A day with a social worker from Haute-Vienne: “Our job is to empower people”

It is Ariadne’s thread of the needy, of the invisible, of those whose flame falters. The metaphor appeared obvious, from the start of the day. Perhaps in her way of guiding citizens who come to see her, through the administration’s labyrinths, acronyms, procedures. “You have to listen to them,” she said. It is important to listen. And also to hear them. »To brood over his interlocutors with a benevolent look that turns into an angry adult when a piece of paper is missing. Or to restart them when the link is played, at the end of the line. Dive into the front line in the fight against the social crisis after covid.

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Sophie Noilhac is the social worker for the department in the Oradour-sur-Vayres and Cussac sector. Lively, attentive, but also organized and firm. “You have to know how to say no,” she says. For one day, from 8.30am to 5.30pm, she agreed that Le Populaire would follow her. First meeting at 10, Cussac City Hall: a man hosting his Turkish brother-in-law contacted Sophie to have his rights restored and find a home for him. The young man knows the social worker “well”. “She helps me a lot,” he explains. Without her…”

“What is the home for my brother-in-law, he asks? An apartment or a pavilion?
– As long as he only has RSA, the official replies, then it is better that he only has a small apartment. There is collective heating. It’s cheaper. »

But it will not be right now, the applicant has forgotten some documents for his case. The duo leave with the list on the back of Sophie’s business card. “It is important to stay connected,” she explains. It is also to be a social worker. You have to be patient. People are grateful. But sometimes they also wonder why we bother them. »

“The danger will blow”

That is precisely the case for today’s second meeting. Sophie works with a family under child care. And the mother, who faces him in a small living room filled with overly massive furniture, is “angry.” She has a long time to say it, but her trembling body and her gaze filled with tears of anger speak for her.

“I do not want you to place my children,” blames the mother of two girls, a high school student and a four-year-old child.
– But that is out of the question, Sophie answers. If you had called back, I would have told you. »

In numbers

€ 279.2 million
The department’s expenditure on social benefits. RSA represents € 75.2 million for 21,911 households; the Housing Solidarity Fund, 1.4 million euros to 2,902 households and the personal autonomy benefit (APA), 44.6 million euros to 8,078 beneficiaries.

€ 25.8 million
The salary of the department’s social workers. It includes 101 social workers, 34 autonomy counselors, but also educators or counselors in social and family economics.

The connection with the family from the social worker and her colleague, a social and family intervention technician (TISF), is crucial. The mother is manipulated by her teenager and cannot manage to detach herself from the youngest. “We know there is no abuse,” Sophie Noilhac reassures. But on the other hand, you need support. And a little “confidence”. “We’ll help you,” Sophie promises.

The assistant recommends an educator for the girls and parental support for the mother. “It’s the danger that has to blow,” says the latter. In the lunch break that follows, around a ham croissant and a black coffee that is quickly swallowed, Sophie admits: These family issues are among “the most difficult to deal with”, “especially in cases where one has to place the children,” she adds. She describes experienced scenes, with parents’ cries, threats and the need to “protect the child”, “to prepare his suitcase”. “It’s always better when you take the time to explain people in advance,” she says.

“I could not see myself doing anything else”

“Explanatory”, she spends a lot of time on it, especially when it comes to a deal with the RSA. “Humor”, “listening” and “pedagogy” are these tools. Sophie follows “about fifty recipients” whose obligation is to meet her to “evaluate their situation”: “Family, profession, education, health problem or other difficulties, we try to go through all aspects, the official describes. It can take 3/4 time. »

But the two appointments scheduled for the afternoon are not there. The second apologized, not the first. “But we do not punish in a brutal way,” she explains. I will contact her again. “That’s the problem with RSA,” she continues. People can quickly change their situation. “We’re launching it on RSA scams (130 files, or 1.3% of recipients in Haute-Vienne) and the term ‘assistantship’: ‘Yes, there are some who cheat, but it’s a minority. You do not need to know anything about it to use this word: on the contrary, our job is to empower people. And the majority really want it. »

“a valve”

To help them as much as possible, Sophie relies on the “last network” within the administrations, but also at home in the department of Saint-Junien, on which she relies. This is where she can confide when the load gets too heavy. It happened before the February holidays, when the replacement of two colleagues complicated his daily life. “At some point, you need a valve,” she admits.

That day, the absence of the afternoon gave him time to perform some administrative tasks and respond to a mother who was worried about her son. “If anti-anxiety drugs do not work, he should see a doctor again,” she recommends. Then it’s already the last meeting of the day: a pensioner, housed in a bright studio in Cussac residential housing. For an hour, Sophie, sitting at the table in Formica, will take the time to specify her bills and open her letters from the Debt Commission.

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“He’s done repaying his debt,” she explains. When I first met him, he was living in his trailer and I had to sort through several piles of papers. He’s on the verge of a protective measure, but it should be fine to follow him. And the old gentleman nodded a grateful “thank you” for each remark. In his eyes, this help is a beacon of hope. “When I help people, I could not see myself doing anything else,” Sophie concludes.

Gulsen Yildirim: “The question of attraction is very important”

Deputy Chairman of the County Council, Gulsen Yildirim, outlines the new challenges of social policy.

Several demonstrations in recent months have brought together social and medico-social workers. What can you do for them?
First, there is the issue of compensation. But it is not us who can answer that. But it’s not just that. It is a profession that has become different. It needs to be developed, perhaps increase the number of social workers. But one must also realize that in the educational schools the number of graduates is declining. And often it is no longer the students’ first or second choice. While this job should be a calling. The issue of attractiveness is very important.

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You talk about developing these professions. How? “Or what?

It can be through an organization, a different way of working. But when we hire digital counselors or autonomy referees, it is also another way of doing things that relieves the social workers.

How do you see the uncertainty rising?

The situation is paradoxical: we have an increasing precariousness, but it does not immediately affect the aid we distribute. This is especially true for young people: they sometimes go to see charities before coming to the social worker. It’s more immediate as an aid: You immediately leave with your package when you have to wait to put together a file to access help.

Has the work of social workers changed?

The forms of precariousness have changed: the fragility of the family, the phenomenon of the working poor has consequences for the work of social workers. The issue of family separation is also very sensitive. Dematerialization is also a real issue, which explains a significant part of the lack of use of rights.

Can we still carry a message of solidarity as the termination of the assistantship becomes more and more frequent?

It’s getting harder and harder, but you have to do it. This word about assistantship assumes that the precarious do not have the will to get out of it. When we know these people, we know it’s fake. But I was talking about the working poor: there can also be a sense of injustice when one is just above the ceilings and is excluded from aid. But we must not oppose poverty.

Sebastien Dubois

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