Supporting Survivors: A Day in the Life of a Support Worker
A day in the life of a Senior Caseworker at the Snowdrop Project
I have been a senior caseworker at Snowdrop since September 2018 and I am very proud of the support we offer to our clients. I often get asked what my role at Snowdrop actually involves, which is sometimes a hard question to answer. We say that our aim is to provide holistic support to survivors of human trafficking; we recognise that each client we see is an individual with their own skills, strengths, hopes and dreams and so the work can be incredibly varied.
The other day I got home and tweeted ‘What a day. Really felt the highs and lows of being a social worker today and found myself tearful at good and bad news’; I thought that may be a good day to tell you about and give you some insight into life as a caseworker.
I arrived at our office around 9am, made a coffee and caught up on my emails. I was due to have a client, Alice*, come in for an appointment at 10am but she text to say she couldn’t make it. This was frustrating as we had things that we needed to do for her immigration case, but her son was unwell and this obviously takes priority. Instead, I was able to use this time to complete my letter in support of her immigration application and sent it to her solicitor.
During the morning I spotted another client, Sarah*, who was waiting to see a colleague. Whilst she was sat with the interpreter before her meeting I chatted to her about her recent news – she had been granted asylum! The interpreter, who knew Sarah well, did not know this yet but upon hearing the good news began jumping up and down in the hallway. It was such a beautiful moment and this was the first time that day I found myself tearing up.
At around 1pm, Grace* and her two children arrived for her one-to-one appointment. Grace had received some letters that she wanted to go through as she did not understand what they meant. This is a common task for us; despite the Home Office, DWP etc. knowing that our clients’ first language may not be English, all correspondence is of course in English! I was able to explain these letters to her and advise her of the things she needed to do. The rest of this appointment was spent having a general catch up, and spending a bit of time playing with toys! One of my favourite parts of the job is getting to spend time with our clients’ children and seeing them grow in confidence and develop their own personalities.
Alex* had come in the day before complaining of a tooth infection that had resulted in facial swelling. I arranged an emergency dentist appointment for her today at 3pm. When we arrived at the dental hospital, we were told the appointment had been cancelled, but we had not been notified. I advocated for her to see a dentist and luckily they were able to squeeze her in. The dentist advised that Alex would need to be admitted to hospital as the infection was so bad. This caused Alex considerable distress. She really did not want to stay in the hospital and she began crying in the waiting room and telling me she was going to leave. I found this difficult, I knew how important it was for her to stay but I had to consider if my actions were oppressive by trying to make her stay. What made this all the more difficult is that we were trying to have these conversations through an interpreter.
Alex was transferred to hospital but when we got there the Doctor on duty said she did not need to stay overnight; he could operate on her now and then prescribe her antibiotics. Alex’s first response was ‘see!’, which made me laugh but was also frustrating as I had spent the last couple of hours convincing her to stay.
We left the hospital at around 6:30pm and just before parting ways Alex gave me a big hug. I walked home, reflecting on the day and planning what I could do this evening to chill out and practise some self-care. Our work is hard and emotionally challenging so looking after yourself as a caseworker is really important; one of my favourite phrases is that you cannot pour from an empty cup!
So, what does a caseworker really do? Often a lot of admin, support with general tasks such as reading letters, advocacy at other services, are just some examples. Managing emergencies, crisis or just unplanned situations is also a frequent element of our role. Perhaps most importantly, we are able to just be there alongside our client whilst they are starting the next chapter of their lives. We once had this referred to us as being someone’s ‘warm fire’; I love this image and it guides my work.
Later, I opened twitter (I like to keep my followers up to date with my life!) My tweet above ended: ‘Being able to support the women I work with is such a privilege’. It really is.