Bead strapping

    V E R N O N   N O E L

145 Vernon Noel    145 Bead strapping button

I got into social work after encountering some young people at a secondary school whilst working on a computer project as a systems analyst in the mid-1980’s. Their habit of coming to me to share their problems and worries motivated me to change my career to be a qualified social worker to meet the needs of young people in my community.

I have enjoyed my training and my experience of social work over the past 24 years. I decided early on that unless I was working for myself, I would purposely change my substantial working environment or job every 2 years so I can be refreshed regularly and not burn out quickly. This I have successfully done for 21 years until I started my own independent social work service. I believe that I have become a truly eclectic social worker with a purpose – picking up nuggets of wisdom as I travel around the world to impart to others, including new social workers. The first two years following my qualification as a social worker in the UK, I travelled to the USA to work with a company called VisionQuest.

VisionQuest’s history is rooted in American First Nation culture. In American First Nation traditions, the vision quest is a rite of passage that marks the transition from child to adulthood. VisionQuest has adopted many First Nation traditions over the years to help troubled teens and their families grow together. One of these traditions formed VisionQuest’s Senior Professional Staff leadership commitment.


I chose my Bead strapping because …

… in the Crow First Nation tradition, there were members of the community―called “Bishkewalakai”―who were so committed to their community that they would stake themselves to the ground by the knee in times of trouble to demonstrate that they would not desert their families and tribe. Following this tradition, the Senior Professional Staff wear a VisionQuest pin/badge (or a colourful strapping of beads) on their left knee to represent to their fellow staff members and the youth that they are willing to make a four-year commitment to the youth, the program, and the company. The Senior Professional Staff are expected to step up when things get difficult, and to work out issues that arise, whether they are internal with other staff or with youth.

Since my contract with VisionQuest was for a fixed period of two years, I made a commitment to work with children and young people for my initial two years with VisionQuest and the other two (or more) years somewhere else. My ‘more’ years has lengthened and has reached 22 years to date!

I chose my object as my Bead strapping (Senior Professional Staff pin / badge) to demonstrate my commitment to the children and young people that I continue to work with over the years. I was given my Senior Professional Staff pin / badge after six months with VisionQuest and symbolically continue to wear it.


Out of hours duty officer sign

           a n i   m u r r

144 ani murr    out of office

I followed my father into mental health social work, though I am now in social work education rather than direct practice.

I chose Out of hours duty officer sign because …

… it reminds me of my late father and because it tells me something about changes in technology and thinking.

My father was a social worker in the valleys of south Wales. In the 1960s a wooden sign such as this was displayed outside of office hours to identify the on-call duty social worker and give his or her contact details – in those days their home ’phone number. I learned from a very early age to answer our ’phone at home very formally in case it was a work call for my dad. If my dad went out in the evening (whether he was on call or not) he left a note by the telephone of where he was. I remember once as a teenager being very fed up about yet another ’phone call from the police asking for my dad and me saying that I did not know his whereabouts. I knew full well that he was across at the allotment. I was in a bit of trouble for that one.

Imagine responses today to using a personal ’phone number for work. There would be talk of poor personal boundaries and (un)professionalism. It makes me think about what we have lost and what we have gained through technology – much longer ’phone numbers for a start!

Perhaps as a metaphor of my musing, I have blanked out two numbers on the sign. With the technological development of the internet has come an openness to participate together in on-line communities (for example, this ‘40 Objects’ project and campaigning and/or consciousness raising communities for people who use and people who offer social services). But there is also a cautiousness for privacy.

Black bin bag

      M A R K   F R A S E R

143 Mark Fraser  143 Black bin bags

I started working with children with disabilities in the 1980s – residential care with teenagers, some of whom were lovely, while others would threaten harm with a combination of hair spray and cigarette lighters! After a few years I left to travel and while studying Buddhism in the Himalayas we had an audience with the Dalai Lama. ‘We don’t need westerners living here as monks and nuns,’ he said. ‘We need you all to go back to your own countries and be social workers or teachers. Give to your communities. That is the greatest work.’

It was 1991. I went back to qualify in Edinburgh and have worked in different roles with children and families ever since. I am now a practice development worker in Cumbria (English Lake District). Social work is an amazing privilege. It really is the greatest work.

I chose Black bin bag because …

… first is the context in which we used black bin bags in early 90s child protection work in Edinburgh. Our practice at the time included using bin bags to transport children’s belongings as we took them into care. A few of the team didn’t drive and would also then have to take children into care on the bus, sitting at the bus stop in the frequent cold rain with a couple of children and any number of bin bags depending if the children had any clothes other than the ones they were wearing. 30 years into my career I reflect now with a sense of shame at some of our practice.

… second, though, is that black binbags also represent a more positive theme, reflecting a degree of professional pride and humanity from another side of our work. Before the term ‘food bank’ became mainstream we had a ‘food cupboard’. The team would organise fund raising – quiz nights and the occasional Ceilidh. The funds were invested at the local supermarket restocking the food – which we gave away to families who were sent our way by the cold-faced benefits office after they’d refuse people emergency payments. At Christmas time people would also leave with donated children’s presents, which would arrive wrapped and ready to distribute. We’d have to unwrap and check them first though, as sometimes people would just wrap up broken toys.

One Christmas Eve I was on duty with my colleague. We were about to close the door at 4pm when a woman, standing quietly in the rain in the empty car park, stepped forward and approached the building. She hesitantly told her story which was being a single mum of five young children and not having either anything for the children for Christmas and also no food. She had been hoping that a miracle would happen and had promised the children that this year they would have a present each. It had got to Christmas Eve lunchtime before she had approached the benefits office for an emergency loan for the food and had been refused. She had never been in a social work office.

The food cupboard was fairly empty but we had one tin of potatoes and some canned ham. We searched another cupboard and found some peas and carrots. Nowhere near enough for this dignified mum and her five young children. We had some creamed rice and long-life yoghurts. We also had six presents for the five children but two of them were broken and so we asked her what she wanted to do. She chose to take four toys plus the most broken one, on the basis that it was more appropriate for her youngest. We had half a tube of glue but it was late now and there wasn’t time to stick the dolls head back together – so we added the tube into one of the black binbags.

She thanked us, so profoundly it made it all feel even more inadequate. She left the office very pleased and relieved.  I watched her go back into the street, black binbags swinging at her side on a long walk back along the dual carriageway to the tower blocks. I drove home for Christmas crying.

The mum had been so appreciative but it had felt such a limited piece of work in the face of her family’s needs. Contrast with that with other times in child protection when parents were angry and aggressive but the work felt valuable. Where it is that we find our validation for the work that we do? Small wonder that many social workers struggle to keep a focus on the great work that is done every day. I drove home with a sense of despair that day, but 25+ years later that Christmas Eve is a moment of social work that I can now value.

Elephants (in the room)

      B E N   R A I K E S

142 Ben Raikes   142 Elephants

I started my social work career as a Probation Officer, drawn in by the belief that building a relationship using simple skills such as listening and affirming the positive qualities of people caught up in the criminal justice system could be transformative, in terms of persuading them away from offending. Having grown up in a comfortable loving household, I was acutely aware that this had been denied to most of those I worked with. This caused me to reflect on the chance of our birth, and that if I had been born into their situation and they into mine, our roles could easily have been reversed. I learned a great deal from those I supervised, from their ability to remain resilient in the face of adversity and to live in the moment. I have always believed the best relationships, including with those who use social work services, are reciprocal.

I chose Elephants (in the corner) because …

… in every social work setting that I have worked in, since I qualified in 1992, there is always an Elephant in the corner. Several years ago I used the phrase with a colleague who had not heard it before. Sometime after I explained what it meant, she gave me these elephants. They have sat in the corner of all the offices I have worked in since. They are a reminder to always name the elephant in the corner!


    A L L A N   R E E S

Allan Rees.jpg   Marbles2.jpg

I’m a generic social worker who’ll quite happily work in children’s or adult services.

I’ve been qualified for 4½ years and started off with most of my training being in adult services as well as my first job in an adults team lasting a year on a temporary contract until I had to leave due to [the then UK Chancellor] George Osborne’s austerity warnings causing local authorities to panic and cut people like me off. I moved over to the one place where you are certain to get a job, front line child protection, and I’m just starting a new job in adult hospital discharge.

Becoming a qualified social worker was down to two reasons. The first reason has a few caveats to it. I had been working in the social care sector for around 7 years; prior to that I was working in youth clubs with teenagers whilst not being far off a teenager myself. Due to working for a social care agency I had a varied amount of experience, from working in day centres for older people, to brain injury residential homes, family hostels, pupil referral units, residential units for adults with learning difficulties, children’s homes, private nurseries – the list went on. During this time, observing how these agencies met people’s needs, I felt two things: for the majority of people using the services they were quite happy and their needs were evidently met; however, I met enough people who weren’t happy and I felt a lot more could have been achieved for them simply by listening to what they had to say. A few of the people using the services I met and got to know used to say to me that I’d make a good social worker which got me to contemplate about becoming one.

The second reason I became a social worker is my younger brother who, during my journey through social care, became mentally unwell to quite a significant level. He was sectioned a number of times, there were incidents where he once attacked me, was arrested a number of times as well as causing unbearable stress and worry to my parents. Observing his experience in the mental health system and how he was stuck in that revolving door of recovery and then illness made me determined to want to learn that system so I could advocate for him better. To be truthfully honest, becoming a social worker did help, as I learned that despite his high level of need, the services meant to help him only worked with him at points of crises with no proper assessment and analysis of his needs. Without training to be social worker I would probably never understood the link between a proper assessment, the analysis and then care planning. I was able to help my brother get what he needed to live a stable life as well as gain a lot of insight into the theory behind his illness even though I’ve never worked in a mental health team.

I chose Marbles because …

… roughly four years ago I started my first ever job as a social worker. I arrived and met my team then got on with making my desk my own by clearing old papers from it and moving some stuff that had been clearly dumped.

Whilst underneath the desk I found a small bag of marbles. I crawled back out and said jokingly “Look someone lost their marbles!”

An unqualified member of staff who’d been quite an established and long standing member of the team looked up and said, “That was probably from the last person who sat there and walked out.”

I stood there looking at the marbles in my hand thinking about this.  I thought, I’m going to keep these and never lose them. I knew that I was embarking on an extremely difficult and testing career, however I made a little promise to myself that I’d always retain my optimism.

I still have my marbles hanging on my desk. I’m actually lucky to be one of the few social workers who have desks. When times are bad and I’m up against it, I look at my marbles as a reminder to be mindful of my resilience and what it may take to tip me over and leave the profession. That little bit of reflection helps a lot and let’s me think about how I’m going to tackle whatever mountain is in front of me.


Small statue

S H I R L E Y   S I M O N

Shirley Photo.jpg   Small statue.jpg

My connection to social work began when I was about to complete my undergraduate studies in psychology from the University of Michigan. I did some soul-searching exploration as to what I would do next. Valuing my volunteer experiences with counseling, group work, advocacy and program development, I realized that a graduate degree in social work would allow me to continue to develop these interests with diverse populations in diverse settings. This decision was one of the best of my professional career. Being a professional social worker has allowed me to become a practitioner, group worker, consultant, educator, mentor, supervisor, therapist, researcher and author. This profession has provided me with meaningful interactions, challenges, and lifelong satisfactions. I am proud and grateful to call myself a social worker.

I chose this Small statue because …

… it was given to me by Elaine Finnegan, an active member of the International Association of Social Work with Groups (IASWG) and an adjunct faculty member of Loyal University, Chicago. She gave it to me as a gift when I was a new social work faculty member at Loyola. She shared with me that she thought it reflected the inter-connectivity of group work on a multi-generational level. In my eye, it also represents the family and our interdependence on one another and all of the systems that impact us. In any case, this statue has graced my office for over 20 years, and to me it symbolizes the multi-faceted connections that we have as social workers and the legacy passed on by one social worker to another.






Emma and the Social Work in 42 Objects display.jpg         Car Poster 1.jpg

Emma and her fellow students chose the Car approach because …

The body of the car … is the structure that keeps everything together.

The wipers … give clear vision on impending set goals; and having a clear image about what an individual wants and how to improve their wellbeing.

The engine … ensures the smooth running of the organisation; and keep staff together by making sure policies and legislation are followed.

The steering wheel … keeps the journey of life heading forward, even if the path meets a bump in the road.

The sun visor … provides a shield for when things get too much and helps to see things clearly.

The accelerator and brake … life speeds up or slows down for the people we meet on the journey.

The sat-nav … navigates the various options of routes and paths to take.

The glove box … is a place to keep your personal values – they are there at all times but sometimes need to be kept in the box.

The radio … listening to other people’s opinions (multi-agency working).

The lights … if it gets really dark, you can put your lights on, ask for help from your peers and management.

The windows … are reflective and provide various views out of each, promoting culture and diversity. Also provide a transparency and full assessment of the surroundings.

The MOT and servicing … ensure the system is working properly.

The fuel … to be able to function.

The indicators … signal to and from people, about what you and they are going to do.