As I get busier in this job of mine, something has started to become obvious. More and more of the women who are self referring, and who are being referred to me, are high risk. What does that mean? It means they’re really vulnerable. They have just left an abusive, and very dangerous, relationship or they are still in that. It means that they trust very few people and it means they’re often under the “care” of multiple agencies. And it means that they are in a state of flux. Disorder, emotional chaos, uncertainty about what to do and where to go next.
I had thought I was moving away from that. I stopped working indepth with the women in one refuge, and for most of the last 5 months have moved to working with the people who support women in a couple of refuges, and in emergency housing.
But that’s changed completely. I still don’t work, currently, with women in refuges. I, instead, am working with women who have never been, or choose not to go, to refuges.
Living in a refuge doesn’t suit everyone. There are a number of reasons for that which I think I’ve gone into, before.
This new thing has led me to some self reflection around my ability to go deep with these women, if that’s what they want, and offer them sustained emotional support. Because what’s started happening is that they are telling me the most intimate details of their abuse. This is new because with the women at the refuge I used to work with, we really only talked about our lives, and the generalities of the abuses of power and love against them. We never talked of the nitty gritty, only what it felt like to a large degree. Now, however, the women I see open up to me in this very graphic way, sometimes. I’m not sure if that’s a function of them knowing that I am experienced working with women who’ve lived in violence, or a function of my age, and my obvious safety. But whatever it is, it’s a recent thing. And that’s what I’ve been thinking about.
When I was working with the one particular refuge, I made very sure that I wasn’t doing anything I imagined a social worker would do. I wasn’t offering advice, or counselling them in any way. I kept it within the bounds of what I thought were my capabilities and qualifications. I’ve been a teaching professional for the last 20 years, but not a professional in this field. I don’t have a piece of paper, and I’m not going to get one either.
So where does that leave me? For a while, I carried on as normal. Any conversations had, in my car or at the storage unit, move, as they always have, at the women’s pace. Go deep or not as they wish. The difference is now where once I didn’t encourage them to talk about this stuff, mainly because I’m not a social worker, but also the stuff could sometimes mean they think they have an obligation to share their pain with me, I have started to realise that actually now I’m being asked by referrers to do exactly that. I wasn’t silencing them or stopping them from telling me, it was just an organic thing. They shared what they wanted to, always.
But. I have had women come into my life in the last few months who require me to go deeper with them. That’s what they want, so I’m not going to not do that. I can’t break their trust by saying: STOP. I’m not qualified.
Because the reality, I have come to see, is that I am.
How do I know this?
Because I’ve had discussions with a number of people in the organisations I work with, who I thought were social workers, and are actually not. Who work with incredibly vulnerable people.
I’ve asked them about this. About what a social worker does, what I do. How that’s similar, and what the differences are. And I’ve had the same answer every time. To do this work, to do any work where you are supporting vulnerable people, you don’t actually need a social work qualification if you’re not working for a government department. This is not to suggest, of course, that social workers aren’t valuable, or that just anyone should be working with vulnerable people. But the reality is that, as I am coming to see, there are many many people who work with vulnerable people in our communities, who are not social workers by profession. But what we do is quite similar. Social support, community support, advocacy – it’s given different names. We just don’t have a piece of paper.
And I’ve asked them if I’m qualified to do this job. I’ve asked them if I’m fit to do this job. And they’ve all answered yes. Yes, because I’ve been doing it a while, and they’ve seen me work with people and they like the way I do that. They know my capabilities and are confident of them or they wouldn’t ask me to do what they have.
And I’ve asked the women I’ve worked with for a while if they think I’m qualified to share their pain, and support them in the ways they require me to. And they’ve said that they’ve never even questioned it. That they’ve needed support, which the Aunties have provided materially, and then I’ve stuck around when they’ve wanted me to, to be a friend. And that’s good enough for them.
And as, in all things, if it’s good enough for them, then it has to be good enough for me.
I haven’t stopped asking myself hard questions – I’m hard wired to do it, as a reflective practitioner. And I will never stop checking myself, and checking in with the people I work with. When you’re working with really vulnerable people, it would be dangerous not to.
I am, however, going to just keep doing what I do, because it seems to work. So I’ll just have to accept that that’s what’s important.
NB:: If you are an actual social worker, I’d appreciate feedback, and perhaps your perspective on these thoughts.
I would also add that I have professional supervision monthly, and I have found this very useful. She reflects my work back to me and it means I can download issues I may be having or heavy information that I have recieved.