Onder Beter - Senior Assistant Director for Children & Family Social Care at the Royal Borough of Greenwich - chats to us about his journey through social work, from qualifying in his home country of Turkey through to his current senior role.

Drawing from his wide range of frontline social work experience, Onder now oversees the full spectrum of Greenwich’s children’s services, looking strategically at the bigger picture to ensure that children and families across the borough get the support and positive outcomes they deserve.

“It allows me to have an oversight on the child's journey and their lived experience overall… It’s about making a difference for children and families in your day-to-day work. It’s also about looking into the wider systems and structures that enable us to operate as social workers, and otherwise qualified colleagues, with the aim to make them more pertinent to the relationships within social work.”

Onder’s journey into the Senior Assistant Director role exemplifies some of the brilliant opportunities that London can offer to overseas social workers, and he was keen to emphasise the benefits that including a diverse range of perspectives and backgrounds can have for the social work workforce.

“Overseas social workers have a lot to offer, I think, and they bring lots of transferable skills. A piece of advice, perhaps for recruiters first, is to think a bit more openly about the potential to learn and the pace of learning, rather than the direct experience to what is expected to be roles and responsibilities of a social worker in the UK. When I came here, I did not have any experience of working in the UK’s child protection system. But actually, I brought quite a lot of qualities and skills with me that enabled me to go into this.”

Like many social workers, there were formative experiences which led Onder to pursue a career where he could work to make things fairer for disadvantaged people. His father, a human rights activist, played a role in instilling the values and understanding of inequality and social justice which proved to be a good fit for social work. Growing up in North-eastern Turkey, his ethnic background also meant that he was exposed to systemic inequality, something which motivated his future career choices:

“My ethnic background is Kurdish. I was brought up in Turkey as a Kurdish boy. Being born and raised in that region exposed me to a political context characterised by a number of different conflicts and issues. My experience led to me developing an appetite for social justice and equity in society.”

Earning his initial qualification in Turkey, Onder went on to work for Non-Governmental Organisations and the United Nations, primarily with refugees and asylum seekers. This role helped to broaden his horizons even further through interacting with a range of cultures. The opportunity to work in London arose in 2007, when Onder saw an overseas recruitment campaign run by Hackney London Borough Council. 

After a 10-month process, he arrived in the UK as a social worker in child protection, joining a small group of colleagues from Turkey. The multicultural nature of London, and its sizeable Kurdish and Turkish communities, made adapting to a new home easier. However, the UK’s approach to social work practice at that time was different to what Onder was expecting, with less autonomy given to practitioners to adapt to situations or find creative and relational ways to support families. When the profession began its shift towards more relationship-focused practice in that London borough, Onder saw an opportunity to apply his experience of working in voluntary sector in Turkey, helping to develop the new model in a consultant social worker role.

“When I first started, I felt social work in the UK was very procedural, it was very definitive, descriptive, particularly social work with children. So when my local authority started to do things differently, to focus on relationships, a nurturing environment and to allow social workers to be creative, I really jumped on the opportunity.”

Over the next few years, the combination of social work’s diverse range of specialisms and the pool of opportunities in London proved to be an ideal fit for Onder, who was keen to build a range of experience in different roles across the profession.

“I’m quite a proactive guy, really eager to learn new things, so I didn’t want to stay in one position and get too comfortable. I was quite curious about different aspects of the child's journey…I think it's a privilege to be a social worker and it's a privilege to be a social worker in London because it gives you plethora of opportunities. You can pursue your dreams to make the most impactful intervention if that's what you are after.”

This drive to explore the different aspects of the child’s journey, and the flexibility that social work offers, meant that Onder was able to gain experience in management roles across several areas of practice, including adoption and fostering, child in need, child protection and assessment and support. Somehow, he even found the time to secure a PhD in Social Work and Child Protection. Onder’s career path brought him to three very different boroughs of London, moving from inner London to the southeast, before spending six years as Head of Service in corporate parenting with Brent in the northwest of the city. Experiencing these varied working environments across London helped to further deepen Onder’s understanding of social work practice and allowed him to help and support vulnerable children and families across the city.

"I have worked in three different LAs in London, namely Hackney, Brent and Greenwich in more than 10 different roles. I have also worked as a mock inspector in different LAs. This has provided me with a great opportunity and privilege to positively impact the lives of many children and families in London."

Across all of his roles, relationship building has been crucial to success. Onder firmly believes that having positive, supportive relationships with colleagues doesn’t just help to open doors in terms of opportunity – these relationships are critical to ensuring social work practitioners can handle the challenges of the job.

“Social work is a tough job and it can be emotionally draining. So it's crucial to recognise the importance of relationships with your colleagues. They are your partners, whom you can draw on for support. That's something that I think is very important: when you are trying to make an impact on the lives of the most vulnerable, it should not be to the detriment of your own well-being.”

For anyone considering a social work career in London, from the UK or abroad, Onder’s advice was this:

“It’s really all about the values. If you care about children, about families, about people, if you are thirsty for social justice, if you want to make an impact in that sense, tackle the structural racism we see every day, and bring more of a sense of fairness and equity to the society we live in - social work is one of the best things you can do.”

Find out more about working with Onder in the Royal Borough of Greenwich and view their current opportunities.