A Professional Development Story
of a Turkish Social Worker
Emine Iclal Dogan 

     
I come from Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. I was born in a happy stable middle class family environment. I was the youngest of three children. I was brought up in a combination of eastern and western culture. My father was a teacher and due to this there were plenty of educational books to read which helped me in my academic development. My father’s interaction with me was fundamental in my personal development in my childhood. His games revolved around teaching basic skills; numeracy, literacy and social skills. My mother was a housewife. Although she was not academically qualified like my father, her views about the world encouraged me to be a free thinker. I gained a place at my school by exam entry, which was an exceptional senior school in those days. I really enjoyed my time there as being a full time school I could develop some close friendships. I gained a place in social work department in the university, whereas most of my school friends studied more popular subjects ,i.e medicine and engineering.

A
t university I studied generic social work. It was full time study for four years. It wasn’t a conscious choice. Initially, I was upset to get this university place; this was due to the relatively low mark I received in the university entrance exams. It was not a well-known faculty and to me there were lots of `unknowns`. Furthermore, it was not located on the university campus.

 


I gradually started to like the social work discipline and social work as a profession. There were two aspects of this learning ‘experience`. One was the overwhelming rules led by some conventional lecturers and very old curriculum they followed. The other important aspect was the colourful and exciting learning process we went through within student environment. We challenged our lecturers by pointing out the broad range of critical social work approaches. I must admit that we also had some open-minded brilliant lecturers who ahs been at the positive side of the experience.

We challenged the educational system; by reading sociological, political, philosophical books. We followed and raised discussion points with our lecturers on current issues with an orientation of radical social transformation. I found this forum very stimulating and this aided me in my learning process, even though I was not yet aware of a `new world order` being put in place at that time ; leading the world -and me- into a chaos of globalism and postmodernist times!.

I was reading, thinking, having discussions and re-thinking. Those were such good days for me. There were a lot of issues to explore in human relations and to acquire the knowledge of the world.

During my study I had two practice placements in Rehabilitation Centre for Blind People and Nursery for one term each.
Four years after having a Social Work Degree in Hacettepe University, I continued studying and attained a Masters Degree in Social Psychology in Ankara University. My thesis was on marriage and divorce. Being an experienced divorcee choosing this topic for my thesis was not a coincidence. Given my interest in the concept of `family` which was not only as a sociological unit but also as a system of dynamics, I had family therapy induction courses (with H. Fisiloglu, METU) years later.

My first work experience was in student dormitories as a social worker for three years. Then I was appointed to a busy social services area office where I learned a lot about the social services system, legislations, acts and the ins-and-outs of delivery of service because I was dealing with all kinds of referrals to social services. There was a shortage of social workers and we were covering children, families, disability and adoption including adult referrals. I learned a lot in that period of my social work practice. After that I worked in an elderly home as a social worker for about 18 months in total.

INTERNATIONAL AWAKENING

My latest and longest job in Turkey was in Social Services Foreign Relations Department where we were working as ISS –International Social Services Correspondent. I was handling the inter-country referrals and carrying out various social work cases such as international adoption, child abduction, and custody. Most of the cases were in connection with US and European countries like Germany, France, UK, Switzerland etc. I stayed in this office for six years. I was sent to Bosnia during the civil war in 1997 for a humanitarian project of the Social Services Agency for the children who were war victims. It was the time I opened my eyes to the shameful reality of the world that the wars are for the poor where the rich and the ones in power continue their luxurious life.

Besides my job I was interested in CIF- Council of International Fellowship which is an international voluntary organization for promoting understanding and fellowship of social services professionals via exchange programs (Thanks to Mrs Nukhet Atalay and Mr Mustafa Dernek ) . I attended CIF Austrian and Czech Republic exchange programs held in Vienna and Prague in 1997. Later on, I acted as the Secretary General of Turkish CIF Branch for about 2 years.

In 1999 I attended UNESCO Program Peace for Balkanian Women which was held in Greece University of Macedonia where we had training along with long discussions in social problems around East European countries for two months.

I was also member of Association of Social Workers in Turkey. I sat on the Committee for preparing National Social Work Ethical Code. I actively worked on this Committee in integrating and adapting international ethical standards and values to Turkish society.

I took part in the translation group of the Association and we translated and published the IFSW-International Federation of Social Workers and United Nations publication named `Human Rights and Social Work` into Turkish. This helped me a lot in understanding the universal social work values, since human rights is a related value component of social work practice.

In the meantime, I had two long-term relationships in my personal life and I entered the new millennium (and also to the divorce statistics) as a `divorced female` without children. It was the time for me to move on and to actualise my childhood desire of living abroad.

BIG CHALLENGE IN A MULTICULTURAL ENVIRONMENT

I ended up in a busy area office in the UK where `multiculture` is a trademark. I worked as an agency worker in a Children and Families Care Management team for two months. Then I moved to my current permanent position in the Children and Families Duty and Assessment Team.

The first time ever in my life I was described with my skin color (!) and with the location of my original country. All of a sudden I became `white` and `overseas` social worker. (Luckily I was not an `agency` worker anymore.) To my service users I am black over the phone and white in flesh (!).The professional ethics I tried to internalize over the years helped me in standing at the equal distance to the members of this multicultural society in my early days in the UK.

Another challenge was ahead of me. It was obvious that I had to elaborate my knowledge on the work related Acts, legislations and to follow policy changes. On the other hand, I had to explore the British society embracing a variety of cultures. I believe it as a must to do a broad range of reading from history books, daily papers to teenage music magazines; I had to follow television programs from Big Brother, Coronation Street, child cartoons to the Middle East news; I had to get English speaking lessons for having a better English and driving tuitions to change my international driving license into British and so on. Instead of English lessons I committed my evenings to do Counseling and also Creative Writing courses in College with my personal efforts last autumn. I found it more efficient which helped me in improving my English. Being an overseas social worker I have also improved English listening especially in terms of everyday and street language. Given the nature of social work discipline, those are essential to professional existence in a particular society.

This is a continuum of learning process which I have been in ever since.

It is now nearly two years I have been working in the same area office where I started to take child protection cases that I feel relatively confident. I (and also the service users) was lucky that I was not rushed into child protection cases by my line manager in my early days whereas apparently this happens to some newly qualified social workers or new overseas social workers in other similar working settings.

The friendly work environment and the support I have taken from my colleagues regardless of team membership in the area office were invaluable for me. (I have always wondered whether I would get the similar empathetic approach if I came into a technical department as a technician).

The in-service trainings and supervisions I have taken helped me a lot as well. In my monthly supervision meeting I brief my manager on what I had done on each case and I get opportunity to reflect on my practice during the detailed case discussions. After receiving his recommendations, we sign the action plan which we agreed on. I pursue that plan unless the flow of the case changes. If the things do not go how it is supposed to be, I can approach to my manager and access his views. I attend the supervisions with an agenda and being properly prepared. We discuss my training needs within available departmental trainings. I have received Advanced Child Protection, Area Child Protection Committee, Personal Development Trainings as well as Professional Qualification Trainings so far.

If I was asked the question on what are the major differences between out two countries on the way children are treated in our different societies. My observation in the UK is that the state is much more protective on the care of children. On the contrary, the parents are more protective as well as oppressive to their children there in Turkey. Due to late industrialization, family ties are stronger and wider family is more supportive there.

To me public image of social workers there are more likely to be rarely found, supportive service givers but here public image of social workers are politically correct professionals who rather need to be stayed away.
I have explored more about my strong and weak points during the work I have carried out here in the UK.

I remember my early years of practice as a generic social worker in a rural area office in Turkey where the area manager was coming from education background and how I was struggling with lack of supervision. For example, after turning down an adoption request, I was in a dilemma whether I was violating the human rights of this couple to have a child. How objective I was? Today I am clear that I did not do the wrong thing hence my priority was the welfare of the child. Yes, the principle ` the welfare of the child is paramount ` was inherent in my practice.

Having said that, I want to share one of my observations during a joint visit with a child protection worker in my current employment. My colleague and I went to this house where a mother and the child live and the mother has a boyfriend who was a Schedule 1 Offender under The Children and Young Persons Act 1933. ( In my early days it took a lot of time to find out where the term Schedule 1 Offender is coming from - which was almost a jargon of social services whereas very few colleagues know the Act-).

The aim of the visit was to discuss with the mother that she should ensure her boyfriend does not have any unsupervised contact with her daughter. The mother was looking quite down when she invited us in and told us that she had just come from the hospital and had just learned that she might have cancer. She was likely to tell more about it where I empathized with her and wanted to hear a bit more. However, my colleague somehow totally ignored what the mother had just told us and started to talk about the child protection issue and the concerns that brought us there. As a professional she was explaining the nature of the concerns, child protection procedures etc. It turned into a long speech where it was so obvious that the mother was not taking them at that moment. I was there voluntarily, only for accompanying and observing my colleague from another team so that; I could not find the courage to interrupt her and also it was nearly impossible to interrupt her given the tone of her long and non-ending sentences. Tear drops appeared in the mother’s eyes,- my colleague must have taken it as a response what she had been telling to her-. The more the lady was getting upset the more my colleague was elaborating her child protection concerns!. In the end, the mother burst into tears and started to cry loudly. The child came in the room and saw her mother crying. Things were getting worse and worse…

I even now feel the pressure and embarrassment of that moment as a social worker. When we were on our way back to the office, I reflected on the practice stressing on that we were professionals in human services. We were not working with machines and we needed to empathise the feelings of the carers /service users. We should engage ourselves in the work; we should genuinely be there with the service user.

As Thompson (2000) highlights one of the important aspects of reflective practice that practitioners to become `part of the situation` when they engage in their professional duties. We need to hear what the service users are saying and we need to start from the point where they are; not from the point where we are. If we believe the child’s welfare is paramount then we need to be more than a `messenger`. In the above visit our function should had been `persuasion` rather than `warning`. We should have the perspective `now and here`, `you and I`. This may not be a brilliant practice but was a good lesson in highlighting the necessity of reflecting in the practice and finding the ways to get through the carers who are expected to meet the child’s needs and who have everlasting bonds to the child.

One of the other astonishing lessons I learned in my early days in the UK was in a multi disciplinary meeting in a psychiatry clinic. I had just took over the case in the long term team and seen the mother only once. There were about eight professionals discussing about this child and her family. The parent was kept waiting outside which was understandable as it was a professionals meeting. In the end of the meeting, the parent was invited in the room to be informed about the outcome of the meeting. I was very surprised when the parent raised the issue that the child, who was subject to that meeting, was seen by only one professional out of eight! The decision has not changed but I learned my lesson that I had to do every effort to see the child before acting on! I do believe human capability to act positively on their lives if they do feel and believe in the necessity of it and if they have the relevant tools and environment for it. I believe behaviors can change on this basis. As it is known that the social work profession draws on theories of human development and behaviour and social systems to analyze complex situations and to facilitate individual, organizational, social and cultural changes.

In respect of human behaviour I am influenced by cognitive behavioural approaches. In personality theories humanistic and person centred theory of Carl Rogers contributed in my insistent positive approach to the service users. In terms of analyzing human development and interpersonal relations I find Bowlby`s attachment theory fascinating through my professional and personal experiences.

Being a social worker in a statutory setting I am required to undertake professional assessment and decision-making. It is inevitable to give up the power derived from professional status ‘‘as an expert voice, middle class status of being a professional and being an agent of the state before the non-expert and marginal voices of service users’’.

However, my motto has always been that the service user and the social worker are on the same boat and the win/win principle underpins the work we are carrying out. I always try to be mindful to the point that they are the actors and experts of their own lives. This attitude automatically be a sign of my approach towards the service user and empowers them in individual level. I try to be an active listener rather than to be a speech giver. I usually demand for their opinions and decisions which empowers them and makes them feel responsible in engaging into the work –even though they sometimes play an antagonist role in it.

Once the social worker minimizes her/his power over the service user it is more likely to empower and engage them in the work. I think we cannot separate empowerment and participation as they usually come together.

My professional development has enhanced since I have started working in the current area office. This has been demonstrated in my ability to assess risk and needs of children and their families when conducting assessment. With having these skills my ability has improved particularly in understanding diversity, other cultures and responding the needs in a sensitive way. I feel, as a practitioner my ability to listen and question, then to analyze the information I have collected, being open, honest, empathetic, having a non-judgmental attitude, being clear in my expectations and prepared to share my opinions, making decisions and constantly reflecting on them, and being able to work in partnership with a wide variety of people including the service users, carers and other agencies has been highly improved. There is no doubt that I am able to provide these qualities into my work during my practice. The point is we are working with human and we are humans as well and my suggestion is it is a continuum towards improvement via reflecting the practice. I suppose the experience I have gained in various social work settings has granted me a certain level of professional competence.

In general I view the world from the structuralist theoretical corner which helps me to see the big picture where our profession, professionals and service users stand. In this respect, I have been in the critical social science theories camp. On the other hand, given my dialectic approach to life, I am in search of understanding poststructuralist thinkers at present, in particular Foucault attracts me. However, I am not likely to fall into the chaotic unpredictable space of postmodernism.
I still find my job fascinating; I enjoy what I am doing and where I am at present. Social work is an exciting, demanding and immensely rewarding profession. I want to complete my Post-Qualifying Award Part 1 study. I will review my professional progression and my new personal aspirations after three years time.

I will continue to do my job in a world where `Every nine seconds a child drops out of school. Every ten seconds a child will be abused or neglected. Every thirty-six seconds a child is born into poverty. Every minute a baby is born to a teen mother. Every thirty-two seconds a child sees his or her parents divorce. Every three minutes a baby is born to a mother who received no prenatal care. Every eighteen minutes a baby dies. Every twenty-three minutes a child is wounded by gunfire. Every 100 minutes a child is killed by firearms` ( Crosson-Tower, 2004).


BIBLIOGRAPHY:

The Children and Young Persons Act, 1933

The Children Act, 1989

Crosson-Tower, C. (2004) Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect, Allyn&Bacon, 37

Thompson, N. (2000) Theory and Practice in Human Services,Open University Press, 88.