Paul Dugmore – working in children’s social care and looking after ourselves

My name is Paul Dugmore and I am a Consultant Social Worker at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. This podcast is about how those of us working in children’s social care can manage and look after ourselves as well as others during these very difficult times. There is rightly lots of focus on the NHS and our colleagues who are really on the front line in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s also important to recognise the essential and invaluable role that social care plays in helping the hundreds of thousands of children and families affected in different ways or worsened by the current situation.

I want to acknowledge the many challenges you may be facing as a social care worker within the system and the likelihood of you absorbing lots of professional anxiety about issues such as safeguarding, and worries about vulnerable children not being in school, compounded by the global anxiety about COVID-19 in the recent lockdown.

There is to, the added complexity for social care workers in navigating whose needs to prioritise: your own; your children’s; your family and friends; as well as the children and families you work with; the needs of your organisation and colleagues who might be unable to work. Within all of this there will be a mixture of emotions, perhaps conflicting, such as compassion and worry, anger and guilt, which can feel overwhelming at time. There is no right way to deal with the challenges we’re up against, but having time and space to think about how you may be feeling, and what some of these things mean can be helpful.

So, within this context I just want to offer some tips for coping with all of this, and the continuing importance of relationships, which can feel difficult to prioritise especially when our usual opportunities for making connections may not be there. Work meetings may still be an option, face-to-face or via video or telephone conferencing. In the absence of this it’s really important to maintain contact so picking up the phone and checking in on your colleagues is really important. Being able to share experiences and offload and talk about some of your difficult feelings are helpful ways of bearing the load. In the absence of normal working practices, the types of concerns we might have about a child or family don’t diminish, so is more important than ever to connect with colleagues in the wider professional network, to talk things through so you’re not holding onto things and making decisions by yourself.

If you’re needing to stay-at-home because you all your family are self-isolating, this can make you feel more disconnected from others so making the most of social media messaging, phone and video calling are all good ways of keeping connected and you might want to be creative in how you connect online.

If you’re remote working in these strange new times, the importance of keeping a routine and boundaries around work and home life is even more important now in order to look after yourself and those around you.

Checking in and out – consciously identifying a list of who your consistent supports are and planning in a 10 minute check with someone at the beginning of the day to say what you hope to achieve today in terms of work and self-care, and someone at the end of the day to sign up with.

Who’s looking after you – remember the importance of supervision with your manager or supervisor and if their absence someone else with appropriate responsibility in your organisation.

Pace – breaking tasks into smaller chunks so not doing anything for longer than an hour. Taking a five-minute pause at the end of each task and concentrating on your breathing, a ten second meditation when you’re sitting up straight with your feet on the ground, breathing in for four seconds and out for six. Do this every hour and keep hydrated, drinking a glass of water regularly.

Kindness can’t be underestimated – think about how to be kind to yourself and manage your own expectations of what you can achieve in a working day. Recognise that this might be less than usual due to the emotional landscape of the current climate.

Appreciating your colleagues – everyone will be dealing with this in their own way which might be different to yours; showing compassion and empathy to yourself and others and finally ending the day by doing something positive that makes you feel good.

Paul Dugmore, Consultant Social Worker at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Paul speaks to those of us working in children’s social care, and how we can manage and look after ourselves as well as others, during these very difficult times.

Wellbeing Quiz Profile: #MoreFrantic