Monthly Archives: February, 2011

Changing Times

Have you ever imagined a world where there is no need for Social Work within families or Children Social Workers.  For many families this will already be true, and for them it would be harder to imagine what Social Work is and why it takes place.  


David Cameron is an example of this, and this week announced his vision to end state monopoly on Public Services.  Cameron explains his rationale for this over his own experience of the care of his son; and his own  frustration over the Local Authority having control of the budget for this.  A feeling shared by most parents who have Children, that need extra support with a disability.   


Perhaps worryingly this explains the increasing erosion of front line services, that are so successful in engaging vulnerable families.  Agencies such as Home Start or Sure Start Children Centres.  Which often provide a life line to vulnerable, and young families who need simple and often basic support to improve their situation.  To be replaced with another vision of a Big Society where people will volunteer and support services and their own community’s. Something that has yet to be tested and tried in any large scale.


Being a Children’s Social Worker I do worry that through all of these changes that Child Protection is being forgotten despite being in the news for serious cases like Victoria Climbe (2003) that lead to the Laming enquiry and report.   Baby Peter, and from this the Munro investigation into Child Protection.  


I worry because we only just have the Munro interim report and her first report into Child Protection Part one from which, the key message was clearly early intervention and prevention is key for  preventing families to enter into the system and drifting within it.  What we have now seems to be a backward step being taken in an area, which is so key to the long term success for the child remaining within their family and achieve positive outcomes.  


Early intervention is not a new concept and the CAF (Common Assessment Framework (2006) was a way of creating an early assessment and a team around the child quickly.  To work with services to prevent families needing to come in to contact with Social Care.


I wonder whether Child Protection teams could be taken away from Council control and be part of a Profit making company or even a Non Profit making Charity such as the NSPCC who are the only other organisational body that can investigate Child Protection enquiry’s.  


I guess that if I had a vision it would be for Social Work teams working with Children and their families to begin their work earlier to prevent families breaking down.  It would be for Social Workers to support vulnerable groups such as looked after Children, Care Leavers, and Young Parents.  Supporting School’s with Challenging Behaviour and neglect.  Supporting parents with Substance misuse and helping families and parents develop their confidence to become part of the community that they live in.  But I guess that this is not really a big vision or even a new vision.  It is just a plea that all Social Workers are supported by everyone to reduce the stigma attached to having Social Care involved and promote the Job that we do initially to support family’s and then keep Children Safe!



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Birthday Plans

Have you ever wondered when you become an Adult and when your Childhood finishes.  Is there a date? a time? maybe a place.  I still struggle to work out whether I have succeed in growing up? But for the young people we work with that are in Care, this decision is made for them.  The choice made by law.  For many an age that is counted down from the day the Care Order is granted, and often for the wrong reasons.


This week I have supported one such Young Person as her 18th Birthday draws closer.  A likeable young woman who has been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder.  Who as a child was sexually abused by a family friend, and neglected by her parents.  And as she grew older, developed an attention seeking personality for the emergency services.  


This Young Person frequently self harms through cutting, and tying ligatures or taking an overdose.  All of which would always be done out of hours in order to be seen by the Police or Ambulance service.  A misunderstanding of the Care that they provided, and a care that she feels that she is not receiving and craves from her parents.


With such little time left to her 18th Birthday, and a lack of engagement with the local CAMH’s Service was not leaving a lot of options for this Young Person to receive help and address her concerns, preventing her to live safely.  The reason why this is important is that at 18 she will be in a twilight age to old for Child Services and to young for Adult Services.  


In order to make these last few months in care work, I asked for a multi professional meeting to be arranged with the Young Person to be involved.  The aim of the meeting was to encourage the Young Person to develop her own Pathway Plan.  A plan of how she will successfully Leave Care.  


In arranging this meeting it gave an opportunity for the Young Person to share with her parents her feelings, about what she has been doing.  A chance for them to hear the pain she suffers and why.  An opportunity for this to be done in a safe manner, to offer support to both parents and the young person.  The advantage being that the Professionals could then add the support that they could offer to the young person and her parents.  Similar to a Family Group Conference but with less family and friends.


The meeting was fraught, and there was a lot of anger and tension from both the young person and her parents.  However, I was proud of the Young Person and noticed the confidence that I had seen develop over the months; as she spoke in front of everyone.  I also acknowledged that she remained present through out the whole meeting often listening to difficult comments about herself.  When I reminded her of this I could see a smile on her face and her confidence grow as a result.


For many young people 18 will always be too soon to leave Care, especially when support is needed.  But the level of support required is not enough for Adult Mental Health Services.  And with a shaky agreement to try group work therapy to help address issues and coping mechanism.  There was a positive outcome to this meeting and there is still time to help prepare her for what might be available post 18.  More importantly rebuild and re establish relationships with her family, that the young person holds important to her.


I know for myself at 18 I had left home, and I was looking after myself.  However, this was my choice and I had my family.  Further more my mental health was good.  For this young person it may not be as easy but she has been given the choice, and an opportunity to take the help one last time before she turns 18.  So far it has been 5 days since she has last self harmed……… 

Fish Bowl working – the cracks begin!

Have you ever wondered what happens when cracks start to appear in the fish bowl you are working in.  Normally you may want to get out as quickly as you can and jump into a new bigger pond.  Well lying on your side gasping for air is not ideal working conditions.  So when the tidal wave of complaints finally reaches the dizzy heights of our senior managers and directors a decision is made to employ an outside company to investigate what has gone wrong.  For many working in the office the answer is easy! There is not enough space to start, let alone every one having the facilities to make it work.


So Monday the new project is kicked off by the director explaining the process in a calm manner.  Using all of his Social Work skills expressing Empathy and Sympathy and understanding at the working conditions we are all currently experiencing.  A future carer in politics is a definite direction to take after this speech.


To test this there was even a haggle from a student Social Worker.  When the floor was asked “Can you hear me?” the answer “No!” fell on a puzzled face as the humour was lost on the director, and the rest of the floor.  After a difficult silence the rest of the message was delivered.  


The message is clear however, we know its not good.  But if you want changes it will cost money and jobs and or services!  Sitting back in my chair I wondered if everyone really heard the subtle threat in the message.


I always feel proud to be a Social Worker and the involvement and influence that you can have in the job we do through staff working groups.  Feeling a little bit passionate about my working environment I sign up for this one.  So I was disappointed to hear that not everyone else had felt the same.  And I was almost lost for words when a colleague had spent five minutes voicing her concerns was offered an opportunity to take part, only to turn around and say ” I am busy!”


So in the week that Community Care and Unison start their own research into working conditions for Social Workers.  Our little fish bowl also does its own, with my own input Championing the working conditions for our team.  


I wait to find out what the recommendations will be and whether changes will be made.  But remain thoughtful as to what the impact this might have on my job and the young people that I work with.

A Nice Surprise

Have you ever wondered why you chose to work in  Social Work? the long hours, mountains of paperwork and constant criticism from Family’s, the Media, Managers and just about anyone else who can speak.  It’s also not often that you can see the effect of any change that you may have instigated.  And more often then not you see family’s come back to your attention.  The reality being that these family’s need our help and support beyond what is offered.


Despite this Social Work is still about working with people, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins and strangers.   Social Work is about bringing down barriers, and empowering the people we work with to engage with Society.  Developing with them a plan they know so that they will not need a high level of intervention.  Social Work is also about Safeguarding, and protecting the vulnerable and supporting them to remain within their family, or home.


As a Children’s Social Worker it is not about removing Children to place just for adoption just because we can.  Unlike what is printed in the Telegraph claiming that Social Workers are Child Snatchers and adoptions are forced.  I think it is important to remember that there is a Court process that is followed and that the Judges have to balance the basic principles of the Children Act 1989 and the Welfare of the Child.  Plus CAFCASS offer their own independent view.


Often our most challenging cases are our most rewarding.  And this week I bumped into a Foster Carer, who was caring for a baby boy I removed 18 months ago.  The mother was a drug user unable to break the cycle of her substance misuse.   A few months earlier I had removed her two year old daughter, and I can still remember her face as she sobbed realising she could not put her daughters needs before her own need for a hit.


Her family all offered support giving her false hope at the Child Protection conference, but in reality they offered her none.  Having spent hours trying to try arrange support within the family I felt frustrated when they walked away.  Seeing the rejection in the young mothers face and attitude to the safeguarding process.  I then discovered that the mother was pregnant again.  A one night stand with her drug dealer.   The baby boy was born three months early, and with withdrawal symptoms and required oxygen for the first three months after discharge from hospital.


I can still remember coming into work and answering the phone at 9am to hear the Foster Carer tell me what had happened during the evening.  The oxygen alarms had gone off, meaning the baby had stopped breathing and only had minutes to live.  A quick 999 call and basic first aid was the only thing keeping the baby boy alive.  Showing how serious this case was, and the level of risk involved returning the baby boy home.  


Despite this I wanted the Mum to be involved to maintain their relationship and attachment.  I called the Mum and made the arrangements for her to get to the hospital.  What touched me the most was remembering the Foster Carer telling me that, the young Mum had introduced her to the nurses as her own Mum.  Craving the care and emotional support herself that she asked the Foster Carer to support her with this.


I had worked hard for her daughter to return to her care, but the pressure from the dealers had her hooked back onto the drugs completely.  The lack of support from her family and the new baby made the escape she received from the drugs more attractive.  And the drug rehabilitation programme broke down completely and she disappeared from the area leaving her Daughter and Son behind.


So when I bumped into the Foster Carer this week, I was sad to hear that the Mum had refused contact since.  But pleased to see the baby was still alive and reaching its developmental milestones and going to meet his new family.  His older sister living with her Dad and half siblings.  


So although Social Work is hard and the rewards are small, it is important to remember that there is satisfaction at times.  When there is happy endings for the children we work with.




A tough meeting!

Have you ever had a meeting where you think lip service is just not enough for the young person.  Today, I sat in a strategy meeting and thought just that.  The young person is left in a strange new (better) foster placement leaving  behind the staff she has grown to know and trust.  Because her Mother rages a campaign against the Local Authority, for removing her children.  Never understanding the damage she has caused to them through neglect and emotional abuse.


As a result she had manipulated her daughter with false hopes and encouraged her to abscond from her placement.  In doing so, managed to make a complaint against three of the staff she cared about.


Today we looked at what happened, looked at the procedures and made decisions on outcomes.  As everyone around the table  nodded and agreed everything was done appropriately.  I could not help but think back to the days that I worked in Residential Childcare.  Remembering working with young people in crisis.  I could not help thinking that the staff had reacted to quickly to an incident that did not need to happen at that point in time.  


Its a simple rule, when someone is screaming and shouting and extremely agitated they will not be able to listen to what you are trying to talk to them about.  This alleged incident occurred due to the staff on shift reacting to quickly.  The result unimaginable to them at the time.  However, leaving the young girl feeling not only rejected by her Mum but also by her carers.


When it came to my turn I felt strongly about what had happened.  So shared my thoughts, talking through the incident from the child’s view.  I shared my own experiences and techniques that might have been more effective both for the staff and also the young person.  


I could feel the anger from the Residential home manager as I made my recommendations.  I could see the slow nod of agreement from the others around the table and finally my Manager.  Who to her credit agreed that she had been having the same thoughts.


It is a shame that for this young person this change in practise is to late, to prevent there placement breaking down.  For the others in the home, there is a chance that this will not be repeated.      

Fish Bowl working

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a hamster stuck in a cage in a pet shop.  That is what the new ways of working feels like in the office.  With seven Social Work teams all sitting on one floor, hot desking.  With an average of three workers fighting for one desk.  The result is Social Workers climbing walls, hiding under paperwork and nesting in the kitchen area. occasionally a visitor will walk onto the floor and be circled by Social Workers checking with the visitor to ensure they are not stopping.


The idea is to save the Local Authority money, in reality it did not.


Don’t get me wrong I want to see Social Work develop and become in line with the rest of the world, no longer a tick box and clip board profession.  But the true knowledge is held within the team and the experience of the workers within it.  More importantly the need to find privacy in order to discuss, reflect upon day to day practise and case decisions.  Also to have a laugh and vent the frustrations in a safe and supportive environment.


Now I could be taking a complaint about a member of staff I am sitting next to, whether it be a Social Worker I supervise or a Fostering Social Worker or previous Social Worker involved in a case. 


Now when trying to write up an assessment, I have to analyse conversations, observations and interactions with the noise and discussions around me.  Something that I have yet to be able to achieve in work.  Instead I am having to distance myself from the team and working from home.  Making my experience less available for the team and for the people I supervise.


In order to support this way of working, I have been provided with a 3G laptop.  Which, is a start in the right direction for faster mobile working.  A visit out of County now means that e-mails can be sent, and the case recording completed straight away.   Thankfully we have so much security on the laptop that often it can take 20 minutes to load up.  Meaning that there is time to drink Costa Coffee without disruption.


This does mean that when I am back in the office I am up to date and not having to read through hundreds of e-mails to read through.  But that is it.  You still have to stop somewhere safe and secure to access this information.  


There are some very good positives about open plan working with other teams.  This can mean good information sharing, working together with the fostering team and smoother transfers from team to team.  Or gaining information and insight into a case that may not have been recorded.


However, I look forward to a time when ICS is completely fit for purpose, that mobile working truly means mobile working and I can leave my heavy bag at home and just carry around one item that allows me to communicate quickly and freely, and be up to date with all case information.  


Until then I look forward to the restructuring next year and what this may bring! and continue to enjoy spending time with the Young People doing the work that is important.