Have you ever noticed that when working in Social Work, that it is very easy for every thought and action to be related to work. When working with young people or whatever field you do work in. It is easy when you are with the individual or family to lose track of time. Or more accurately, find it difficult to leave especially if they are still in crisis .
I currently work in a looked after children’s team, where a lot of the young people aged between 16 and 18 live in unregulated placements. This often means that the Social Workers are the main point of contact for these Young People. Whether it be by telephone, or by taking them shopping, or by providing cooking lesson, or support with an appointment. This is alongside and on top of the Statutory duties.
More often than not this can not be done during the working day, due to the Young Person attending college, or work, or perhaps because the emergency may not happen until later in the day.
For me, as a father this can cause me problems. Especially when I need to be back to collect my children from their after school club. The consequences for me and my children if I am not back on time can be very serious.
With good childcare hard to find, and childcare that fits in with Social Work hours even harder. Even emergencies need to be negotiated, as I juggle work and home life to maintain a balance.
I guess that I am lucky that my wife understands the nature of the work as she too is currently studying to be a Social Worker. But what has scared me is the number of divorce stories I have heard. Where co-workers have worked all the hours and not maintained their relationships. When the to do list never ends, and an attitude of wanting the best outcome for every Young Person, I can see how easy it could be to work every hour possible.
But perhaps it is important to remember that to maintain a good balance, is not easy unless you have good support network at work and at home. That it is easy to tip the scales in order to help the young person in crisis. Once this is done, finding balance again may not be easy.
Its been a funny week this week, my Manager who had been on leave, has returned to work. And with this appears to have a new eagerness to make sudden changes in the teams practises! it seems at any cost. It appears as a result of this, the team had made a concious decision to be working from home all this week.
Perhaps this eagerness is due to the important changes in Children’s Social Care; as new Guidances comes into force on the 1st of April 2011. With these changes comes a new framework for Care planning.
|Department of Education|
This diagram shows how all of the sections of the legal framework fits together, in order to keep the theme of the Child at the centre. And maybe it is me, but this is not a new concept? and all services should link together to provide answers to met the individual Child’s needs.
It felt like we were almost preparing for this change for the first time by inviting in an external trainer to explain the changes to Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 3: Planning Transitions to Adulthood for Care Leavers. However, this soon changed as after the lunch it seemed like everyone had starting to flag with the dry delivery, and copious amounts of handouts that would need to be read!
This Guidance sets out the contents of the “Pathway Plan” and explains how and with whom this plan should be created with. However, this is not as easy as it always may seem. For many Young People, and including myself at 16, leaving home and starting on your own seems daunting. At least I was able to have a choice as to when I moved out!
The Guidance is supposed to aim to give Care Leavers the same level of support that their peers would receive when leaving home from a reasonable parent. “Reasonable” being the key term for tailoring a plan that meets the individual needs of the Young Person in preparing and support to Leave Care.
What do you do when a 17 year old girl presents herself at the office telling you that she wants to die? After briefly recalling a fellow student’s confusion at my lecturer’s dry comment; “You cover your back”, my mind immediately started grasping at notions and approximations of risk, “Is she drunk? How likely is she to kill herself? How will she do it? When will she do it?” And for that short time, as momentary as it was, she was no longer a person and I was not a ‘skilled helper’ (Egan, 1998) Rather, she was a fraction, a percentage, a statistic, waiting for me the systematic actuary to measure and analyse her. But unlike an actuary, I do not have formulae and equations to inform my steps. I rely upon my Supervisor (who was out of the office), the Team Manager (who was in an emergency meeting) and members of the team (nowhere to be seen) to advise me. So, with options A, B and C out the window, I had no choice but to do the unthinkable. Donned only with the knowledge that there is no common approach to risk within Social Work (Crisp et al. 2005), I used my ‘professional judgement’.
Thankfully, the young girl has not (yet) killed herself and having followed the incident up immediately with my supervisor and other professionals involved in her care I feel confident that I responded appropriately. Nevertheless, since the incident I can’t help but question the uncertainty that I feel when assessing any level of risk, a concept which underpins so much of what Social Workers do.
I was recently asked to help undertake appropriate risk assessments to review the contact arrangements for a 14 year old boy and his father. “Great!” I thought (I’d meet A LOT of NOS units doing this!) But the process is burdening me. Not only am I petrified that I will get it wrong and that a Serious Case Review will be falling on my lap before I am even qualified, but I am also daunted by the prospect of my interpretation of the situation shaping this boy’s future.
So why am I so afraid to trust myself? Is it because I am a student? Will these feelings fade with more experience?
I think for, the task of completing a risk assessment is challenging because it has made me realise how much power, even as a student Social Worker, I have. What is more, the process itself seems to sit uneasily with some of the professional values and codes of practice that I have been internalising over the last 17 months. Almost every referral that I have completed has been accompanied by a risk assessment, the content of which I am well aware will greatly influence the likelihood of the young person concerned being granted access to or denied a service. Often, these assessments are quite arbitrary and service user participation is rarely incorporated into the process because the assessments are supposed to be objective. Furthermore, I am deeply uncomfortable with the manner in which risk assessments often seem to problematise the young person concerned, failing to appreciate how societal and cultural factors have influenced their situation. What is perhaps most concerning for me is the routine manner in which I observe workers in my team complete risk assessments. Not helped by the standardised ‘High, Medium and Low’ forms, the extent to which Biestek’s ‘individualisation’ principle (Biestek, 1961) informs the content of the form is questionable, but the consequences and outcomes of these forms are highly personal for the young person concerned.
So just when I was beginning to think how oppressive my professional judgement could be, I remembered observing a Youth Offending Service Social Worker professionally override a risk assessment score to give a young person more support than his initial score entitled him to. This gave me hope that the upcoming Munro Report will initiate moves towards a clearer framework for risk assessment which will make it easier Social Workers to, in the midst of a climate of risk management, pursue the principles upon which the profession is founded. Whether or not Social Work will adopt the Child Risk Assessment Matrix is yet to be known, but I do think that the idea of answering a series of questions to record how much workers know about a young person could help to prevent the arbitrary, standardised tick box completion of risk assessments and the all too definitive outcomes of one ‘professional judgement’.
As I questioned above, my thoughts and feelings could just be attributable to my lack of experience and it might be that, over time, I become more comfortable with the conflict between this professional duties and some professional values. But until that time, inspired by that one Social Worker, this Actuary hopes to learn a formula which will enable her to use risk assessments to promote social change, to empower people and, in that ‘Measures to control risk’ box, find room for a little bit of social justice too.
Crisp, B.R., Anderson, M.T., Orme, J. and Lister, P.G. (2005) Knowledge review 08: Learning and teaching in social work education: textbooks and frameworks on assessment, London: Social Care Institute for Excellence.
Egan, G. (1998) The Skilled Helper: A problem-management approach to helping, California: Brooks Cole.]
Have you ever lied about your age to achieve something you would never be able to get legally and or maybe because you are not happy with your age. For me I can answer yes to both, at 17 years of age I would often go out with friends and pretended to be 18 to get served (I would not promote this now of course). Also with my current age I could happily be a few years younger!
However, for some young people age is an important issue especially for claiming asylum. Age assessments have always been a thorny subject for both Local Authority’s and for young people. Understandably so, with the importance of the age determining the level of support that the individual will receive and also where they might live.
Working in a Looked After Children’s team I have started working again with young unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children. From this I have developed an interest in the age assessment process. I have 13 years of experience working with Teenagers, and feel confident in understanding behaviours, attitudes, and other aspects that allow me to develop positive relationships.
So what do you need to know to complete an age assessment? Because we know that we can not just go by looks. However, looks is the biggest area of contention with all age assessments. It is also the most frequent argument I hear “He looks at least 20” or “he can only be 14!”
Thankfully there has been guidance created from a legal challenge on an age assessment. Meaning that all age assessments need to be Merton Compliant from the Queen on the application of B v the London Borough of Merton. As there is no guidance set out in the Children Acts this sets out guidance on how age assessments should be completed.