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A career in children’s services – Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families


In my family, you just are a public servant.

Teacher, doctor, lawyer, social worker. And our partners and friends are teachers, doctors, lawyers and social workers too! It’s just what we do. We are political beasts from all political sides. We talk politics, we watch politics, and we read politics. As a young woman wanting to find a working life that matched my interests, there was no better home than social work. It mean’s something. It matters. And I have never, ever regretted it.

From my unqualified days working in community based domestic violence and drugs projects, to working with young people leaving acute psychiatric care, I found my way to child & family social work. And I have never regretted that either. On my first day of social work training at the London School of Economics, I went to see the film Ladybird, Ladybird by Ken Loach. I was so shocked. I declared to my friends, “I shall never work in child protection!”

Well, look how that turned out!

Outside of a stint running community based education services, including being responsible for sport (that was a steep learning curve, I can tell you), I have spent pretty much every working day in children’s services.  Social work is about social justice and family justice is a big part of that. How do we ensure children and families get the support they need, whilst constantly checking the worst excesses of state interference into private family life? That is a tight rope that I have spent my whole career trying not to fall off! And it’s all about balance. Without balance, there can be no justice.

Social work is also about something else too. The person. The Adult Principal Social Work Network asked me to write a drabble on social work. And I managed it in 50. This is what I wrote:

Social work: the arrow of human connection
Having a person in your line of sight; transcending every label placed upon them, every judgement made, no matter how much you wish things were different, regardless of history or context, all you can see, with absolute clarity, is a person.

Bull’s eye. And it comes back full circle to the individual, the community and the state.

Being Chief Social Worker is an absolute privilege.

I have a bird’s-eye view of child and family social work practice in England, and reach parts of the wider system that are closed to most. However, there is only one of me, and 90,000 social workers. Getting multiple voices into policymaking is so important and we are definitely making progress on that score. But getting the voices of children and families is the real prize.

I think I have just set out one of my priorities for the next year!