Resilience and self-belief are the two key qualities that have helped Jessica Barker change career from care manager to social worker at Walsall Council. Her new role came about after she completed an Access to Social Work course at Walsall College, followed by a BSc in Social Work at Birmingham City University, for which she gained a First.
While the resilience has always been with her, this hasn’t always been the case with the self-belief.
“I’d worked in social care for 10 years, working with adults with learning disabilities,” said Jessica. “I’d never imagined I’d ever get to study a degree, especially as I’d left school without my GCSEs. Receiving my course acceptance letter from the college was a big deal for me.”
It was the praise of a social worker that first put Jessica on her journey to new heights.
“Health workers sometimes join social workers at meetings about their clients,” said Jessica. “I was at one of these meetings when a social worker told me I should give social work a go as I’d be good at it.
“I took the advice, although I was far from convinced I could do it. I remember coming to the college to do my initial assessment for the Access course and thinking ‘what am I doing here?’. I had so much self-doubt.”
Fortunately, Jessica began making use of that resilience. She also appreciated the support of college tutors who she says were with her from the moment she arrived for her assessment.
“Having them there to welcome me and reassure me through the whole process really helped.”
Once she began her studies, Jessica proved she had what it took to achieve her qualifications, combining her Access course studies with Level 2 maths and GCSE English (at Grade A). She was also doing three part-time jobs.
“I relied on lots of coffee,” she said.
Jessica found she benefited from her study route, with her Access course providing what she describes as a ‘good base line’ for understanding the role of a social care professional.
“There are lots of things you cover that give you a head start for when you join an undergraduate course,” Jessica explained. “We covered a range of things at college. My tutors who were amazing would always encourage us to aim high in everything we did. This approach made my first year at university an easy transition to make.”
After graduating from university, Jessica joined Walsall Council through an assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) programme that gives newly qualified social workers extra support during their first year of employment. Having worked there for two years now, she remains as committed as ever about being a force for change.
“I’ve always been passionate about communities being able to thrive as opposed to accepting the negative labels and stereotypes that come their way,” Jessica continued. “Inspiring and empowering people is important to me. I chose this career to help people realise their potential and find ways to change their life – just as I did.
Jessica continued: “There are ways I can go further in my career or take a different direction, such as going into teaching. That might involve me studying a masters qualification. There’s no way I’d ever have considered this 10 years ago. It’s about being brave enough to discover what’s out there.
“My Access course has opened doors for me personally too. My new job meant that my husband and I could buy a house. I can also treat my daughter to things in a way I couldn’t do before.
Jessica added: “My message to others, especially to young mums is that’s it’s important to always believe in yourself. Your destiny is not pre-determined. If you’ve got the belief and make use of the right support system, then you can achieve anything you set out to.”