Somerset social worker cares in the Caribbean

Emma with her Jamaican team

A Somerset social worker swapped the South West for the West Indies earlier this year to experience life as a social worker within a different culture.

Emma Church, a social worker who works for Somerset County Council in Bridgwater, was keen to use her experience and skills to help children in a more deprived country.

With support from her manager, who allowed her to take an eight week break from work using leave and unpaid leave, Emma was able to join a team of social workers in Jamaica.

Emma said: “When I brought up the possibility of me volunteering abroad my manager was so supportive. That was matched by senior management, who understand that encouraging learning and development on all levels will only fuel our improvement journey and in turn produce better outcomes for children.”

Nearly half of the people who live in poverty in Jamaica are under 18 and a study found that 60 per cent of 9 to 17 year old children reported that a family member had been a victim of violence. Emma found that social workers in Jamaica can have an average caseload of 165, which means many children do not see their social worker on a regular basis.

“In Somerset, we are working to reduce caseloads to an average of 14 which is great. In the past caseloads have felt high at times, but in Jamaica it was on another level. This meant that they had a crisis intervention way of working, whereas in Somerset we work with families to identify their strengths while helping them through their issues using the Signs of Safety strength-based model. While I was volunteering I was able to incorporate Signs of Safety to their way of working so felt that they were learning from me as much as I was learning from them.”

Although there are differences, social workers in Jamaica have similar pressures to social workers in England and one similarity Emma noticed was how teams support each other through those pressures.

“Across both cultures, the team morale really impacts you as a social worker. Even with all the issues they were dealing with in Jamaica they were welcoming and really embraced me being there. This reflects how we work in Somerset. The mutual understanding and shared experiences of our teams mean that we are all really supportive of each other.”

“The optimism of the Jamaican social workers overwhelmed me, and I think we need more of that in British social work. In Somerset, there is a sense that things are improving because our caseloads are reducing and we have more stable management in place so I’m feeling that optimism growing here.”

“I would definitely go back and volunteer again and I would recommend it to anyone. Learning is much more than attending training courses, and I’m pleased that the management at Somerset County Council understands that.”

Somerset County Council is currently recruiting Children’s Social Workers. For information about opportunities please visit www.socialcareandmore.co.uk

Emma also features in a video about working in Somerset County Council’s Children’s Social Care Team.

More information

Emma funded the volunteering herself but was able to take eight continuous weeks off from work with support from her manager. This was done with a mixture of paid and unpaid leave.

The Signs of Safety model that Somerset County Council works to is a strengths-based and safety-focused approach to child protection work is grounded in partnership and collaboration with families. More information about the model can be found here: www.signsofsafety.net

Poverty statistic from page 14 of United Nations Development Assistance Framework for the Government of Jamaica (2007 – 2011): http://www.unicef.org/about/execboard/files/UNDAF_-_Jamaica.pdf

Violence statistic was sourced from Unicef document Key Facts – Children and Violence in Jamaica: http://www.unicef.org/jamaica/Violence_Key_Facts_Feb08_FINAL.pdf