A few years ago I used to work for a local authority training social workers and other social work professionals around improving their relationships and communication with young people in care. (I already hear you asking yourself where I’m going with this since its no way to start a blog but stay with me).
Each session would involve ten social work professionals and two care experienced young people to help facilitate the session, as well as myself, the lead trainer.
The main purpose of the training was to create an environment where professionals could step into the shoes of the young person and attempt to understand the care experience from the young person’s perspective. It was my goal to teach these specialists how to improve their relations with young people by exercising empathy to build honest and trusting relationships whilst still maintaining clear boundaries and assuring their professional integrity.
As I’m sure you can imagine, no social work professional wanted or appreciated a young woman coming in to train them on how to practice being a “better social worker”, they were all already qualified after all.
So initially at the beginning of every session there would be a room full of professionals who quite clearly would rather be anywhere but there (even if I did put on an amazing lunch time spread). They would come in, sit down and glare at me from their desks, unable to mask the irritability that they had been forced to waste an entire day in yet another training session when they were drowning in paperwork & TAC meetings & quite frankly had better things to be doing. I mean, in some respects it was true, what could I without my social work degree or any degree for that matter teach them that they didn’t already know? (A lot as it happens but that story is for another day).
Therefore to stimulate their willingness to engage as well as dispel the negative preconceptions of the training, my first task of any session would be to start off with an ice breaker. This would typically be something fun, silly and interpersonal to allow the group to begin to comfortably interact with one another as well as see me beyond my role as their trainer. Ice breakers are magic during group meetings and opening the session by sharing that my name was Jaimee and I was once 16 and pregnant, despised paying council tax, enjoyed to read and had only one tattoo that I regretted the very minute it was inked on my skin was a lot more effective than beginning with the rules and objective of the training. It made me human, it made me vulnerable and most importantly it made me relatable. I wasn’t there to speak at them after all, I was there to speak to them and with them, and above all, I was there to listen.
I rolled out this training many times to countless professionals in a diverse number of roles from social workers to foster carers, to the metropolitan police, corporate parents and youth offending workers to name but a few. To their credit, by the end of the sessions the majority of the participants were extremely glad that they had joined me and I’d often see tears and emotion from the group before the day was out. This was my objective, to evoke feeling and passion in these professionals, to allow them to step away from legislation and policy and actually empathise with children in care. To encourage them to think of their young people as children, people and human beings and not just cases or service users.
Nonetheless no matter how many times I bared my soul to a room full of colleagues and/or strangers and regardless of how useful of a tool it was to use my vulnerability to encourage them to open up and be vulnerable themselves, it was always unnerving (which is where I will finally get to my point – and if you’ve made it this far, thank you for hanging on in there).
Introductions are awkward and sharing personal information is uncomfortable!! In fact, nothing makes me more anxious than the responsibility of telling someone who I am within a paragraph or a few sentences. Where do I start? How do I start? What do I say? What information is appropriate? Where do I draw the line between “ok great” and “yep, that’s definitely an overshare?” The long and short of it is; for me, no matter how many times I do them, introductions are difficult. So rather than tell you who I am beyond the short description provided in amongst this spiel, I am going to let my blog do the talking.
What I will share is that I intend to write about life. Life as I have known it so far in my 26 years of what has been a rollercoaster of a ride. I will write about my life as a small child when my mother was tragically murdered when I was just nine years old, about the fearless wayward teenager I used to be growing up in inner city London in children’s homes and foster care, about the single mother I am to an extraordinary young man who changed my heart and my life and about the woman I aspire to be who has been on both sides of the care system and is committed to one day changing social care. Do I think it’s valuable? Possibly. Do I think it’s worth writing about? Most definitely. Do I think you should stick around to find out? Please do.. perhaps somewhere along the way my thoughts, feelings and experiences may resonate or be of some use to you.