Continuing our series of “guest blogs”, this week features Jane Johnstone, Professional Social Work Adviser for the Scottish Government.
After 30 odd years in local government social work service I can tell you it came as a bit of a shock to the system to find myself as the “new girl on the block” when I joined the Office of the Chief Social Work Adviser (now there’s a snappy title) in January this year, as the Professional Social Work Adviser.
So from a familiar world, where I felt, it would be safe to say, quite comfortable, I then had to deal with the unfamiliar. Believe me it’s amazing how domestic things can throw you, like: how to get into buildings; and then once you get the “ok” to go in, working out how to use the entry system while not looking like a total idiot as you try to remember your code; then pushing the door the wrong way and have to start again; all the while the queue behind you is growing!
And then there is a whole new language to learn, central government rather than local government – oh my goodness! But to be fair I didn’t need to worry because folk and especially the OCSWA team (see how quickly I have made the transition to a new set of acronyms!) made me so welcome and were, and still are so helpful to this new person. So y thanks to my new colleagues.
Over many years as a social work manager, watching, hopefully influencing, guiding and supporting staff to develop their practice and careers, has been one of the highlights of my own career, and fortunately I have been able to continue in this area through being involved in the implementation of Vision and Strategy for Social Services 2015-2020.
There have been a number of engagement events this year with frontline practitioners in different guises, and for me the important thing is hearing the voices and opinions of front line staff, and beyond that, where possible, making sure that their views are also guiding and influencing services and practice. The briefness of this blog prevents me from mentioning the highlights from all of these events, but here is a flavour from one which I think represents them all. The event was a partnership event, hosted this year by Dundee University, for newly qualified social workers and final year social work students. I attended a workshop, “What we wish they’d had told us”, which had been organised and facilitated by some newly qualified social workers. I need to tell you that on a grey February Friday I was inspired as they recounted stories of their work with such humour and compassion for human adversity. When we so often seem to be pre-occupied by process and systems, it is so easy to forget that working in social work, social care services, and indeed public services in general, brings such real challenges to those who do this difficult job day in and day out. But I have always felt it is such a privileged position to be working with and supporting people when they may be at their most vulnerable.
This group of newly qualified social workers, on that dreich February afternoon impressed me so much. Their motivation, commitment, passion and pride in their work were obvious to me as I sat and listened to what is the workforce of the future. These newly qualified workers are starting their working lives at a time when social work and social care services are facing significant changes introduced through the Integration of Health and Social Care, as well as other policy and legislative changes. So in this challenging time, which also brings opportunity, in my view it is incumbent on those in leadership and key roles to nurture and develop social workers, and those who work within social care services, in order that we can retain and support the value of a profession which works with individuals when they are at their most vulnerable.
My new role is giving me new opportunities to work with people and organisations in such a variety of settings across Scotland. I am particularly struck by some of the developments around community capacity building, and what I describe as a community development approach. The newly formed ihub is leading in developing some interesting work with a range of key partners. If you get some time I would recommend that you check out the website.
I feel so fortunate at this time in my career to have been given the opportunity to be working in what I see is such a privileged position. I have always been passionate about social work and social care services and I don’t think this has diminished any in my new role.
You will be relieved to know that I can now with confidence get through the door entry system and, as I stride purposefully towards it each new day, I hopefully bring with me in my tool box , knowledge, skills and experience that are adding value to the public services agenda.
And finally ….
“It takes courage to let go of the familiar and embrace the new” Alan Cohen
Jane Johnstone, Professional Social Work Adviser, Scottish Government