runs a co-operative of skilled workers, regardless of the diverse range of disabilities apparent. Here they have created a flourishing cottage industry of ingeniously recycled goods. Among the handcrafts one can buy wonderful, colourful recycled paper made from banana fibres and where hand looms produce accomplished weavings, including contemporary chain mail: metallic fabric made of recycled cassette tapes!

Here we browsed among an array of crafts, all made on site: mint-scented soap from recycled (halal) oil, lovely ceramic leaf-shaped bowls, clever little fabric bags, cunningly made newspaper origami, and bright batik fabric using the traditional hot wax method.


I have chosen Kembang because …

… whenever I am feeling thoroughly disenchanted with social work at home in Britain, I look beyond to social work initiatives, like this NGO which, for me, epitomises all that is best about the developments taking place in social work internationally. Once people with disabilities in Britain had the opportunity to earn a modest wage by developing their skills at Adult Training Centres (ATS), now long closed in an ideological attempt to ‘mainstream’ them into the regular employment market with the inevitable result of many becoming unwaged and entirely dependent on welfare benefits. Such individuals are in turn threatened by neo-liberal government policies to cut their benefits, reducing them to further penury and exclusion from society. Visiting Stepping Stones I recalled my time as a social worker with people with learning disabilities in the post-ATS days where my adult ‘clients’ spent long days unoccupied, eking out their benefit money, supervised periodically by families if they were lucky or exploited by the unscrupulous if not. So much for ‘valuing people’.

Where are those disadvantaged people today? It is unlikely that many have independent and creative jobs to go to, unlike these active Penang citizens, who are, regardless of disabilities, able to make and spend a hard-earned and proudly won wage.

Mind the gap

    M  A R K    D O E L

Mark Doel   The Gap

I’m a child of Seebohm (I did wonder about proposing the Seebohm Report as an Object) – I qualified just as those recommendations were being put into practice, so I was generic, working with the whole community “from cradle to grave” in a geographical patch. Apart from spells in Suffolk, Wigan and Philadelphia all my practice has been in Sheffield, a city I love with a passion.

I’ve occupied many spaces – as well as knocking on doors, I’ve supervised students, taught and learned with them in class, been an academic manager (a challenging role made joyous by a wonderful team of people), project manager (again, lots of lovely colleagues) and a researcher. Apart from writing, some of my most fulfilling work is leading training workshops.

I chose Mind The Gap because…

 … I was in London last week, on the Circle line, and at every station I heard the familiar litany, “Mind the Gap” – a warning, yet made reassuring through constant repetition.  With ’40 Objects’ on my mind, this ‘gap’ that is to be minded interested me, in at least two ways: first as a metaphor (maybe even a cliché, but I don’t mind) for the gap between idealism and reality, student experience and life as a Newly Qualified, between the public’s expectations of public services, social work include, and their apparent willingness to resource them. And the even greater gaps, those between rich and poor, between enriched and impoverished parts of the planet.

The second facet of ‘the gap’ that teased me was whether it can be considered ‘an object’? The more I thought about it, the more interesting the phenomenon of a gap became. In the first analysis it is a nothingness, yet it is only identified as a gap because of the somethings that lie on either side of it. I’ve heard some of my service users describe themselves in similar terms – that they feel defined by others rather than by themselves, that they are somehow ‘a gap’. Social workers frequently see existential angst, if they can but recognise it. Can social work as a profession be assertive in preventing itself being defined by others (people, organisations) more powerful than itself?  And then, working as a social worker, it sometimes felt like we worked with ‘the gap’ – situations that didn’t fall into others’ neat categories. I rather liked that, working with the human condition, unconfined.

A gap is something that joins as well as separates; on the Underground it is the transition from train to platform. Social work, more than any other profession I think, works at these edges, finding ways to make two different worlds connect. Toynbee Hall describes itself as having ‘one foot in the establishment and the other amongst the poor’; I guess Toynbee Hall has taught itself to be mindful of the gap.

However, it is not simply ‘the gap’ that I am proposing as one of these Objects, but Mind the Gap – the notion that the gap is to be minded and the wonderful ambiguity therein. Could that gentle but authoritative voice that tells us to Mind the gap on the London tube be exhorting us to take care of the gap? Mind your profession. Mind others. Mind yourself. Be mindful of that gap. It’s telling us something, yes?

(I’m still not sure what the passengers at Temple station thought about this bloke, me, leaning over to photograph – what?)

Student notebooks

  A M A N D A   T A Y L O R

06 Amanda Taylor   06 Notebooks

I qualified as a social worker from the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland in 2004. Prior to this I had been employed, for a number of years, in various roles within Irelands integrated health and social care sector. My work, both qualified and unqualified, was mainly in adult mental health services in one form or another. Although prior to moving to England I also had the privilege of  practicing as a specialist social worker for children with varying degrees of Deafness. Rather quickly after qualification, and mainly as a result of post qualifying requirements, it was social work education that caught my attention and to a larger extent my heart.

I have chosen my student notebooks from across all three years of my initial training as my objects because…

Of how they not only capture my learning journey but also because of how they serve as a reminder of how incredibly privileged I was to have been permitted access to the lives of the people I worked ‘with’ whilst a student on practice placement. They are not only symbolic of my early career development but also representative of all of those who moulded and shaped me into the practitioner I aspired to be.

As I leaf through what could be viewed as almost unremarkable objects I am reminded of how very exciting if not incredibly challenging being a social worker student was and indeed is. I am left wondering how many students entering the profession use or might even benefit from a little notebook or two as they embark upon their own unique learning journeys, a kind of rite of passage. My own journey continues, even as students now look to me for the support, advice and guidance that I once sought from the educators around me.


Maybe I should pick up where I left off and make a few more notes about the privilege of social work.  Because no matter what your role is within the wider professional system it is your influence that ultimately lands on the doorsteps of those we set out to serve …




   M O N I C A   I O A N A   G U G U R A

  05 Monica Ioana Gugura   05 Songs

I have studied social work and graduated in 1995 from Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania. I began my social work career working as a generic social worker at Cluj County Council. In 2002 I moved to England and settled in Ipswich. Until 2008 I worked at as a social worker at Suffolk County Council, initially in a Children and Families / Care Management team and then in a Fostering Services team. I then moved into Workforce Development -training and consultancy-, and am still working for the same county council. I am also a Practice Educator for student social workers. In 2015 I have obtained my Masters of Arts in Advanced Social Work, at the University of East Anglia.

I chose Songs (Ala.Ni’s Darkness at Noon and Cherry Blossom) because:

There could be 1000 or more images to represent the word ‘Songs’, with all its stories, feelings and experiences. Covering all the space between the extremities of life, between good and bad, joy and misery, justice and injustice, social work has explored, experienced and why not, understood it all. Eclectic, pluralist and holistic, at times reduced to silence, like in Romania, during the communist times, other times criticised, judged, misjudged or praised – the western tradition of social work-, this is social work.

To represent ‘Songs’, I have chosen Ala.Ni’s Darkness at Noon & Cherry Blossom / A Take Away Show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKLVHyQjkow – please skip the advert, for which I apologise). The first song suggests the ambiguity of life and human relationships, with which social workers have to deal every day. The struggle to break free from love is sometimes as hard as the struggle to break free from abuse or addiction, and the liberation from these powerful realities is experienced differently by different people. In every success or ‘human victory’ there is also the reverse – the bad taste of victory, the possibility of relapse, the possibility of tomorrow’s failure and loss. Sometimes there remains a sense of guilt, a vague regret, the temptation to return. Like poets or artists, social workers know that the frontiers between past and present are fragile, and that the possibility of change, of an alternative future, is always close to people.

Why Cherry Blossom? Because social work is an optimistic profession, a young child at heart, that needs others to stay beside them, not for ever, just for a day’s work, that would be enough.



 R E I N E T H    P R I N S L O O

04 Reineth Prinsloo  04 Eyes

I teach Social Work at the University of Pretoria in South Africa; have been doing so for 25 years. Prior to that, I practised generic social work. In my doctoral studies I specialised in group work and in marriage and family enrichment. Working with peoples’ strengths has enriched my life and my career and makes me grateful for my choices and my daily responsibilities. Engaging in community development utilising small group dynamics continuously yield positive outcomes.

Eyes as an object of social work? Why do I nominate eyes to represent social work?

I chose Eyes because …

for me, eyes equal social work! When I was in secondary school, I joined an outreach program where we visited children’s homes over weekends to engage with the children in activities to help them have fun and to socialise. My eyes locked on the spark in the children’s eyes as they rushed to the gate with their toys and balls and books, eager to start the visits. Did they see the spark in my eyes for being able to make their day better? I observed so much – with my eyes! There and then is when I decided that I wanted to do social work. If I could make peoples’ eyes shine and make a difference in their circumstances, that would fill my life to the brim.

I used my eyes to read and to study. I graduated with shiny eyes. In my career as a social worker and in teaching social work, I observe harsh circumstances; I see sadness; I see despair; I see anger and conflict; I see loss, tears, unhappiness. I see that in peoples’ eyes. With my eyes I convey empathy, I show that I really listen. I purposively make eye contact to show that I am present. I look for opportunities; I see hope in difficult contexts; my eyes sometimes smile softly and sometimes eagerly and enthusiastically to give them hope and to show that I believe. As an activist for vulnerable groups and to make people aware of the consequences of discrimination and prejudice and cultural insensitivity, my eyes show determination and dedication. They show the passion for people and to do what social work stands for, namely to promote social change and to empower people. They show respect for all human beings and their contexts. Without my eyes, I would not have been able to enhance the wellbeing of my fellow human beings. What I see, helps me to engage. What they see, gives them hope!

CD Allegri Miserere

   D A V E   W H I T E

03 Dave White 03 CD Allegri Miserere 

I qualified as a science teacher in the 70s and re-trained as a social worker in 1986. I worked for Suffolk County Council (England) for 31 years in adult services but have been a practice educator since 1987. 23 of those years were working with adults with learning disabilities and their families as well as all the other education, support and health services. I was also trained as a counsellor and worked in-house in this role too for 14 very interesting and fulfilling years.

I am now an independent social worker, practice educator, mentor and trainer – working for 4 universities and across 2 counties as my full-time job. I work across all children and adult services with my students and LOVE being a practice e educator. I also teach unemployed people up to the age of 24 who want to become carers but don’t have the skills or confidence to apply for jobs.

I chose the Allegri’s Miserere because …

When I was training as a counsellor we had residentials in a stunning Elizabethan Mansion in Suffolk. Playing this piece of haunting music while on a weekend there with my colleagues was just the perfect piece in the perfect setting and summed up a lot of our journey to date and the need for space for us to work on our cognitive dissonance that, as social work students, we all suffered from as we grew and changed our internal @self@. I find that it always takes you in to that space that we need to use for reflection, helps ease the head-chatter and noise that surrounds us in our daily work. Often we find we don’t have that crucial space for self and reflection …. the music helps us regain this and also helps us with our resilience. So get some space …. put the music on …. shut your eyes, relax and float inside it and allow yourself the time and space to relax and reflect …. and refresh. As social workers our lives are so pressured that we often forget our own needs so use this to restore some balance. We DO need to refill our emotional pools so that we function properly – more and more important for us in these days of rapid change.

iPod (with headphones)

  P A T R I C K   D O N O H O E

02 Patrick Donohoe   02 iPod – Version 2

Standing joke in my family (I’m one of 9 and the only one doing anything like social work) is that when I was born I turned around and asked my mother if she was ok?

At school I helped out in the “remedial readers class” and during school holidays helped out on the St Vincent de Paul summer camp. Then worked my way from residential care into social work itself.

That was 30 years ago and I’m still at it now. I don’t think I could do anything else!

And what’s more I know all about iPods, MP3s and all sorts of modern stuff.

I chose iPod (with headphones) because …

1) it allows me to shut off from the open plan office whilst recording/typing etc.

2) more importantly it can be used in conjunction with car stereo on awkward journeys, or with headphones for those times young people need their own head space AND for use as an ice breaker, saying to a young person “find us a tune to listen to can really be disarming and they get chance to slag off your music collection!”

A-Z street finder

      L I Z   A L L A M

Liz Raj Meera – Version 2  01 A-Z

I qualified as a social worker from Birmingham University in 2002. Currently I’m on maternity leave from Farleigh Hospice in Essex, where I do outreach work providing information and support to people affected by illness and bereavement.

I have worked in a diverse range of settings, including mental health, with homeless people, in statutory and voluntary organisations, as well as with children in Delhi, and more recently as a Mental Health Advisor supporting unemployed people.

I chose the A-Z street finder because ….

It was my constant companion during my post-qualifying years. I covered a large geographical patch in East Birmingham and – in the days before sat navs and google maps – it was essential for navigating to the homes of the service users with whom I was working. I remember some frustrating tear my hair out moments when I had overrun at my last visit and was trying to find my way to the next one, pulling over at the side of the road in my little red vauxhall corsa, hazard lights flashing, whilst I pored over the map trying to work out where I was! The roads and networks of that area gradually became familiar – eventually etched on my memory – and slowly I became less and less dependent on my trusty A-Z.

In a metaphorical sense the A-Z represents how as a social worker, we were expected to do a bit of everything, to cover it all, from A-Z. In my time I have made sandwiches, helped people cook meals, clean their houses and write letters, I have accompanied people to court, hospital, police stations, cinemas, hospitals, taught English, attended funerals….. I have advocated, advised, supported, mediated, challenged, facilitated and trained. It is something that I love about social work, that you are a jack of all trades and can offer the support that an individual actually needs, whatever that may be (though I accept that is getting more difficult.)

The A-Z also makes me think about how each service user is located within a particular context. When you look at where they live on the map, it reminds me that each person is linked to a wider network – a family, a neighbourhood, a local community and ultimately society itself. It makes me reflect on how the circumstances in which a person finds themselves are inextricably tied up with this wider context and that, as social workers, it is vital that we acknowledge it and incorporate it in our work. And the A-Z leads me to ask where do we place ourselves on the map?

My final thoughts are that the A-Z stands for my own journey through social work profession – there is a wide variety of routes, and my own journey is still in progress.