It's surprising how quickly we can lose touch with things. It's coming up for two years since I left social services to enable me to study for a masters in social policy and whilst for the first year I kept in touch with the department and the wider world of social care this year has been different. I've lost touch with all but one former colleague and also feel out of touch with developments in the field as I no longer have a view from the ground. Incidentally I'm sure this is also something which is experienced by many senior managers.
So amongst all this it was nice to catch-up with an old colleague last week. They themselves left last year to pursue a social work degree after a number of years as an unqualified care-manager. I was curious about what they made of their experiences so far as in the past I've questioned just how well a social work degree prepares someone for what is a hugely demanding and complex role.
Their view was suitably mixed. They felt that there was indeed a gap between the ideal of the theory they were taught in the classroom and what actually happened in practice, but they also felt that what they had learnt had been valuble in enabling them to improve upon their practice.
Overall this left me feeling much better about the relavance of the social work degree, but it does illustrate what a strange area social care is more than any other as it is caught between idealism and pragmitism. As a worker the course of action which you feel best meets the text-book ideal must always be balanced against the limitations imposed by the availability of funds, the amount of time available to work on any one case, or the state of the local care market.
I was surprised to hear though that many newly qualified social workers have found it difficult to secure a job. Being out of touch I just don't know how the cuts are affecting my old department, but always thought that we had been running with unfilled vacancies for so long that it wouldn't be possible to cut anymore. As I said to my old colleague, as we well knew from experience, the job doesn't go away no matter how few people there are to deal with it the work never ever dries up. It's not as if it is a factory which can just slow-down it's production line. Just how are people coping I thought, is staying behind until 10pm becoming more routine than extraordinary I asked? I just can't imagine how it would work with less people.
My friend was also unsure, but one thing they did know was that the uncertain job market meant that the competition for the best placements was intensifying. They told me that you really need a placement with a local authority unless you want an uphill struggle to find work once you qualify.