Where did the idea for Insiders Outsiders come from and how you did you get started?
Before the pandemic I was involved in another book, Outlanders, which is an anthology black Social worKer Voices. Worked on this with Wayne Reid who is a Black social worker, and learned a lot from that process. People really Ostend to the voices that were in there. As Social workers we learn from people's stories, but we don't take the same narrative approach to how we develop our knowledge base. Theory books written by academics with no inside knowledge of social work, so it was about bringing another dimension to learning and development, especially with how much racism social workers were experiencing within the profession. At the beginning of the UK lockdowns I met Mary Carter, who is the co-edi-tor for this book. Listening and learning from her I realised there was a place for the narratives of care experienced social workers. So that's where the idea cametrom, and I asked Mary to do it with me and it's been a very positive experience.
What difference do you hope that this book will make?
In my role I have seen a lot of care experienced social workers struggling in the workplace. I felt there was a real lack of understanding of what care experienced workers bring because they've got all this inside knowledge about the system and they also know what works well - they're much more committed towards relationships, for example. I've heard many managers saying things like “you get too involved" or "you put too much in, so I felt like there needed to be an
improved knowledge base within the profession, and to give a platform for these voices. What I found fascinating was that when we put the call out for care experienced social workers we got lots of people contacting us who weren’t care experienced, but were experienced social workers and they didn't know what care experience meant. I shared the definition with them, and one person wouldn't take no for an answer. She kept coming back to us, saying that she had years of experience of providing social care and that her voice should be listened to. Of course it should be, but she was unable to see this unique struggle that care experienced social workers have. It struck me how, as a profession, we don't even know what it means to be a care experienced social worker, never mind hear their voices.
The other thing I feel quite strongly about is the importance of stories, and allowing people to tell their story in their own way and in their own words. It's really important that we do things in a trauma informed way. When Mary and I pulled these stories together we shared feedback on how we thought they could improve it, but we didn't change their stories. We were also aware that we were asking people to revisit some really difficult times in their lives and we didn't want to ask them to go back to it too often. One of the authors couldn't open the book straight away when we sent her a copy, but when she read it she thanked us for the way we had curated it. She said it had given her validation and connection, so the book is making a difference to the authors too.
You've seen care experienced social workers treated differently because of their backgrounds. Writing this book, did you come across any recommendations or suggestions on how this might be improved?
There needs to be more value placed on lived experience, as well as practice wisdom from social workers who aren't care experienced. I noticed lots of different threads and themes coming through each piece, and one that really stood out is that a lot of the authors feel this great sense of shame. When I was reading it, I began to feel a sense of shame about the profession I love. Social work is all I've ever done. I went straight from school to study it, and I've been a social worker for 32 years. It's a profession I've always been very proud of, but I was ashamed of some of the ways that care experienced workers have been treated. One story that really stuck out was from a social worker who, quite early on in her role, got told by her team manager that if she'd said she was care experienced in the interview they wouldn't have employed her. It was shocking to learn that such overtly discriminatory practice happens.
There's an awful lot wrong with the care review, but I feel that making care experience a protected characteristic is going help with some of this. It won't stop oppression by any means - we know that other people with protected characteristics are still oppressed - but it will stop examples like this where managers have outright said they wouldn't have employed them if they had known about their care experience.
The book is bringing these hidden narratives out into the open so they are no longer hidden. We know that it's key for children in care to feel a sense of love and belonging. This runs through everything that we do in fostering. And yet, I think so. cial workers who have a care background need to feel loved and have sense of belonging within the profession. This is about changing the way that we approach things. I wonder whether some of the theories and models that we use in teaching social work have almost reinforced that, for example ACEs (adverse childhood experiences). It could lead to thinking that these adverse childhood experiences mean that they are not robust enough, or resilient enough, and is seen in a negative sense, whereas we really should see it as a potential for growth.
What was your favorite part about pulling Insiders Outsiders together?
I loved working with Mary, who is a care experienced social worker herself and is eighteen months into her social work career. I also felt like it was a great privilege to be trusted with some of these stories that people put such a lot of themselves into. I gained an incredible sense of connection to these authors that I've never actually met before, but I almost feel like I now have a relationship with them just through reading their work. And then the other part of it is that every time I go back and look at the book, I find something different and there's more learning in it. There are so many different layers and levels to learn from, and I really like that about it.
It's rewarding to start off with a germ of an idea and seeing it come to fruition. We're also donating all the profits to the Association of Care Experienced Social Care Workers. When forty people have contributed to the book you can't split the profits forty ways, but this way we get to support a new charity that's doing things for the future of care experienced social workers.
With both your books you are shining a spotlight on voices that don't often get heard. How important is it to the profession that those voices are listened to?
I think it's vital. If I'm honest with you, I don't think that social work will survive if we don't listen to those voices. I think it will simply become about processing things rather than about relationships and people. It's vital that we hear those voices, especially care experienced voices who know what it's like. The title of one of the narratives is You Don't Know What It's Like, which is interesting because it works from both angles. She's talking about how children say to her, "you don't know what it's like to be in foster care!" Because she doesn't want to blur boundaries and say, "well, actually I do because I was in foster care" she doesn't declare that. On another level she's also telling social workers, "you don't know what it's like." There's this sense of this group of people who feel like they don't belong in either place.
We've got to listen to this because we can learn on so many different levels, not just about social work, but about belonging. In both books, I've written a bit of a preface about the themes that come through the book from my perspective and it's so relatable to everything within social work, like the need for belong ing, the importance of love, the importance of active listening, This stuff is the bread and butter of social work, but the problem is we're losing it and we need to listen to these voices to recognize how important that stuff is.
There is a place for academic theories, but putting lived experience across in stories is really powerful. Do you find this engages people better?
Yes. There are so many stories you could almost read a story a night. One of the care experienced social workers has written a very academic assignment, so there's something for everybody in there. We've split it into three sections, with narratives, poems and essays. The essays are more academic, but even within that there's still a story that sits at the heart of it and pivots around one person's story,
So where can we get the book, and find out more about you and Mary?
The best place to get it is from our website: www.siobhanmaclean.co.uk. You'll also be able to get it from bookshops, both inside UK and outside it.