Its Christmas Eve. It’s nearly 8pm now.
I’m sat at the hospital with a client, wondering what I should do.
Should I go home to take a break, or should I continue staying?
It’s Christmas tomorrow after all.
But duty calls. And until this client feels assured of what will happen, I don’t think I can leave.
Welcome to the world of FSC social work
Kudos to you. You’re thinking of doing social work in the family service centre (FSC).
The purpose of this article is two fold:
- To share about the world of FSC social work, and what you should be mindful of before you join
- To help you assess whether this is something for you
When people asked me where I worked at, I used to describe the FSC as a GP (general practitioner) for social services.
Just as your GP doctor would see any ailment you had before deciding where best to direct you, or to help you, the FSC social worker is also similar.
You face a variety of client needs, ranging from:
- Domestic violence
- Financial assistance
- Housing, especially homelessness, or rental flat applications
- Elderly issues like neglect, care needs like dementia
- Child issues like child protection, absenteeism from school
There’s often no one need.
In fact, to warrant an intervention from a social worker, there often needs to be multiple different needs.
That’s where I think the first thing to be aware of is.
You need to know many things, very fast
If you look at the range of issues above, you would quickly see that there’s a wide range.
Within my first 3 months, I was able to hold a decent conversation about housing requirements, why couples fought, and how to get childcare subsidies from the government.
But that also means that as much as you’re well versed in the range of social policies, you won’t have the chance to go deep.
My onboarding wasn’t that great
When I first started, much of my first week was spent trying to figure out what the difference in fees were between Stripe and PayPal were.
Please don’t report me to my boss. But it probably revealed how I was left to my own devices, with not much thought on how best to use my skills.
You have to take charge of your own onboarding should you start at a FSC. Not every organisation will take care of you.
The bulk of time is on administrative work, not therapeutic work
Personally, I found it challenging that there was not as much opportunity to grow my skills in therapy. That means counselling, in a 1 to 1 or a group setting.
There are some who might enjoy this.
And if you read books like Lori Gottlieb’s ‘Maybe You Should Talk To Someone’, you would quickly realise the beauty of counselling.
When you’re able to take a client’s thought, unearth the fragments of the thoughts, help them to be aware of why that thought might not be useful and reshape it to become positive, the conversation becomes healing for your client.
But most of social work, at least in the FSC, (as of writing, I don’t currently have experience in other settings) was administrative in nature.
That can be frustrating.
Remember the last time you filled up a passport application.
Imagine doing that everyday.
I’m not joking.
You’re going to need to fill up many different forms for clients who come to you for various needs. Addressing these needs will require you to process the administrative details required from agencies, and this was what was personally difficult for me.
Some high frequency applications that you need to get used to:
- Applying for food assistance schemes from the likes of Community Development Councils (CDCs) or Residents’ Committees
- Applying for extension of long-term visit passes
This is not to discount the already heavy burden of updating SSNET, the case management system.
You shouldn’t underestimate just how much work this involves. Imagine:
- Having to write an intake assessment for every new client (on average 30 minutes)
- Having to write a case plan for every new client assigned to you (averaging 20 minutes)
- Writing a case plan every 6 months (averaging 20 minutes)
- Writing case notes or a session summary of every session you have (averaging 10 to 20 minutes)
- Writing a case closure report for every client that successfully meets the outcomes (averaging 20 minutes)
Do this for the 35 odd clients you have, and you can already tell why social workers are burning out, left, right and centre.
This is longer term work
One colleague I had didn’t like the work because it was quite long term, compared to other places like the hospital. In the hospital, you would be seeing a patient for a while, before sending them on their way with the right subsidies and care plan in place.
Not so in the FSC.
You would probably be working with the client for an average of a year, before things substantially improve.
If you don’t enjoy that long-term work, this might not be your kind of work.
Extra projects within the community
And because your FSCs are located in void decks, there is an expectation that you do some kind of community project to benefit the local residents.
We were doing activities like:
- Planning Zumba sessions for the elderly residents
- Doing reading programmes for kids in the void decks of rental flats
This is an additional load, on top of your casework management.
Within organisations like AMKFSC (now rebranded as Allkin), I’ve heard social workers there taking on 2 to 3 additional projects each (which they playfully call ‘CCAs’, but which are not that fun after all).
Well, you might not need my advice.
But I will give it anyway, especially as someone who did badly at a Family Service Centre. I was issued with a performance improvement plan and I did not get along very well with my colleagues.
A job is just a job
One colleague saw the troubles I had fitting in, and getting my ideas pushed through and said gently to me one evening,
John, the problem isn’t that you take this as more than a job.
It’s that others take this as just a job.
Just a job.
You might have expected that for a job like social work, many would be in it for the passion and vocational nature of it.
But after some time, you get jaded of the systems you fight against and you might slowly come to treat the work as a job, where you do what’s required, rather than trying to make systemic change.
After a while, it can be like clockwork.
- Do the intake for the new walk in clients
- Do the home visit for the new clients that have been assigned to you
- Do the case reports
- Write the case notes
- Rinse and repeat
It’s not to say that treating social work like a job is a bad thing.
Rather, it’s a way to cope and to avoid burnout.
FSC social work can be a stable, high(est) paying job in the sector
If you compare to the other types of social work in
- Elderly like O Joy
- Children charities like Children’s Society etc.
- Youth like SHINE Youth Services
- Disabilities like SPD
- Mental health like Limitless
- Family like the FSCs
The FSC still pays the best within the sector.
A senior director of a charity once told me about how FSCs were like ‘cash cows’ because of how the government generously funded overheads (like corporate backroom staff) for it.
You would be hard pressed to find a charity that can pay better than the FSC.
Who fits this kind of work?
But who do you need to be to fit this kind of work?
Should you work in FSC?
If there’s one thing I remember from my experience as a social worker in a family service centre (FSC), it’s probably this.
It would be the last 3 months, following the issuance of my Performance Improvement Plan. I had been given this ‘get better or get sacked’ plan because I had openly disagreed with a manager.
Each day, I would walk into the office, say no more than 30 words, before walking home. I stayed close by, so there was little reason for me to stay on for longer.
Each morning, I would struggle to wake up.
Studying social work in the U.K., I had always been deeply excited about the prospect social work had to change people’s lives.
But working in the FSC helped me to see that sometimes, social work was just case management. You gently moved a client through the various government schemes, and helped them get what they needed.
The part where you counsel, work with a family, and make long term change, might be few and far between. Expecting that to happen all the time is setting yourself up for failure.
On the last day of my work, I remember bringing a boy out for dinner, to tell him that I was leaving the organisation and moving on.
That night, as I walked him home, I remember catching a glimpse of him for the final time.
He walked home slowly, with his shoulder slumped, and his feet dragging.
He knew that when he went home, he would face an empty shell of a home, with no one there.
His mum would be working her second shift of the day, whilst his older sister would still be out.
For months, he had me for company during these in-between moments, where he struggled to have anything to entertain him.
And now, I too, was leaving.
Somehow that seemed symptomatic of my time in the FSC. That as much as we intervened, we couldn’t stay forever. As much as we tried, sometimes, this might be patchwork, unable to last.
But if you’re looking for long-term change, this might just be it.