Drawing of a tree to represent “When The Roots Are Deep”.
  • by Siobhan Maclean
  • 19th Apr 2018

“When The Roots Are Deep”

This image is taken from a workshop I facilitated at the University of Worcester. We explored how we can develop and further strengthen our professional identity as social workers.

There were 100 people present - around 50 students and 50 practitioners. Some of the students were just 4 days into their training whilst some of the practitioners were 40 years into their social work careers. In total there was 657 years worth of experience in the room, so we had much to learn from each other.

As one of the activities, we explored how we might develop a logo for social work. Several participants suggested that a tree could be used as the basis, because:

  • Ideas or practice in social work can start as a seedling or an acorn from which great things can grow
  • Social work (like trees) can offer shelter and shade
  • The branches of social work can stretch widely across a range of disciplines and organisations
  • Social work is a profession of change, just as trees change through the seasons as they grow and develop
  • Trees can reflect diversity in social work and the way that social work celebrates diversity in society
  • Tress are the “lungs” of the earth - essential to our very existence, just as social work is essential to society
  • Trees are a vital part of our ecosystem and social work is based on an ecological approach
  • The work that we do (just as the roots of a tree) may be hidden from view and the complexity of what we might do to support an individual, a family and society may not always be recognised

We had a fascinating discussion about trees and social work, exploring both roots and branches, routes into the profession and longevity of service. The vibrancy of the discussion was captured in this doodle drawn by a practitioner participating in the day.

Our discussions reminded me of the African proverb “when the roots are deep there is no reason to fear the wind.”

We discussed the challenges that social work is facing, and that “the winds of change” could be battering and damaging our trees. If we understand our routes into social work (why we do it) and we make sure that our values and ethics provide us with deep roots in the profession then maybe we don’t need to fear the wind?

This all sounds great, but I remembered an environmental project in the Arizona desert where a large system of biodomes was developed. As the scientists sought to replicate our intricate eco-system in the biodomes one thing baffled them. The trees they planted only grew to a certain height and then they stopped - sometimes they toppled over. The scientists involved spent hours theorising on what could be happening. What was going wrong? The trees had warmth and light, water and food. Then they realised what they hadn’t reproduced in the biodomes was wind. Without wind the trees’ root systems were failing to fully develop. So, trees need deep roots but they also need the wind - there is an inter-relationship between the two (just as there are so many inter-relationships in social work).

Change and challenge can be difficult for us as professionals but the challenges are important to help us to deepen our roots as practitioners. As the winds of change and the challenges we face help us to deepen our roots, there is no reason for us to fear the wind.