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The school social worker: 'The small things sometimes make the biggest difference with hard-to-reach students'

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Like most girls her age, Ella loved the film Frozen. And like those other girls, she seemed to know every detail of the plot and could sing the theme song almost flawlessly. She did the latter, smiling broadly, in her headteacher’s office one day, as the head and I looked on.

Frozen dominated her conversations. She was new to the school and we had been working with her only a week or so. So we asked her what her favourite bit of the film was. Her reply upsets me even now. “I don’t know,” she replied. “I've never seen it. It's still my favourite, though, because if I ever did watch it, I know I would love it.”

Ella had been excluded from her previous school because of her violent behaviour: she would regularly have aggressive outbursts and attack staff.

She arrived with us as a nervy student, dishevelled in appearance. She didn't look as if anyone was looking after her. It later emerged that she came from a family living in extreme poverty and that her parents were struggling with a range of issues.

As Ella left the room, the headteacher turned to me with tears in her eyes. We wanted to do something for her; we wanted to show that we cared.

So I went out and bought the film and the headteacher arranged for Ella to have some extra Golden Time. We sat her in front of the television and we looked on as she finally watched the film she had already fallen in love with. The headteacher and I both cried as we witnessed the sheer joy and delight in Ella’s face.

On her birthday, I applied to a charity and got Ella an Elsa doll. She had no idea it was from us and this is exactly how we would want it to remain. I now get to hear her tales of her adventures with Elsa on a weekly basis and have been told by her that the doll is the first thing that really belongs to her and she loves her more than anything.

Social work in schools can be heartbreaking for many reasons. We deal with some truly awful situations. We can often try and find the big fixes and the grand solutions. But Ella’s story highlights how sometimes something small can have such a massive impact upon a young person and their life. It hasn’t solved the problems she is forced to encounter daily, but it has helped her to settle in the school and trust us, and that is a firm base from which we can build.

All names and some details of the story have been changed to protect the identities of those involved. This is the fourth blog by the school social worker; the other blogs can be found in the related links below. 

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