Van Ho, a social worker at St Nicholas Hospital, told us about her experience of working with young people and their families to support them through a hospital stay and rebuild trust…
I am a social worker at Alnwood, a medium secure unit at St Nicholas Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne. I have been in this role since 2010, but my role has changed quite a bit since I started.
Alnwood contains two secure wards which provide assessment, care and treatment for young people from all over the country who have complex mental health problems.
I am the only social worker working on Alnwood; we also started trialling a social worker assistant post in August 2019. This post has a particular focus on supporting carers of people on the wards, and has had a lot of success.
My work focusses on supporting young people and their families through what can often be a lengthy hospital stay, sometimes far away from home. This includes helping families to understand the Mental Health Act, and ensure they are involved in the care and treatment of their child as much as they can be. I sometimes support families with practical things like organising accommodation so they can visit their loved one.
I also work closely with social workers from the local authority, to help them understand their responsibilities when admitting young people and transitioning then from Alnwood into other support services. Doing my best to bridge the gap between all the different laws and responsibilities at play in a young person’s care is a vital part of my role.
Stable, trusting relationships are really important for the young people on Alnwood. Many of them have experienced loss and trauma, so helping them to develop sustainable relationships – including their relationship with me as their social worker – is a crucial part of their recovery. A lot of families and young people who I work with have also had difficult experiences with social workers in the past. They may blame social workers for what’s happened in their family life, and feel let down by services. Rebuilding trust in services and social workers is so important to enable families and carers to get involved in the care of their loved one.
In my role, I have the benefit of more time with families than some social workers in other settings may have. I work with a focus on transparency, consistency and support, which can help the whole family to rebuild their trust in what we do. Most of the families, carers and young people I work with will need ongoing support from services, so being able to work with us and have a level of trust in that relationship is important.
Being in a medium secure hospital unit is often a difficult time and place, but can also turn out to be the turning point for many young people’s recovery. Supporting families and young people with this, and seeing them successfully move on from the unit, can be very rewarding.
In my team, the role of social work is well known and embedded in the way we work, but there are areas that would benefit from a better understanding of the role of social workers.
For me, being a social worker means providing the link for the young person to the outside world – to their local social services, planning future support, and ensuring they can stay in contact with people they want to see such as families, friends and carers. For a young person detained under a section of the Mental Health Act, these things are crucial for their recovery and to help them towards a positive future.