Joy is key to fulfilling social work career, according to Australian academic

Joy is key to fulfilling social work career, according to Australian academic

“Pay attention to what gives you joy”, was the sage advice renowned Australian social worker, Dr Andrew Turnell, gave students at a social work conference in Carlisle last week.

Dr Turnell issued the guidance to students considering entering the challenging profession during his keynote address.

Andrew, revered for his innovative ‘Signs of Safety’ model for child protection casework that is used by 63% of local councils in England, attended the University of Cumbria’s annual social work conference.

When asked what his main message to student social workers was, Andrew said:

“Pay attention to what gives you joy. It might sound naïve but if you’re not enjoying your work, if you are not doing things you are proud of, you won’t be here in two years. And if you are here in two years, you’ll just be doing the procedural.

“So pay attention to your heart and what you know works. But you must ensure you’re juiced up and have energy and then it’s an inspiring profession.”

Joining Andrew on stage was Iona Colvin, Chief Social Work Advisor to the Scottish Government.

Iona used her spot to discuss the differences in social work approaches on both sides of the border.

In Scotland they take a holistic approach to children’s and families’ support and services are encouraged to collaborate and learn from one another.

She said: “People who are struggling to look after their kids often have a mental health problem or perhaps involved in drug, alcohol or substance misuse. No issue sits in an isolated box. And often in child protection cases we have to deal with the impact of domestic abuse.

“Although Scotland doesn’t always make the best of it, we have that ability to see across the issue and pull together to work around some of those issues.”

Now in its third year, the conference has attracted a host of leading figures in the social work world, including Sharon Shoesmith.

This year’s theme was synthesis – what social workers can learn from different specialisms and sectors to enhance their practice.

Professor Brian Webster-Henderson Pro-Vice Chancellor (Health), University of Cumbria opened the event. He commented on the range of people in audience from a social work background and how it was a unique opportunity for delegates to learn from one another.

He said: “We’ve got significant problems in the region so our ability to develop and grow our social workers so they can have an impact on our communities has never been more important than it is now.

“That’s why we’ll have a social work conference every year to support the education and knowledge of our social workers in the region so that they may provide the best possible interventions they can to our communities.” 

The university have a history of providing a skilled and knowledgeable workforce of social workers for the county. Estimates suggest at least 50% of social workers working for Cumbria County Council have been trained by the university.

The conference also provided an opportunity for graduating MA and BA (Hons) Social Work students to present their research and network.

Katie Campbell, a third year, BA (Hons) Social Work student at the University of Cumbria said: “Even though we are so close to Scotland, I didn’t really have any clue how the Scottish system worked. I’ve studied social work for three years but getting professionals to come in and learning things from them, makes all the difference.”

Andrea Honeybun, a second year MA, Social Work student said: “If you get the opportunity to listen to Andrew Turnell, you should grab it, because he is engaging, exciting, motivating and it’s made my day.”