“Change is the rule, but not the ruler……”

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When I need inspiration – I write. I need to be in a space I can really feel and be on my own. I’ve learnt this from many unproductive hours sat in the wrong spaces. It sets the tone for everything to be achieved. When somewhere works, I go back there time and time again, exhausting the environment until it’s inspiration no longer delivers. My friend Holly finds this concept particularly funny, she can’t understand how I don’t get distracted by so much of an atmosphere. She always laughs when she walks in to the busiest cafe / bar / restaurant and finds me and the Mac. But it’s that exact atmosphere of activity that inspires me to focus. Give me isolated silence coupled with a busy head and it’s safe to say I’d go insane. The buzz of people, thinking and talking is such a lovely feeling. I often feel small in such vast settings, which makes it perfect. So here I am again, same place, same food, same waiter. Same funny smile on my face, purely thinking that I am the least likely person to enjoy continuity, yet here I am seeking (and enjoying) exactly that.

It’s been months since I wrote for the blog, not for lack of inspiration but because priorities needed to shift. I had a tougher time than anticipated adjusting to a change in my role and finished a hectic run of four events across the UK in three months. It’s great to keep taking the events out of London and meeting more students and qualified social workers. It brings home the struggles they continue to face and makes me wonder what changes are ‘we’ making to ensure the same issues are not faced by them as were faced by me four years ago. And still being faced by me today.

Some months ago I wrote about struggling with my limitations to affect change. Tirelessly this is apparently something I’m continuing to battle with. It’s frustrating to write for an extension of reasons. I keep little in my personal life, which I’m not 100% happy with. Why would I ?! As I’ve aged (nope, my face still won’t, I’ll thank myself when I’m 50 I hear) this is a choice I’ve invested in and it pays off. If it doesn’t work, I can make changes easily enough. But it means when I’m placed in work situations, where affecting change is one of THE most challenging things to achieve in the public sector, the daily frustrations I face, mean my motivations to do this job effectively a) take a bashing b) impact on how well I’d like to do it and c) I question if the delivery is compromised. Oh and d) I moan. I know the crowd that gathers on social media mirrors this frustration. So what can I do to stop this running me in to the ground?

ACCEPT IT 

It is not my job role to impact organisational change. So why I am trying to change anything? Serenity tells me I am one of those people who lack the ‘wisdom to know the difference’. I can change roles or consider a progression, but I have zero desire to do this. I know my frustrations would increase tenfold. I work on the frontline and it’s where I plan to stay for now. So accept the daily struggle? Hmmmmm, that’s tough. However, if ruin really is the road to transformation, maybe this element of acceptance is necessary to support an ultimately better outcome. We can hope.

CHANGE IT

Here’s the problem, those people who implement grandiose ideas and transformations across this profession (the effectiveness of which, or to whose benefit is often very little known) were likely social workers one day. Did they forget that frontline empathy, struggle, concern or did the vision simply change? Maybe one day that will be me, maybe my progression will take me in that frightening direction. But by that stage of my career it will be too late. My head will not be the same as it is today (in many ways thankfully…) by then, will I have newfound detachment and be guided by arguably stronger factors; those of finance and policy and heads higher than mine? We’re missing a trick if that’s the case – the fresh eyes, the real change makers. They’re right here, right now. They are entering this profession and recognising instantly what needs changing, they are the people to be listened to, communicated with. I meet them and they are good – really good, but I see their ceiling too. Let’s catch them now before they get influenced. These days I believe impacting change on bigger, global scales will be easier to achieve than at local levels. And I have never thought like that. So yes for me, it’s time to make some changes. This is the area I am in. I need to embrace it.

LEAVE IT

I’m not entirely sure what this means. Leave the profession, nah. Leave what I’ve worked hard to achieve, nah. Leave the mentality behind > I think so. Seek other ways to build a wider message. Create a group, a network, join Twitter, a conference, an iamsocialwork event, being part of something bigger enables motivation and with that comes support, so struggles like these do not surface.

Last point : Self excavate.

I go back to this time and time again. Two years doing this was the best time I ever invested in myself. The process of understanding what your boundaries are, what you can give and your expectations, but more importantly what you *want* is crucial to how you function. If you look and think, you can understand – and that’s where the clarity is. I’m not talking hedonistic self-help, but giving yourself time to know.

No matter our levels of spontaneity or impulsivity, we work better if we’re taught the reasons for change. We are humans and effectively creatures of habit. Powers that be would do good to remember that. As would I.

Go and seek the truth x

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“…Keep the faith. Seek the passion….” Harry Ferguson

Often great things happen. Big believer in that.

Sometimes they happen because you create them and sometimes other people step in to support you and they reaffirm your belief in a particular thing. I was lucky enough to secure Harry Ferguson as my keynote at my event in Leeds this month. He joined Amanda Taylor, Victoria Hart and Aimee Bidwell who together provided a pretty darn solid team of professional support. Having asked Harry for nearly 3 years – I was thrilled our calendars finally matched. He writes – and talks – about his career with such massive gusto that I knew the inspiration he’d exude.  If you don’t know his name, he is someone whose work many of us, right across the social work field, seek out to read.

So when he publishes something online it gets read – fact. And when he talks about you with incredibly generous words, well – you just feel happy. And seeing that my mass aim and vision of connecting and enthusing those across their early induction years of practice is happening is a great and very personal thing for me, after so much energy and time.

He has simply added to my motivation to expand my national events…. I’ve got a date with the UK and I really hope to get so many more wonderfully inspiring and interesting people along xx

The Guardian : social care network

http://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/2014/sep/23/social-workers-newly-qualified-doomed-challenge-positive?CMP=twt_gu

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique…”

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It’s been 62 days since I landed back from, what many of my friends refer to as my mini sabbatical. Said sabbatical was 3 months of Caribbean living on the gorgeous isle of Jamaica. I’ve had some time to think about what it gave me and what I took from it and in the briefest of summaries, it was everything I needed it to be. I was fortunate to be exposed in a professional capacity to environments and communities in a developing country. A place where the desire to gain the Western rate of acceleration, in both economy and aesthetics was often apparent, yet a place where some values are not the equivalent to a 2014 UK majority, proving sometimes uncomfortable and challenging my thinking.

I went needing to be reminded that I was brave. And that happened. I travelled there alone and I was very much left to my own devices to navigate myself around an initially intimidating environment. But as my previous blogs discussed, this feeling soon passed and I was left with feeling nothing but completely and utterly settled. I loved beach living, laptop working with astounding views, knowing where to go for the best late night soup and rum, or the healthiest juices for breakfast, dashing around that whole Island with wonderful new friends laughing…and laughing. I consciously pushed well beyond my comfort zone. It was also very tough at times; witnessing the lack of resource available and recognising my limitations to affect change. There were times where I was put in situations being asked to do things by people (who ordinarily I’d have expected to know better) that were hugely uncomfortable and compromised how I knew I should behave professionally. It took a mass of strength to stand strong at times like that. But as a destination, my advice would be “go there!”. See the incredible beauty, but don’t hide behind the walls of a 5* all inclusive, as there is far too much to miss doing that. Jump off cliffs, climb to the highest point of the Island through the night (all 7402ft of it) look at Kingston through the haze, sleep in the Portland Gap with only 6 other people around you for miles. Walk till your legs ache, swim at night, make good new friends and talk to every single person you meet. Think. Remember.

The only person I was required to think about on a daily basis, was pretty much me and that’s not how I am programmed to function. I had work tasks I’d committed to do with an organisation, but through the daily yoga and working out – mind and body, I began to make plans for my return. I knew coming home would bring fresh challenges: no job and a lack of direction I wasn’t prepared to return to, so instead I worked on stepping off that plane back on to UK soil, to have my own 24 hour Treadmill Challenge for charity organised and my first event out of London planned. I confirmed the venue, secured sponsorship and had finalised the programme. I just needed the attendees.

iamsocialwork Leeds took place on September 13th and reminded me, once again how needed an independent event, dedicated to supporting social work students and recently qualified social workers really is. I was overwhelmed by the response this time round and had an incredibly good couple of days ooop norf.

The last quarter of 2014 is nearly upon us, but my end of year reflection has already started. The next few months bring the judging process for the Social Work Awards this month, three trips abroad for me and plans are underway for my next four national iamsocialwork events. I’m excited to develop the brand and branch across the UK, in the hope of reaching more people to engage them with my concept, but more importantly, with each other. And I’m endlessly committed to developing my skills as a social worker – that’s my day job after all !

The Martha Graham quote I used above goes on to say that “…you do not have to believe in yourself or your work. You just have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.” I like this quote a lot. What motivates each of us is so unique in itself. Keep those channels open people, wide wide open. Keep motivated and inspired. And very, very brave.

See you soon I hope x

“I Am Not What Happened To Me – I Am What I Choose To Become” C.G. Jung

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May 22nd and a 6:45am start to head to a beach front house in the small area of Treasure Beach on the breathtakingly beautiful south coast of Jamaica. Which meant a 5am alarm for me, my daily meditation, workout and mini yoga session (feeling so fit for it).

Five years ago today a fire broke out at a government institution in Jamaica called Armadale, a Juvenile Correction Centre for young girls and seven girls lost their lives. It was headline news across Jamaica and attracted an immediate visit from then Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who ordered the closure of Armadale after reports confirmed the girls were housed in “cramped, inhumane conditions”. In a space built to legally accommodate 5 people (20ft x 12ft), the home had authorised 23 girls to reside in one room in 7 bunk beds (this is only 2009 remember). Was the decision neglectful, or does it present a wider picture of the lack of resources homes have to work with? I visited a girls’ home here a couple of weeks ago and was told, they were at their statutory resident capacity, however on asking if they would take more girls, the sentiment shared was “we can’t turn anyone away” so naturally I’m left wondering – and worrying – what lessons have been learnt.

An Inquiry commenced to establish what started the fire, speculation was it was started by one of the girls. It was actually started by a tear gas canister thrown in to the dormitory by a policeman, catching a light a foam mattress. Staff were found to be responsible for housing the girls in these bad conditions but it remains a sensitive, political issue, as, overall no one has been held accountable. However in the following five year fight for accountability, a few people got forgotten.

We can all recall tragic, heartbreaking, maybe life changing experiences. The hope through these times is that we draw on everything stable from people that love us most. God knows we’ve all been there, there’s a handful of very special people who have literally (and thankfully) pulled me from incredible lows. But what happens when there is no one to give you that hand? When through your lowest time, in that critical period post tragedy few people step in, simply because there is no one to call on? Loneliness and lack of direction are impossible emotions for anyone to experience, let alone children. But prior to this event, for so many reasons – these girls did not live with their families and loved ones, so for many of them their support networks were already thin.

Complain as you wish about our NHS, there are a wealth of services available in the UK post trauma, maybe you’re lucky enough never to have had to access them. Free of charge we can seek forms of counselling, therapy, advice. It’s part of a process to heal, to help us understand, learn and try to accept and figure out how the hell we move forward. But when you’re 16 years old in a developing country, living in a youth offending institution and seven of your friends die, support offered is limited.

It’s only four years later when Marie Sparkes, of Pure Potential is invited by UNICEF to offer psychological support, that the girls themselves shared their recognition that their personal attempts to support each other had not been suffice. They asked the Pure Potential team if there was anything further they could do to help them.

Marie Sparkes (now a Behavioural Scientist Consultant) worked with Barnardos for 10 years, returning to Jamaica in 2004. She set up Pure Potential which offers Social Interventions for people, professions and government departments. She devoted the next year to focusing her team on researching how best to meet their needs. She consulted the Office of the Children’s Advocate, the Child Development Agency, Jamaican Association of Social Workers and created the ‘Step Up 4 Armadale’ project. “It’s not about bringing justice or fighting an endless battle of accountability,” Marie tells me, “it’s about putting the focus back on the survivors and ensuring they receive the holistic therapeutic support they need to understand, accept and overcome this traumatic event and move into their full potential. The reasons these girls first entered the care system and then why they were moved from a ‘care’ to a ‘correctional’ facility were never addressed with them. It was not solely about the fire, this just amplified the issue” Marie says.

Another year on and we’re here today with a range of workshops to address these needs. I meet people from all walks of life through my job, for all manner of reasons and ‘nervous’ isn’t a feeling I’d associate with the interactions I have. But today, I feel a definite sense of apprehension, as I anticipate what to expect. Some of the girls brought their young children and some showed the signs of their pending arrivals along with visible physical scars this tragedy left them with. Still so young, they are all rebuilding their lives, but now it is with a solid network of continued support.

8pm, three hours, three wrong turns later. I was riding shotgun with our driver in our 4×4. Behind me an energetic four, nine and 14year old, displaying zero signs of my flagging. With no radio we were reliant on my tired imagination and drew on an extended game of Eye Spy and several creative renditions of ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain…’ to eventually see us safely and all the way home.

“Many Small People, Who In Many Small Places, Do Many Small Things… That Can Alter The Face Of The World….” Anon (Berlin Wall)

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I’m a qualified social worker in the UK and my profession means a lot, and many things to me – not least as it is the result of two years of incredible hard work to earn my masters and career title.

I operate under a regulator, laws and a shared set of standards, it is how our profession is defined. The way social work is regarded can be sensitive (and will vary depending whose opinion you seek…). It is nevertheless, a profession, which means it requires qualification, registration and adherence to our codes.

So…..arriving in a developing country to learn about their understanding and expectation of social work has been quite the learning curve. I hoped my skills would not only benefit others here, but that the experience I drain from my time could benefit my own learning and ability. I’ve read a fair bit around the social issues that confront me and understand that poverty and public security rank highly on their human rights concerns and unemployment and poor youth engagement are focal community challenges. That’s probably nothing surprising for you to read and in this part of the world, Jamaica doesn’t stand alone. Their challenges replicate many of those across the developing world (Amnesty International 2014) but according to the Human Development Report [2011] they are making headway. It suggests an upward trend through education, health and economy, but even knowing that, it’s a struggle for my foreign eyes to see when I’m walking the streets and meeting the local people.

Many people tell me they are ‘social workers’, but they haven’t studied the qualification. They most likely do work on the front line in communities and therefore regard themselves as a social worker, but it is safe to say we do not have a defined profession over here.

To be an ‘actual’ social worker in Jamaica you need to pass the qualification – actually first you need to fully fund yourself to study the course in your spare time, then you need to pass it. Courses are run as evening classes where people often study in addition to their full time jobs. I went to the main North Caribbean University (NCU) campus in Mandeville which has the second biggest cohort of Social Work Bachelors programme in Jamaica, behind University of West Indies (UWI). It sits in the school of Behavioural Sciences and has has a strong Seventh-day Adventist religious thread to the course, which must be followed if you are to study here (regardless of whether these are your beliefs). Upon completion, no registration is required, the profession is not regulated and jobs are scarce. The Child Development Agency (CDA) is the statutory body leading Jamaica’s child protection system, safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children under the care of the State. Here, one social worker covers Adoption for the Island (yep – one person!) one covers Fostering, one covers Institutions, Investigations and so forth. It’s not the only place to work but you get the idea of the limitations.

I met with Eva Forde last week, she is the President of 45 year old Jamaican Association of Social Workers (JASW) and committed to advancing the profession. With her gusto to do so, they have the right person on the job and she is regularly rallying the media to engage positively. Social workers can become members of JASW in the same way we can register with a professional association in the UK (except they do so by filling out a form…. on a piece of paper) and while they can offer ethical support and unity they do not hold the authority to regulate the profession yet. They appear to stand in good stead to achieve this, but she tells me building this profession is taking a little time and a lot of patience.

What’s the wall?” I’ve asked so many times. As in, what’s stopping the advancement, I realise the foundations are multifaceted and there is always a ceiling, which will take some force to break here I imagine. But seeing so many people reading off the same page I wonder why all the years of pause. There has been nothing to address poverty eradication since the Poverty Reduction Policy was implemented in 1996 and I can hear the frustration with this. At a meeting for a Youth Engagement event we’re planning, practitioners felt poor collaboration and partnerships were partly to blame for lack of progress, their view as nationals was that Jamaica excels at solitary based activities where one person can take ownership, but falls when confronted with united approaches. I tell them this is in stark contrast to my observations, where I have felt multi agency working is very impressive. There are numerous groups established to respond collectively to the needs of the community and monthly parish meetings to build an action plan and address issues raised. All in addition to several statutory agencies who lead on their own community developments Island wide, PLUS Jamaica’s National 2030 Vision, which sets out to addresses issues that impact on long-term national development (although my taxi driver this morning had little faith in this…..)

My strong hope is they continue to make headway. And that together, we small people, in this small place can keep doing many small things, to alter the face of this country. 

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” John A. Shedd

Pausing

It’s Day 16 but it feels a lot longer. So much exposure has taken place that my thoughts have run a little wild. And when you’re the type of person that feels every single thing at every single moment, it’s a) exhausting and b) pretty challenging to silence those thoughts when your mind is so active.

In practice, I often suggest students assess their placement at the end, and keep the daily reflections to exactly that – a daily reflection, but to try and hold off the overall judgements until the whole experience has ended so the picture is clearer. That way you utilise different skills to reflect on the different aspects and your perspective is naturally so much stronger. I personally found it makes for steadier learning.

So….I’m trying to take my own advice and ride out the frequent emotions and thoughts. I’ve had a week or so to ease in to Caribbean living and am now in the middle of a fortnight of Island orientation and visits to statutory/voluntary organisations. My observations thus far have led me to see there is a fine line between curiosity and bravery. Particularly when you’re travelling as a female on your own.

Ive travelled a fair bit, but this is different as its so geared to work and my professional development, as much as possible. I’m constantly aware of the need to be assertive, to understand the place and culture I’m in, but there are reminders all over of the need here, to simply be careful.

Visually, its obvious; there are grills on all windows and doors and roadside police checks are not for speeding offences (as my early cultural naivety asked) they are checks for firearms. Of course they are, this is a country who in 2010 reportedly had the third highest murder rate in the world. The 2013 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Homicide Report highlighted that the Jamaican fight against drugs and organised crime had reduced murder rates, however it remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries, a country with a population of less than 3 million, so naturally statistics like these stick in your mind.

The UNODC 2011 Global Study on Homicide identified a clear link between these murder rates and social and economical development, or lack of; higher levels have occurred through periods of low development. For reference, Jamaica saw an increase in murder rates through 2008-10 when a declining GDP (and subsequent increased prices) from the financial crisis were experienced. It helps inform me, that in a field where I am witnessing a wealth of advocating for enormous social change, this is in fact part of a much wider political picture, where safety of this nation is evolving, but there is certainly no easy task ahead.

Physically, I like to think I’m quite brave. I’d probably try it, I’d take the jump, I’d walk off the path, I’d explore, I’d get on a flight alone and figure it out the other side….. but when you’re confronted with realities such as these above and you educate yourself to the agendas that help form the country you’re in, you start to wonder what side of caution should you err?

I’m all for getting locally savvy and living as natives do. I shop locally, eat local produce and have changed my ways to derive the most authentic experience I can. Which means that when I travel here, while I’ve not (yet) driven, the shared taxi is my most economic option.

Two weeks in and I can confidently stand roadside with the locals and hail a cab to head along the coast. I keep my wits about me, but branch out enough to push beyond my comfort zone. While sat in one the other day I thought of the lovely faces of my Mum and Dad. I figured they may not be too confident about my new favoured form of transport. Although they wouldn’t say it, their minds would fill with anxiety……no seat belt wearing for a start (bar mine) driving two inches apart (if you get a good driver) and I’m talking these taxis are packed, five of us and they still stop to pick up ! My very guarded personal space is getting seriously tested.

BUT, but but…… Let’s dig a little deeper in to this incredibly intriguing country and put the initial intimidation and confronted statistics aside for a moment. The roads ARE busy, the streets ARE populated and the cars ARE fast, but it’s steady not packed, but what’s most alluring is that the whole place is balanced with an air of calm, that you don’t hear so much about.

It’s also incredibly pretty. The hills are green I want to hike them all, it looks healthy, lush and rich in life and growth. Its primitive and the dusty remote town I am in is more rural than my mind had imagined, The Rough Guide refers to it as ‘unaffected by the foreign visitor’. There is a sparkle and a glow to the people I’ve met and a curiosity to talk. When I ask to photograph them they agree and show me bright, reassuring smiles, I appear to bring intrigue and my questions are invitations to conversations and, when you’re in a new place, that is simply how you have to learn.

So slowly, the fear subsides, the confidence gains and the familiarity and enjoyment sets in. The sensibility in me is strong, but so too is the excitement for the coming weeks. Remembering all the while, to step back and keep an eye on the bigger picture.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” J.M Barrie

I always wanted to be a pilot. My first flying lesson took me high over the white cliffs of Dover in a Cessna 152 and gave me a feeling of freedom like never before. The thrill of a flight is still something I enjoy, from the moment I set off for the airport….and today is no different.

Correction – today IS different, London is in the middle of a tube strike. Meaning I’m taxi bound for the airport, stuck in endless lines of traffic. I feel remarkably calm, I have hours (for a change) and this is the first time I have sat and given thought to what I’m about to do : get on a Virgin Atlantic plane at Gatwick, disembark at Montego Bay and stay on the island for some months. I worked up until yesterday and after a family and friends filled past few days I’m starting to feel a little fatigue.

Stepping on a plane is sometimes so much more than just that though. It’s a step to discover a different part of you. It’s a new challenge ahead, an opportunity….and it’s a needed and overdue release.

I knew that when this opportunity came my way for the second time, this was the time to go. I’m aware how much of a huge learning and development gain this is for me, and it’s for that reason I want to share it with all who wish to virtually join me on it ! With words and visuals I will bring as much of it alive for you as I can, but it did get me wondering “How ‘much’ do you share ?” How much of YOU do you really show ? It’s a constant thought of mine. We are so exposed these days and I’m not someone who is naturally comfortable with that. However as we create more and more of our lives online for public consumption the boundaries are blurring and yes – I am one of those who struggle with it.

The challenge for me here was that I intend for this journey to be shared with everyone – my wonderful friends and family, all of my incredibly inspiring social work colleagues and professional contacts. Usually I separate those groups quite distinctly, twitter is widely professional, with a level of anonymity, in that I don’t know many of the people I interact with or follow / follow me. Instagram has proved more for people whose faces I tend to know…so the grey area in between is new to me, as is blogging regularly on my own site.

Let’s go back to coffee, Hoxton, four days prior to departure with great person Richard Brownsdon. If it’s one person to talk to about having an Inspiring Adventure and blogging…It’s him. We got talking of social networking and the separation between personal and professional revelations. Richard tells me seeing a personal element to writing and profiles is positive and allows people to connect with the whole picture in a much better way. He talks sense and I know now having read other blogs, including his – that you do connect more…and that’s the idea, right?

So, this is my new blog – it is just me trying to create something beautiful and interesting for us all. I feel so fortunate to be able to be out here and in this position to learn that I want to share as much as I can with you all. It’s also somewhat comforting, when you’re 5,000 miles away to know that this can be shared.

WELCOME XX – Let’s step on this plane.