“Sometimes you feel like an impostor”: why social workers with experience in care need their own association

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Photo: fizkes / Adobe Stock

By Ian Dickson and Mike Starr

Most social workers with experience in care will experience feelings of doubt and discomfort in meetings, sometimes feeling like an impostor. The fear of daring to share intimate feelings about life in care and its impact, and people who might judge you if you do.

There is the internal dialogue going on: “Am I approaching this situation with too much passion? “Dare I say – ‘in my experience …’?” “Are my thresholds in this situation too high or too low?” “Dare I challenge the language this person used?” “; “Do I personally agree with the decision? “

One form of discrimination experienced by experienced care workers is otherness, which is always unintentional but can lead to subjugation and isolation.

It can be triggered by innocent comments from colleagues such as, “Did you not do well considering what you have been through? “

Reinforcement of trauma

This may involve having to deal with suspicions or doubts about your abilities to have a childcare experience. When comments are made frequently enough, it reinforces feelings of difference and trauma.

Experiences like these led us, a group of social workers with experience in care, to create the Association of Social Workers Experienced in Care (ACESCW).

We believe social workers with experience in care need their own safe place to meet, support each other and discuss issues of importance to them.

When experienced social workers in care experience otherness or impostor syndrome, the value of peer support networks is undeniable.

Social workers with experience in care know what it is like to have been ‘socially worked’, to have experienced the real, raw reality of life within the system, and they put that into practice when they cross the threshold. barrier to work in social care. ACESCW recognizes this, and more, the need for a safe space to think away from the workplace.

Some of our members will have had positive experiences of being cared for, others less positive, but all share a common ideal of using their experiences to make a difference in the lives of others. Achieving these goals can be complicated.

Understanding the feelings of the caregiver and the caregivers is not enough – there is a gray and murky area in between. ACESCW will aim to provide pastoral care to its members, address stigma and discrimination for those experienced in care, lobby politicians, and offer learning, training and research.

ACESCW will seek to:

  1. Create safe communities for experienced caregivers who work in social services to enable discreet and confidential peer support and mentoring.
  2. Educate colleagues within our profession and more broadly and harness the goodwill and empathy around us to empower our members to have confidence in their heritage.
  3. Promote pride in our profession, our practice and our journey. We will seek to be a proud identity badge for experienced care workers in the welfare professions.
  4. Provide a safe platform for the voices of those experienced in care in the profession to be heard and challenge the status quo where it fails to recognize their value and contribution.
  5. Lobby politicians and decision-makers on behalf of those with experience in care and seek to inspire children in care and those leaving care to be who they choose to be.
  6. Campaign to make the care experience a protected characteristic.
  7. Use our collective wisdom and experience to help shape policy and practice.

The seed has been planted. We have already heard how experienced social workers in care need to wear both hats. Collectively, members will help ACESCW grow and become a respected and recognized network and beacon of change, validating their life experience.

How we are accepted matters. We cannot redact what has been experienced.

Ian Dickson is a children’s rights advocate who grew up in a care facility and is a retired social worker, Ofsted inspector and residence manager. Mike Starr is an experienced social worker in care.

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