The unthinkable could happen to any of us. And if it does, we may not be able to manage it ourselves. We need people who will be on our side, stick with us and help us get our lives back.
When I was 32 I cycled into a car. I only broke my pelvis; I didn’t injure my spine or my neck. But when I was on the transfer board with my neck in a brace, I didn’t know that.
The week before, my social work team had started supporting a woman my own age who had an Acquired Brain Injury. Her personality had altered, she struggled to act on decisions, including to remember to eat, and would need social care support for the rest of her life. I only needed help for a month to wash and dress, and for around two more months to push my wheel chair and drive me around.
None of us set out to need social work and most of us naturally prefer not to think about it because social work helps people when the unthinkable happens. Your mother is told she has dementia, your father breaks his hip, your friend has a severe problem with their mental health, your child is born with a heart problem, your neighbour uses alcohol to cope and struggles to look after their kids, your son’s friend turns up to school with bruises, your friend tells you that their partner hurts them.
When these things happen, in an ideal world, we manage it. We all have amazing capacity to push on through. But sometimes, people run out of strategies that work. And that happens sooner when there is limited support, money or confidence.
When I was lying flat out on a hospital bed with three lines into me, special boots on my feet to prevent DVTs, a catheter and no possibility of moving, I drew on all the help I could get. I needed that backup from social work to get me home, alongside the therapists, nursing and medical support.
It’s the same if you need help to get your child to school, to beat an addiction, to cope with a sudden illness, to get help for someone you can’t support on your own, to respond to a community disaster, to not feel entirely alone.
Social workers are alongside people in communities and front rooms, in schools, in hospitals, care homes and hospices, in prisons. They are there for people who are facing the most significant times of their life.
There’s a thought experiment to build a fair society: Imagine a society where you don’t know where you will end up; design it so that it doesn’t matter what might happen to you.
In that society, I believe there would be a lot less need for social work – because we would design it so that everyone had a safety net of income and basic services to help us thrive. But I am also sure that a fair society would be designed to include social workers.
We would want to know that someone would be there for us, for our loved ones, if the unthinkable happened. That really matters.