I am a Family support worker (aka social worker, youth worker, counsellor, family therapist, play worker, teacher, negotiator, mental health nurse, and receptionist).
I work in a primary school and we’ve just had the end of school year, and whilst the staff around me receive gifts, whilst I rush around getting the right gifts for my own kids teachers, I did not receive any such tokens of appreciation. I don’t think this is because I’m shit at my job.
I spend my days supporting families/parents in crisis, tending to emergencies, making quick decisions about what’s safe. In these situations no-one’s in a fit state to think about ‘thank you’, they are barely able to think about the next day, let alone which professional made something happen. In addition, I may be the person who calls social services and this is rarely appreciated. I often support someone every day for a month and then not again for the rest of the year. They receive the support for whatever it may be and then move on. The lives I work within are so very chaotic; unless thanks is offered there and then it is forgotten.
Having said all this I may have been the person who stopped them becoming homeless, who got them help away from domestic violence, who referred their challenging child to additional support, who found them food vouchers to last the weekend, who fought their case with them through court or meetings, who provided them with a safe place every week to talk or play with their child, who drove their child to school or took their child home for a month whilst they weren’t able. When you’ve been that person you are not there for the appreciation, really, but sometimes a ‘thank you’ would be nice.
It’s when I started to think about this idea of recognition & appreciation, I started to think that the lack of it is inherent to the role in many ways. The very nature of crisis and emergencies, of high emotion, is that there is no time for it. Time is of the essence in these moments and thinking about what you are giving, what effect it is having doesn’t happen, not till afterwards.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently with a child who’s been having an incredibly unfair shot at life. They struggle with ‘normal school’ currently and need constant looking after. I came home on the last day of term having spent my last hours arranging thank-you’s for staff and parent helpers (yes, I see the irony) and having this interrupted by said child’s meltdown and needing to get them out of a tree; cue 40 minutes of calm talking whilst being screamed obscenities at.
When I got home I was greeted by my youngest. Rather than appreciate his enjoyment at my return I had to excuse myself, head upstairs and take a moment. I spent some time thinking and worrying about the child in the tree. Then I realised that it was time to collect my big two from their last school day of the year and I dived, rather manically, into mummy mode and went and thanked their teachers for all they’ve done.
My job is one of crazy extremes, a roller coaster of emotions, an incredible spectrum of experiences and people. We family support workers are not part of an established workforce with planning meetings, cover workers, supply’s. It can often be a role where you act alone, a role that involves you kowing alot about many and not being able to share it.
I don’t believe I appreciate any of these things enough. Maybe my own lack of appreciation for what I do allows others to follow suit.
I’m now on holidays, and minus a few days in work to catch up, I am having a break. I will enjoy my children so very much, I will re-charge, I will wipe myself clean of all the crisis I’ve encountered this year and I will make myself ready for the next. I will continue this fabulous role because it’s what I do well and I’m making a difference. This year, however, I may attempt to spend a few moments regularly appreciating and recognising what I do, not for the thank you gifts, but because It’s important.
To everyone working in a role that supports, educates, saves, encourages or inspires others; thank you.