Karen Johnston has had an incredible and vibrant career as a Social Worker with a focus on changing Female Lives. She now offers 1 to 1 coaching & organises yoga and self-care retreats for groups of women including mothers of autistic children, young female cancer survivors & women in recovery from addiction. She was kind enough to provide us an insight into life as a Social Worker…
Social Workers only make the headlines when tragedy strikes. Recruitment into Social Work is also at an all time low since tuition fees increased and the government scrapped the NHS Bursary for all those seeking to qualify.
But, if you want a true vocation and seek to make a real difference in the world, maybe take a second look at this misunderstood profession.
I am a qualified social worker and I have loved EVERY minute of my working life.
If inequality bothers you, I encourage you to ask yourself this question:“What vision do you hold for the world”?
I wanted to see a world where women who were trapped in the UK sex industry, could find a way out. WHY? Because I had my own experience with addiction & I knew and love women who had sold sex to fund theirs.
These women were brave, beautiful and deserving of love, support & kindness. So, I decided that I would qualify as a Social Worker, so that I could specialise in Substance Misuse and help these women.
My highlights have been that I:
- Have had the privilege of being able to go out at night, into red-light districts across 4 different counties and offer support and care to street-based sex workers. I still do Outreach today and think I always will.
- Have appeared on The Secret Millionaire (Channel 4) and educated Dr Dawn Cox MBE, Business Woman of the Year (2004 Veuve Clicquot). I took her out into Bristol’s red-light district. She was horrified and quite scared at first but after spending time talking and really listening to the women, she began to understand how they had ended up in such a dark situation. She gave me a cheque for £25,000 and I felt deeply moved by her shift in perception and thinking.
- Jumped out of a plane (with a parachute), despite being terrified of heights and trained and ran a half marathon (despite being hugely unfit at the time) and raised £5500 for the women I worked with, to enable them to go to college and become educated. When you have a real purpose, money flows easily and effortlessly.
- Project Managed and secured £800,000 worth of funding to provide salaries and support to 2 new Outreach Teams across the South West of England. This funding enabled qualified staff to work with the women, always with the focus on getting them off the streets and into mainstream society.
- Most incredibly, got to witness the profound transformation of women’s lives.
‘Katie* had just jumped out of a speeding car, fearing for her life when I met her in hospital. She had landed on her face and was unrecognisable and traumatised. The male who had picked her up, had told her that he was going to take her somewhere and hold her hostage. She believed him. She had been sexually abused as a child and a victim of domestic violence in adulthood. Her survival instinct took over that day. She wasn’t going to let another man hurt her.
I asked her if she wanted to escape this life for good and I held her hand while she sobbed. This AMAZING woman has now been living a very different life for the last 7 years. She has a job, working with vulnerable teenagers and is an advocate for raising awareness of knife crime amongst teens. She is inspiring and kind and beyond courageous and an asset to the organisation she works for. Being part of her journey has changed my life’.
‘Katie’ is one of many women who I have met over the years. I have met women in prisons, hospitals, homeless shelters and out on the streets. Each of these women, when treated with love and respect, have always responded with the same.
It doesn’t feel like WORK!
One last AMAZING by-product of Social Work: It doesn’t feel like WORK!
As I embark on the next stage of my journey, offering Coaching to Women, I am constantly reminded that IF my versions of ‘ambition’ and ‘success’ align with my passion, ‘work’ feels joyful.
Thought-Leader (according to Oprah Winfrey), B-School Founder and owner of a Forbes Top 100 website for entrepreneurs, Marie Forleo says that:
“Our vocation in life comes from where our greatest joy, meets the worlds greatest need”.
Social Work undoubtedly provides this. I feel grateful that I overlooked the headlines and dived into Social Work. My life has been transformed by the choice I made to follow my heart.