Eugene Ogbewele – A Career in Social work

Eugene Ogbewele, discusses with National Black history Month his thoughts and experiences of diversity, what diversity looks like, and being a black man in social work.

Before joining Frontline as a Practice Tutor, Eugene spent the majority of his professional career in working in the statutory setting as an assistant social worker, child protection social worker and consultant practitioner. Outside of statutory child protection social work, he has worked as a trainer in systemic practice, been a fostering panel member and an assessing social worker for prospective foster carers.

Why did you come into social work?

My first job was working as a ‘play assistant’ in play schemes with an inner London borough. My mum worked with the council and was able help me get this summer job. I did this for 5 years, in the school holidays, whilst studying. It was a fun job and I realised I enjoyed working with children.

When I finished university I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do career wise. My undergraduate degree was quite varied, and I was considering going into law but I felt that would be boring for me! I wanted to work more directly with children and the role of a social worker came up when I was watching a TV programme. The new character in the show was a social worker and it was like those “lightbulb” moments that you see in films! I knew from that moment that I wanted to be a social worker. Trying to help children and their families has been something I am very passionate about. It can sometimes be difficult to comprehend a society where there is such inequality across the board. A lot of the children and families are in deprived and unfortunate situations not solely as a result of their actions but more as a result of the structures around them. My journey into social work was to make any sort of contribution to helping.

What did you want your impact on social work to be?

This is an interesting question and I think the answer to this question has changed over the years as I continue to experience social work. If I think back, I wanted children and families to feel respected, understood and in a better position as a family following my work with them. As I have progressed in my career and worked in different roles, I believe now I wish to impact on the wider profession and help future generations of social workers practice with respect, empathy, reflexivity and in a collaborative, relational manner. This is what brought me to my current role as a Practice Tutor with Frontline and it has also led me to co-creating a podcast with friends discussing social issues. It’s called ‘The Social Matters Podcast.’ You can find us on Instagram and twitter if you’re interested!

What does it mean to be diverse?

This is the first time I think I have ever been asked this question and is probably a reflection on the need for more conversations on diversity! As a black man growing up in London, race has always been an aspect of diversity that has been very relevant to me and my experiences. This, I believe, has heavily influenced an element of what it means, to me, to be diverse within some settings and establishments where I see less people who look like me.

Being diverse means having a degree of variety that makes me who I am. Some of these will be visible and talked about whilst others may be invisible and not spoken about. I would make comparisons between being diverse and a recipe for a meal. When you look at the final meal there may be some ingredients that a very apparent and visible on the plate. However, if you were to look at the recipe, you may see a variety of different ingredients; some you recognise and others you would never have thought of. Alongside the ingredients in the recipe, there is also a method to create the final meal. Being diverse is a lot like that. I have a set of ingredients but I also have a method that is unique to me. The only way anyone can understand it is by asking me and getting to know my experiences.

Over the years I have become familiar with an acronym developed by John Burnham (2012) called the “Social GGRRAAACCEEESSS.” Each letter represents an element of someone that makes up who they are. Gender, Geography, Race, Religion, Age, (Dis)Ability, Appearance, Class, Culture, Ethnicity, Employment, Education, Spirituality, Sexuality, Sexual Orientation. This acronym has been helpful for me to become more curious about contributes to making someone who they are.

Why is diversity important?

Diversity is important because we are all different and varied in our respective way. This difference makes humanity so rich in knowledge and experience. Whether it be in the workplace, friendship groups, relationships, communities, educational establishments etc., diversity is important as a diverse group enriches the people within that group. It also allows people to have a better understanding of what brings us together as a species. However, what we see and what we hear in regard to diversity is not enough in isolation. The importance of diversity does not sit solely in the present but is connected with history and what has come before. It traverses barriers between individuals, groups and structures. It is as prominent in its visibility as it is in its invisibility so has to be something that is in the forefront of one’s mind.

Why is diversity important in social work and Frontline?

I think the answer to this question is generally the same with both social work and with Frontline. We work with diverse communities and we should always aim to having a workforce that reflects that. This is the same with social work and with Frontline because Frontline operates within a social work context. I also believe that there is a moral obligation for everyone to ensure that there is diversity in their field. Working in the different roles I have done in social work, I often find myself scanning the room at meetings or looking at my peers and noticing that with regard to Race and Gender I am often a minority. I notice it and what to contribute to balancing this out and occasionally wonder whether others in the room are thinking the same thing. However, very rarely is something said by anyone in such moments. I hold my hands up and admit that I have not always done enough to introduce difference into that respective context.

My hope is that we reach a point where the majority of people of all Races, Genders, Sexual orientation, Age, Ability feel a moral obligation to point at the ‘elephant in the room’ and start off conversations about diversity/lack of diversity in all context in society and act on these conversations. This is something that has developed and continues to develop in both social work and here at Frontline.

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