In part two of Liz Hughes' guest blog recounting her experience of being a Grenfell Tower key worker, she explains how gaining trust, establishing needs and setting priorities were vital in helping a displaced family cope with the fire's traumatic aftermath and start rebuilding their lives. If you haven't read part one you'll find it here.
My Grenfell experience - part two
I met the family in the hotel, at which point old fashioned social work skills were the order of the day...
I put them at ease and spent a lot of the first meeting finding out who they were and what their interests and needs were. These initial conversations allowed me to identify and focus on their priorities.
Led by their needs, I made return visits to the hub to collect bagged up clothes, located any lost birth and degree certificates and made enquiries about housing – these were the things that mattered most to them.
I also noticed that one of the family members had an underlying mental health issue which had been exacerbated by her recent trauma. I was able to address this directly with her and made contact with her psychiatric nurse who intervened the following day. Within a week she had stabilised again and gone back to work.
I continued to be guided by the family’s needs and concerns, balancing my existing workload with plans to view new flats and liaising with housing authorities and colleges on their behalf.
When I felt a task was urgent I would respond and see them the same day. I had to be clear though that my involvement with them was not open-ended – and in any case dependency on me would not have been to the long term benefit of this otherwise independent family.
This meant being flexible about contact times which included being available at weekends. I did this to address their anxieties and build trust, but also to set timeframes for the work I would be undertaking with them. I made one last Saturday visit to the family in their brand-new flat where they were to become permanent tenants. I was so pleased for them as I’d worked hard to make this happen.
Looking back, I feel the experience was another vindication of our strengths based, person centred approach as social workers. I hope it also demonstrates that we’re pretty good people to have around in a crisis.
Our empathic abilities, coupled with our practical and professional skills, mean we can keep a level head and guide decision making in situations where emotions run high, chaos is king and a way through is not always apparent. We give people the space and time to grieve, recover and process the trauma they have experienced – and then we work with them to rebuild and live the best lives they can.
Out of the blue my senior manager received a really complementary email about me from the daughter in my family who had taken the trouble to write:
I wanted to write to you, because quite frankly, we could not have possibly asked for a more helpful, efficient and motivated person to help us navigate through such a difficult situation.
Liz is incredibly effective at what she does and she has been eager to help with whatever she can. Furthermore, she has treated us with more warmth and kindness than we could have hoped from someone who did not even know us and was not from the Kensington and Chelsea borough.
She showed such compassion and professional competence that I asked her if I could write to you because, without her, we would have encountered many more difficulties in securing housing and the situation would have been much, much more stressful for my mother and me.
We consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to have been able to count on someone like Liz, who was always there to help, even outside her working hours.
I’m sure this letter doesn’t come as a surprise as you probably know Liz much better than I do, but both my mother and I wanted to show our appreciation for her excellent work and dedication.
So, would I do it all over again? Most certainly. That’s why I became a social worker!
Grenfell Response Team - dedicated council website with links to support for people affected by the tragedy
About Liz Hughes
Liz Hughes qualified as a social worker almost 21 years ago. She has taken on multiple roles and settings including hospitals and community social work, learning disabilities and working with older people. Liz has worked at management level for the past ten years and recently took on a huge challenge to become Head of Service for Prevention & Care Management in a London borough.