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Lucie Snowden's Journey to Making a Difference as a Young Social Worker in Portadown

“Being able to positively affect someone’s life is the most important part. If you want to help people, then go for it”


Lucie Snowden may just be 22-years old, but she’s already making a difference to so many lives in her dream career as a social worker. Qualifying as a social worker seven months ago, Lucie currently works in Portadown Health Centre. She is completing her Assessed Year in Employment – mandatory for all practising social workers once they graduate.


Being a social worker wasn’t always what Lucie thought about. She knew she had a passion for helping people, but never really thought about what that could entail for a career.


It wasn’t until she experienced social workers in her personal life she began thinking it could be an option for her.


The Banbridge woman explained: “When I was growing up, I was very close to my granny. She was diagnosed with COPD and as she declined, she moved into a supporting housing fold. I would go and stay with her, I loved the atmosphere and I would take part in all sorts of events with her.


“She eventually moved into a hospice and I still made sure to visit her. I would sleep with her in a cot and we would watch DVDs together. When she passed away, I was a teenager. Having seen the work social workers did at the hospice, I was immediately tempted by social work, but my teachers said I wouldn’t be successful. They told me I was too young and wouldn’t pass the interview.”


Lucie took what her teachers told her and used it to make her even more determined to get onto the course. She did pass her interview and gained a place to study social work at Queen’s University.


During her degree course she completed placements that gave her experience with both older people’s and children’s services.


Speaking about what field of social work she wanted to pursue, Lucie explained she always had a focus on working with older people.


She said: “I had seen first-hand how vulnerable elderly people can be and how they need support for their needs and someone to advocate for them. I always wanted to work with elderly people more than anything.


“While it was always set in stone where I wanted to end up, I did want a career where I could help people.


“I wanted to enjoy my job and to feel a sense of reward and personal gratification.”


Even though Lucie got on to the degree course on her first try, she believes her true eye-opener was after university, as she wasn’t fully prepared for what to expect.


She explained: “I don’t think I realised what was actually going on in health and social care. Even through university, you don’t get to see the whole picture of the struggles for social workers such as the lack of resources. There’s so much more to it.


“It’s definitely been hard but my journey has made me much more resilient. I’ve changed a lot since applying. I find myself much more empathetic to people on a daily basis now. My eyes are now open to the struggles people could be living with.


Speaking about the course itself, Lucie said: “University was tough. I think because it’s not like some other courses where you can skip classes, your attendance is monitored so you have to be there. If you missed a class, you genuinely would be behind.”


The realities of the job will always hit, and for Lucie, she remembers the exact case that made her realise the skill required for her job.


While she was working with a service user who was struggling with addictions, she became frustrated that the person didn’t seem to want the help she was offering.


She said: “I had no experience with that. I wanted them to know I was trying to help. We have to go way deeper than just throwing things at people to try to help. We have to try to understand why they are doing what they are doing first, what has happened in their lives, then we can try to help them properly.


“It took something bad to happen for us to support this particular service user to make changes and be in a good place. That’s what is tough, sometimes people will hit rock bottom before they are in a place to accept the help on offer.”


Lucie explained experiencing cases which are difficult, especially early on in your career can then stick with social workers and she believes it’s important to find a way to cope with what you’re dealing with daily.


She said: “At that time, I never actually stepped back and processed what I had experienced, and it did catch up with me. I now know it’s really important to sit and think about the journey as a whole, from where you started to where you are now and to use the professional supports available like your team and manager. That will bring you such a sense of achievement.”


The main piece of advice Lucie would give future social workers is to be prepared that anything can come your way.


“Anything can happen and anything can change, but don’t lose your purpose. Don’t lose the passion you have for it” she said.

“If you have a genuine passion for wanting to help and make a difference, then go for it. When you have those cases where you can see you have evidently made a positive impact, it makes it all worth it.”


The struggles Lucie faces at her work are mainly due to the lack of resources available along with respite care.


She said: “It can be hard because there is such a lack of beds. Sometimes you can’t get a bed for someone and you have to explain to their families they need to have a plan B. It’s not always guaranteed.


“I never expected there to be such a huge lack of resources. I always assumed once we made our assessments, the services would be implemented straightaway, but that’s not always the case.


“It does sometimes make you feel helpless. If you have identified a way to help someone, but then hear it’s going to take a few months before they can get the service they need, it does take a toll, because they really need the help.”


Lucie believes one of the most important things to do for your mental wellbeing is to relax whenever you can.


From watching TV with her dogs, working out in the gym and having those moments with friends away from the work, Lucie said keeping your work in your car is the best way to emotionally separate yourself from everything you experience.


She also stressed having confidence in asking questions is an extremely important part of the job, especially when you’re in the early stages of your career, like she is.


She explained: “I definitely still have those moments where I get anxious about things, but I have such a good team around me and everyone is so understanding. I would rather ask the question, than not ask and get it completely wrong.


For anyone who is still wary and unsure if social work is the career for them, Lucie said if you like to make a difference, then you should definitely consider it.


“Being able to positively affect someone’s life is the most important part. If you want to help people, you really should consider it” she said.


“If you have a passion for something, you can do anything.”


For more information on how you can train to be a social worker in Northern Ireland go to https://niscc.info/degree-in-social-work  


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