Jake: “Being a social worker has made me a better person”
Jake Finney is a social worker and part of the children assessment and safeguarding team at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
While at university, Jake began reflected on his own upbringing and how lucky he felt he had been, compared to many others. He decided he wanted to give something back, before pursuing a career in journalism. However, after helping improve the lives of young people in need, he knew he’d found his true vocation.
Why did you become a social worker?
I was doing a degree in journalism and suddenly had this immense feeling of guilt about having had such a good childhood. I’m not talking about having lots of money – as that’s not what a good childhood is – it’s about having support and reassurance, love and nurturing.
Before becoming a journalist, I decided to spend a year working in a care home that supported young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. But after just a few months, I knew there was no way I was ever going to do anything else.
I’d grown up in a city with a lot of deprivation. Where people are marginalised, isolated and looked down upon. I asked myself: Why has my life not been affected like that? Why have I had such a positive upbringing? And actually, I’ve just been lucky. People who haven’t been so unlucky, they are the ones who need and deserve help the most, from those who can give it. And that’s what drew me to it.
How has being a social worker changed you?
Being a social worker has made me a better person, without a shadow of a doubt.
It calls for a significant change in how you think about other people. Everybody has some part of them that can be a bit judgmental. Working in social care, you begin to understand that people who may present as aggressive, or as though they don’t appreciate other people – well actually, there’s a reason for that. You become more reflective and analytical.
If you have the foundation of being a very caring, empathetic person with a passion for helping people then it’s a very significant change, but one you can make quite easily.
What’s an average day like?
There’s definitely no such thing as an average day in social work!
Our core focus is empowering people to access services and support, where previously there would have been numerous barriers that limited their ability to do so.
How do we do that? We create plans, such as child protection plans and child in need plans or have plans from the court, and then coordinate those with a range of professionals to ensure children and their families are getting the right intervention and the right services. This may include liaising with school staff, health visitors, mental health workers and domestic abuse workers.
Key skills and qualities
I think it’s about finding a good balance between being compassionate and empathetic, but also being quite analytical. It’s great to be caring and it’s great to be selfless, but if you don’t actually understand why people have got to the stage where a child is in danger, or their mental health has deteriorated, then you’re not going to be able to help.
You need to be able to reflect independently. To sit back and think about the ‘why’. But you also need to be able to work as part of a team, because you’re never going to know it all in this job!
I think you also need to be quite strong willed and to have confidence in yourself. If you see somebody being treated unfairly, if you see discrimination, if you see oppression, you need to be able to challenge it.
And finally, I would say you need to be non-judgmental.
Best and worst things about your role?
For me, there’s no substitute for the high you get when a family turns around to you – a family that hated social workers, hated children’s services and thought that all they do is take children away – and tells you that you’ve made their lives better.
But there are times when it’s tough too. You may have tried really hard and done your best but simply don’t achieve what you want to.
One of the most challenging things is when you assess a situation and what you feel is best for the child is very different from what the parent thinks is best for the child. You’ve got to continue working with that family and you’ve got to try and forge a positive relationship with them. Building those relationships is one of the greatest skills you need to have and is definitely the toughest thing.
Any success stories you’d like to share?
There was a teenager who had been through significant domestic abuse. It took a long time to build a relationship with her but eventually she was able to disclose what was happening with this partner.
I helped rebuild the relationship between her and her family, so that when she was able to finally realise the position that she was in and how much abuse she was being subjected to, she had a place of safety.
Once she was able to make that extremely brave jump, I did a lot of work with her to show her she’s not this complete nothingness the perpetrator had suggested. I built up her self-esteem and confidence and made her realise her strengths. By the time we had finished our intervention, she pressed charges against the perpetrator, was living happily with the mother and was getting the support she needed.
What’s it like working for Stoke-on-Trent CC?
There are great career opportunities at Stoke and I’m a perfect example! I started as a social worker and continued in that role for 12 months before moving into a management position.
The people here are so welcoming, personable and down to earth. It’s as challenging as anywhere else and the job will never be an easy one, but if you get the right people around you, it makes it so much easier and gives you so much more purpose.
It’s an exciting time to join too, as Stoke is on an improvement journey and is making progress week by week. What I’m absolutely over the moon about is the fact that we’re going towards a framework of restorative practice that puts the emphasis on empowering people and focusing on their strengths, so that they can then make the changes that they need to.
Once you find a job like this that gives you so much purpose, it makes such a massive difference to your own mental health and wellbeing. It’s something that I certainly have never regretted doing.
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