“Writer. Educator. Adviser.” These are what Neil Thompson identifies and promotes as the key pillars of his professional identity, and with over 25 years of published works under his belt as well as an incredibly respectable reputation in social work, he can back up those claims. It’s clear this is someone you want on your team, guiding you in the right direction. Now, Neil is turning his attention to e-books and manuals to help further support social workers in new ways.
As one of the founding partners of One Stop Social Membership, we wanted to find out more about Neil Thompson and what exciting projects he’s working on.
“For those who may be unfamiliar, what’s your background in social work?”
I started off in residential child care, working at an assessment centre. After three years I was seconded to undertake my social work training at Liverpool University. After several years as a social worker and two periods of secondment as a social work tutor. I became a team manager. Next came a stint as a training officer before entering the academic world. 21 years ago I branched out to become an independent writer, educator and adviser and I have never looked back. I tell the story of my career more fully in my e-book, A Career in Social Work.
“How does the Social Worker’s Practice Manual support the development of students and qualified social workers?”
I regularly meet social workers (on training courses I run, for example) who tell me that they found my books useful when they were a student. I usually thank them for the compliment and then ask them: But, what about finding them useful as a practitioner? It bothers me that so often people stop reading when they qualify; they tend to see books as being for students, rather than important elements of our professional knowledge base. So, with this in mind, what I decided to do was to write a practice manual that encourages the people reading it to think in terms of how the ideas being discussed can not just be useful for quoting in a student essay, but can actually make a positive difference to the quality of our practice – and therefore to the quality of life of the people we serve.
The manual is divided into 30 sections and each one covers an important aspect of practice, outlining some key ideas and offering a perspective on how they can be used in actual practice.
“Why was it important for you to make sure the Social Worker’s Practice Manual was an ‘unconventional’ textbook?”
I don’t like to think of it as a textbook at all, as that implies that it is geared towards a particular module on a course and will be used primarily as a means of writing essays. What this manual is all about is helping people realise that our professional knowledge base should be the foundation of our practice, not just something that gets focused on in university and then gets forgotten about. I do a lot of expert witness work these days in legal proceedings, and what I often find is that cases have gone wrong because the social work staff involved did not use their knowledge base. For example, I recently dealt with a case where a child had clearly been traumatised, but the two social workers involved seemed oblivious to this. It was actually a teacher that raised the issue of the potential impact of trauma – but, even then, neither social worker picked up on the issue. So, in a very real sense, the manual is about knowledge for use in practice, not just knowledge for use in essays.
“Tell us a bit more about your new e-learning course: So you want to be a social worker”
In my training and consultancy work and at conferences I speak at I regularly come across people who are working in the social care sector, but who are not qualified social workers. So, a question I get asked very frequently is: What is involved in becoming a social worker? I found myself giving the same answer over and over again, so I decided to make that answer more widely available, partly so that I did not have to keep repeating myself and partly so that people I didn’t meet could know the answer too. Because I have been involved in developing a range of e-learning courses, it was quite easy for me to create a course around the process of becoming a social worker. And, that’s what I did. It should prove very helpful for anyone interested in pursuing a career in social work by giving them a clear picture of some of the DOs and DON’Ts involved.
“Why do you think e-learning courses like: 'So you want to be a social worker' are becoming more and more popular?”
E-learning offers many advantages, but probably the two main ones are flexibility and cost-effectiveness. An e-learning course means that you can do it where and when you like, whatever suits you and your circumstances. You are not limited to attending a particular course on a particular day at a particular venue. And, in terms of cost-effectiveness, it can save on travel, venue and refreshment costs and, of course, travel time.
But, interestingly, what is happening more and more is that people are using ‘blended’ learning, which means combining elements of e-learning with face-to-face training. For example, a group of staff may be asked to do an online course on, say, risk assessment and management by a certain date and then come together for a discussion about it on a particular day for a couple of hours. That way you get the best of both worlds. You get the expert input without having to pay the expert’s daily fee and expenses, but you also get the opportunity for discussion, to ask questions and so on. It can work really well.
“Considering your experience, what’s the one piece of advice you can offer to social workers who are just starting out?”
That’s an easy one to answer. What it comes down to is: Don’t lose focus! Time and again I have come across people who have lost focus on what they are trying to achieve with a particular individual or family – they have ‘lost the plot’ – and got bogged down in the complexities, losing sight of why they are there. At other times, I have come across social workers who have lost sight of their values. They get bogged down in bureaucracy and forget that they are professionals governed by a key set of values. And, as I was suggesting before, some people lose sight of their knowledge base; it is as if they have forgotten that they were taught lots of important things for a reason – and that reason was not to pass an essay, it was to be an effective social worker trying to make a positive difference to some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our communities. So, that’s it in a nutshell: Stay focused!
Dr Neil Thompson has endless nuggets of widsom but encouraging social workers to stay focused is by far our favourite. Studying towards a qualification or working in social work can be a tough journey, but by not losing focus, you can find your way to incredibly worthwhile and rewarding work. If you’re interested in learning more from Neil, then make sure to check out One Stop Social Membership where Members get 10% off his books, as well as a whole range of other benefits!