Teresa has recently taken up the role of Head of Service for Corporate Parenting in Merton, having previously been in Family Support and Safeguarding, including working with Children with Disabilities and leading the Workforce and Social Work Academy. Corporate Parenting is an area of social work practice which focuses on looking out for, nurturing, supporting and advocating for children and young people who have been placed under the care of a local authority. The recent move represented something of a change of focus:
“I spent the early part of my career working in and leading services responsible for assessment and intervention, which is all about understanding what support children need so that they can remain safely, and thrive, within their homes. That is ultimately what we want to achieve for our children. So I had always worked in the early part of the service in terms of a child's journey. The past two years is the first time that I have been working more in the longer-term aspect of social work, including when a child comes into our care.”
Teresa was born and grew up in India, originally studying English literature before her experiences as a volunteer sparked an interest in social work. She was living in a part of the country where conflict between religious communities often led to violence, but she was struck by the resilience of people who had a loving and empathetic support network behind them. This idea of love and compassion building human resilience and capacity to love and care for others became a central belief which underpins much of Teresa’s attitude to social work practice.
“I learned that somewhere along the line, the people who were more hopeful than the others were people who experienced love in a way that didn't affect their capacity to give love or receive love. I think that is a fundamental game changer for any human being. If you're able to live your life where you feel worthy enough to receive love and give love, then your sense of self-worth and dignity remains intact.”
The next stage of Teresa’s social work journey happened when she took up an opportunity to practice social work in London:
“It just so happened that Ealing Council came to Mumbai when I was there, to do some overseas recruitment, and I thought I would come for a couple of years and see what happens.”
This turned out to be a good decision, as Teresa met her husband while working for Ealing and went on to have a successful social work career in the capital. Coming into the UK social work profession from India was not without its challenges though:
“As a woman leader in colour, you do have to navigate the othering, the not belonging, and that's happened to me a lot of times in my career. I'm very aware of that sort of structural racism. And as a woman, we often have a lot of imposter voices, don't we? So I think finding a place where you feel valued makes such a massive difference.”
Often, the major positives of Teresa’s early experiences as a social worker in London came from colleagues who went above and beyond to be actively inclusive, helping her to bridge the knowledge gap between the different systems of social work practice:
“It's not that I believe people are naturally not inclusive. I do believe though that we need to be far more conscious in our inclusion and compassion, and that can only come if we can show love to each other, and are more patient with each other. I remember as a social worker learning the trade in this country, I could not get my head around statutory social work! My poor managers and more importantly many of my experienced colleagues around me at the time had to really persevere with me. But had they not done that, I wouldn't have learned how to do this.”
Teresa’s current authority, Merton, was rated Outstanding by Ofsted, and it’s important to her to recognise that this has come about through an organisational culture which encourages and rewards social workers from all backgrounds to be themselves and bring their own experiences to the table:
"First of all, you need to have a leadership team that is diverse, you need your table to include diverse voices and faces. If you have that, the people that you then bring into the system feel an affinity with the leadership team and their values. Merton is outstanding not because one leader is great, or a group of leaders are great, it's outstanding because everybody across the piece, the partnership and most importantly, people on the ground, put the blood, sweat and tears into it to make it outstanding.”
If you’re someone who wants to make a real difference for vulnerable children and families, and you’re able to work with empathy, patience and compassion, Teresa would urge you to consider a career in social work:
“I would say do it, do it, do it, because I think this is the best profession you can pick! A child protection plan or a child in need plan isn’t what keeps a child safe. What keeps a child safe is when a parent rings you and says, ‘I messed up, I really did, and I really need your help’. That only comes when you have given your heart, formed a relationship and worked from a place of compassion with that family. If you’re someone who really cares for your fellow human beings, this is the best profession to be in.”
Find out more about working with Teresa in Merton and view their current opportunities.
© London Social Work for Children 2024