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Social Work and the Ambiguity of Hope

a blog in parts

Love and Hope Part 1 by @briantheroomie

Just what makes that little old ant
Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can’t
Move a rubber tree plant
But he’s got high hopes
He’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie
In the sky hopes
(Van Heusen, Khan 1959)

When Sinatra sang these lines I doubt he had social work in mind. He did however understand the importance of desire and how fundamental ‘projecting forward’ with a degree of confidence is. That frisson of excitement regarding a valued future. The dreams, wants and aspirations so unique to each and everyone of us that drive us.

Hope one could argue isn’t just a state of mind. Surely it is founded on a belief in change. Change for the better. The word itself seems wrapped in positivity, though that is possibly my naive take on a very small word that can drive the most gargantuan of ambitions.

It can equally capture the very essence of who we are. Whilst some dream big for others hope can be a minor infraction into a chaotic world that offers light and respite.

Ann Frank in 1942 offered “where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again”. Those words are not offered through the prism of idealism. They are hard to read and even harder to understand in the context of their delivery.

In 2013 and only year after being shot in the head Malala Yousafzai stated “hope is stronger than ever’ I am not too sure they would have been my words but what this proves is that for many, hope is a faith in the intrinsic good in people and the world.

In that sense ‘I’m a believer’ (Diamond 1966) when Micky Dolenz sings that refrain then I am in. Take me with you Mr D please, as sometimes hope is all we have. It is often all we need.

Love and Hope Part 2 – by @RobMitch92

There always seems to be something I feel terrible about. Or guilty about. Or disappointed with myself in. But that’s the long and short of it. It doesn’t hold me back. It’s just there. I suspect that feeling is there for most of us. And I shouldn’t worry about it really. As a friend once said to me, ‘you’re a lapsed Catholic from a working class background who has chosen social work – of course you feel bad!’ But there’s always hope. So heres some good old fashioned sells-loathing tinged with hope.

A while ago we helped with a survey so that people with learning disabilities who received support could tell us what they want from life. It’s pretty shameful that we had got to the point that the survey was needed. If we had understood social work and people better we probably wouldn’t have needed to do this. But anyway the survey sessions were just great and everyone seemed to enjoy them.

I wasn’t shocked with the first three outcomes that emerged from the survey. These were a home, a job and a relationship. These are often central to any well-being survey. But I was shocked by the fourth big outcome and I burn up when I think of the arrogance of being shocked and surprised by it. The fourth big outcome was big ideas, dreams, daydreams, lofty thoughts… hope. I remember feeling shocked that I was shocked that people with learning disabilities had hope for things to be better and even then it took me a while to understand.

We knew that hope was a thing. If you ever get chance read Neil Crowther on hope – he totally gets it. He cites the 1970s Prime Minister of New Zealand Norman Kirk who said “people do not want much. They want someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for”. But on the first occasion we saw all the results in from the survey I still couldn’t see it. I saw a home (not residential), a job (a real one, not where you have to pay for the privilege of going to work – that’s serfdom), love (and all the other bits between) but even when it stared me in the face I didn’t see the clamour for hope.

It was a colleague who had brilliantly facilitated the survey sessions that helped. She was drawn to the ideas on the survey that to me looked outlandish or bizarre. These things were things like being a rock star, a footballer for Bradford and mountaineer. During the survey sessions these things had brought on much laughter and comments and I didn’t really pay much attention to them because I was looking for what I knew and what I thought my job was to help sort out with people – a home, a job, a relationship. But my colleague wouldn’t let the big stuff go. She kept coming back to it, ‘do you see it?’ I’d nod at first but in truth I didn’t see it. She explained that the most meaningful comments were the big comments because these were about hope. Norman Kirk was right. Whether it was fanciful appearances on Top of the Tops or leading out England at Wembley, they were the important bits because they are the hope that things get better, life will get better or be improved on or made better for others. No one can do any of it without hope. And with support and help and love we aspire and we achieve based on our hope for better. It clicked. This isn’t a Care Act assessment. This isn’t a safeguarding process. This isn’t much of a theory. It’s just people. Me, you, us.

I had simply not credited hope to people with learning disabilities. I got that people wanted homes and jobs and relationships but not the desire and ambition for them. Until then hope was exclusively in my world and as much as I thought I was understanding, doing the right thing, rights-based, I misunderstood people. If hope was for my family, my colleagues and my friends, through hoping for success via good health, good jobs, good pay rises, I needed to understand that my hope is legitimised and made real. I had a flicker of recognition of what Kirk saw – that actually wanting a job or a house or a relationship could only be possible through the power of hope being enabled. Hope can only happen if we nurture the Top of the Tops and football dreams because it legitimises hope as a right.

If hope is a light, any light that covers any dream of anything better, then we must do everything we can to protect it and shelter it from the elements.

If we have one aim as social workers it must be that we support & legitimise hope.

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