This part of the toolkit discusses the importance of finding the right balance in your work between sources of stress and sources of energy. It also gives tips on how to do so.
In general, it is important that a job offers a good balance between investment (time, effort, expertise) and revenue (salary, meaningfulness/usefulness, pleasure, wisdom). Work is stressful but also challenging. It might be dull at times, but it also provides personal development. You probably chose social work for a good reason. It might do you good to reflect on that again: are the things you once considered important still a large enough part of your work, and are you getting sufficient satisfaction from it?
If you start to feel that as a guardian or social worker you are on your own, make sure you get in touch with a colleague as soon as possible. Sharing information with colleagues is important to ensure continuity in the child’s guidance, and to ensure that certain tasks are carried out effectively. It also means that your work can easily be transferred to someone else, if necessary.
Opportunities should always be created within your team to discuss the issues you encounter. Schedule regular moments of intervision and supervision. Make sure that colleagues talk about their work, for example by conducting a short “how are you?” round at team meetings. It is important to ensure there is time for everything that colleagues bring up – practical as well as emotional issues – but sharing things like this should not be mandatory. Speaking extensively about your emotions when you feel uncomfortable doing so is not helpful at all. If you notice that a colleague is having a hard time, try to support them. You can do that by offering to do some tasks for them. People sometimes have difficulty letting go, while what they actually want is for some of their work to be done by someone else. What can help in that case is being more direct, suggesting exactly how and when you could do something for them.
If there is not the right balance in your work between sources of stress and sources of energy, it could affect your behaviour. Symptoms of feeling stressed could be:
In your personal life:
- Difficulty concentrating or forgetfulness
- Sleeping problems
- Worrying a lot
- Spending less time on social activities
- Often being tired and low in energy
In your professional life:
- Having difficulty indicating boundaries
- Becoming cynical or unfeeling
- Work taking more time and effort than before
- Being overcritical of yourself and others
- Finding it difficult to ask for help and support
If you are experiencing symptoms like these, you might want to consider the advice at the beginning of this section. And if the symptoms keep recurring, you might want to look for help1.
Finally, if you act on behalf of an organisation, talk to your manager and your team regularly about how you are coping privately and professionally. Always make sure you know who you can go to for suggestions or help.
Training & Tools
The SPARK tool is a self-reflective evaluation tool for practitioners working in child protection, supporting them as they develop a tailored self-care plan. While this tool was designed for practitioners and child welfare and protection services, it can also be used in other sectors. You can find the SPARK tool here.
Greece: preventing overburdening
The members of the Guardianship Network of METAdrasi do the following to prevent overburdening:
- Each member is authorised to safeguard the individual, social and legal rights of a maximum of 10-11 children.
- The project manager has systematic personal and group meetings with the members of the Guardianship Network.
- There is a system for individual and group supervision of guardians by the network’s psychologists.
- Each member of the network is supported by another member who acts as their ‘counterpart’.
- Group meetings with the project manager
- Time management
- Physical exercise
- Stress management
Germany: working group meetings
There are different types of guardians in Southern Lower Saxony where Jugendhilfe Süd- Niedersachsen is responsible for guardianship. JSN is a guardianship institution with its own guardians, but municipalities also have a number of guardians. To connect these guardians and enable them to learn from each other and help each other, there is a working group for guardians of unaccompanied children. During the working group meetings, the guardians create templates (methods) for their daily work while sharing information and knowledge.
Guardians within JSN work in a team with other guardians so that they can support each other. Team meetings and case consultations are organised, and child protection assessments are carried out if necessary. JSN guardians also take part in workshops and education organised at a national level. Besides intervision, guardians at JSN are supervised by an external professional. The supervisor’s job is to talk about the issues at case level, discuss personal or team problems, and help the guardian find solutions.
The Netherlands: support for guardians
Nidos provides training, supervision and intervision for guardians. A guardian can also ask for difficult individual cases to be discussed in their own ‘small’ team, and can consult a Nidos helpdesk for legal and psychological support for a child.