Monthly Archives: March, 2011

Balancing Act!

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.  

Voters back cuts!

Have you ever wondered why 57% of Voters back cuts but cool on coalition – poll | Politics | The Guardian, When I first read this I thought this must be wrong!!…….

But the reality is probably far easier to explain.  57% of the voters probably have not felt the effects of the cuts.  Their Children have not attended schools where there is not enough support staff.  If their children need Statements of Special Education they have been able to fight for this through tribunals! 

Maybe they have been fortunate not to have experienced their son or daughter go missing, and not have had to worry because the Police Officer responsible for finding them had their post removed.   Or been a victim of crime when there has only been one patrol car on duty in the whole of the town.  Or not had to worry during child birth that there is not enough Midwives for support.  Or that there is no Health Visitors who are so important for monitoring for Post Natal Depression and supporting a new family with their joy.

I understand why reducing the deficit is important, I have been reducing my own for the past four years!  I have had to cut out holidays!! nights out! treats for my Children! who do not understand sometimes why they can not have the latest toys out.  I have to say that I am now seeing an improvement in my own economic circumstances.  Will the economy recover in the same way?

Today I have even felt the effects of the cuts closer to home than normal.  Trying to refer a young person onto Adults services.  The Transitions team that would have previously supported the Young Person from Children Services to Adult Services has been removed.  The Social Workers absorbed into other teams.  

Now the process is more complicated trying to negotiate the thresholds, the single point of access and trying to get a stretched team involved before 18 to ensure the right support is provided.

I guess what has really made me angry is the assumption that the working class deserve this, after a comment I had seen on twitter by aTory supporter!!  Deserve this? 

I guess they don’t understand the Public Services.  I guess they don’t know that unlike the Private Sector, the Public Sector can not go bust! leave a job half done and run with the money.   Perhaps they are scared that greed is not the motivation for Social Work, or Teachers, or Police Officers, Nurses, and many other Public Sectors workers.

So make your cuts, but remember one day you may need that Service, you may need support, and you may need Emergency Services.  So don’t blame the Public Sector when you don’t get it.  Instead, lets work together to make it work for the vulnerable people in our Society who can not afford the luxury private care!

Hard decisions

Have you ever wondered about how wonderful Social Work is.  Despite the negative media attention, there still is a sense of job satisfaction.  The one “Thank You”, or the one smile.  Or maybe seeing a client several years on still doing well.  Of course the other good side of Social Work is the diverse nature of the job.  Which I saw today when I met a Student Social Worker completing her final placement within a School.  But it could have been a Prison, Children Centre, Family Centre, Youth Centre, Drug and Alcohol Centre, or other Voluntary settings.  That is without the statutory settings or even independent Social Workers who have their own exciting roles.

But what happens when you stop enjoying Social Work? What happens when you stop noticing the work that you do.  When the issues become bigger than you can imagine and they start coming home with you.  Sadly this can happen more often than not, poor Supervision, and a blame culture that does not promote a positive environment to work in.  

The idea of a protected case load ensures that this does not happen to newly Qualified Social Workers who may full prey to these feelings, and may who may not receive good feedback about the work they are doing.  

However, this week my Manager has shared her recent experiences of these feelings.  Oddly I am asked to look over her CV as she wants to send it out looking for new work.  “I want you to apply for my post when I leave” she informs me.  “I can not carry on working here like this” she tells me “I need to find one more challenge or retire!”  

However, as nice as her comments are, doubts are placed in my mind and if this is what I want to do.  Do I want to work in an organisation where after a few years I may find myself in the same position.  Everyday, the pressure is on.  And rightly so, ensuring that the right plan is considered for each Young Person.  The argument to fight for services and funding for services grows harder.  With an expectation and reliance on using universal services that often do not meet the need of the young person.

The question is how long can you fight for the Young People and also for your own emotional well being.  Can I be strong enough to develop the team and ensure that they also do not feel this pressure.

Winds of Change

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.

There is two new exciting additions to this Guidance that I like.  The first being a move away from the attitude of ending the Looked After Status of Young People (Under Section 20, CA 1989) who have returned home.  For me this is a positive step to ensuring that risk can be balanced with Support and success.  The support of course, is based on the Assessment of Need and is individual to each Young Person. But will ensure that there can be a successful return home managed and ensuring this does not break down by cutting all support altogether.  This could also be true for Young People 16+ who decide to move into unregulated placements, or found a friend they can share with.

The second change is a big step to supporting any Young Person who has left Care, to carry on with Higher Education up to the age of 25.  This is a good move to support Young People who may still be in Crisis and vulnerable as they leave care, who might have wanted to carry on learning but has not been able to.  I know from my own experiences contemplating Higher Education at 21 was too much and I was not in  Crisis!  The support however, will be assessed by the Local Authority and could vary from individual to the area they live in.
Since I know longer case hold and have responsibility to ensure that the Pathway plans meet the level required, I find it more and more important that the time is taken to ensure the plans are made well.  It is clear where the Social Workers really know the Young Person as the plan is clear and shows the views of the Young Person.

But as the 1st of April approaches, these changes become more real and important to not only the Local Authority’s but also to the Young Person.  Who should be at the centre of the planning and kept up to date with any changes.  I know I will be making sure the Pathway Plans that I sign off meet up to the new Regulations. 

I hope that by next week my Manager would have had time to reflect on her drive for change, read the paperwork and be ready to support our team with the changes required.

The power of risk

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.


Biestek, F. (1961) The Casework Relationship. London: George Allen and Unwin

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.]

Social Work Practises

Have you ever wondered what would happen when the Government finally is able to privatise Social Work teams? Its not too far off and for Looked after teams in Kent, Liverpool, Hillingdon and Staffordshire and Blackburn it is now as this scheme is being piloted.  The idea is to reduce the bureaucracy and increase outcomes for young people.  The scheme has been running since 2008 and is now being to extended

 The Government set out this scheme in the ‘Care matters White Paper’, with provisions to test these in the ‘Children and Young Person’s Bill’.  At present these schemes are going through a process of evaluation.  Looking at the impact on the young people in care and also the wider Children Services and the impact on them.  Next year in 2012 a report will be published on the Social Work Practise Pilots and will evaluate how they have been.  This scheme will only be developed further if there is a clear measurable outcomes for the Children.  Another measure is to improve the relationship between the young person and their Social Worker.  (something I can agree with)  I have known Children to have left care with more than 15 Social Workers!

It looks like the Authority will continue to be the Corporate Parent, and continue to monitor whether the Social Work Practises are:

  • Get to know you – what makes you happy and what makes you sad.
  • Work with you to resolve any problems that may be making you unhappy.
  • Help you to stay in touch with your family where appropriate.
  • Ensure you are healthy and doing well at school.
  • Make time for you when you need it.
  • Be honest, reliable and trustworthy.
  • Test new ways of giving you more control over your life.
  • Try to give you a much better experience of care.
What are the benefits for practitioners?

The aim is to reduce bureaucracy, and enable different models of practise.  A chance to use different approaches in order to improve the outcomes for young people!  Note: that there will still be a practise manager of sorts and that there will still be a level of accountability

But for smaller practises there is a chance to take on additional tasks for a fee that might create extra funding that could be used to create, fund and run extra training, or facilities for young people.

The aim is that once a Social Work Practise takes on a Young Person they are responsible for looking after that Child until they leave care and after they have left care.

Key Principles:

Social Work Practises should be Child Centred and the welfare of the Child is paramount.  The Child’s interests is the main interest of the Local Authority and the Social Work Practise.


The Local Authority will not be able to discharge its responsibilities towards the Looked After Child.  So the contract between them and the Social Work Practises should be critical and clear about the terms and the expectations of the work being requested.  This should be guided by the Children’s plan.

The role of the Independent Reviewing officers becomes even more important on monitoring the outcomes and the views of everyone to ensure the quality of care is being maintained.


These will be made on agreed thresholds of measurable outcomes for the young people the Social Work Practises manage and could be reduced if these targets are not met.

Roles and Responsibilities:

The Social Work function will be maintained within these teams and Assessments and Care Planning will need to continue.  Social Work Practises will need to report to the Children’s trust to ensure Policies and Procedures are kept up to date and relevant.

At present there is not much information on how these Practises are doing.  Other than the Government are looking to extend the project.  I know that I will be interested in these results and what may or may not be the future of Social Work and whether this will be integrated in to Child Protection.

However, for some Social Workers this may be an exciting opportunity to develop their practise and make some positive changes and listen to the young people and develop services tailored for them.

Time out

Have you ever had a day where everything is going wrong, cases blowing up around you? and you look up, and watch what everyone else is doing?  Have you ever noticed how its always the same people that always keep their heads down and that are in early and leave late.  I often wonder whether this is sign that everyone else is feeling the same as I do.

When days like this happen it is so easy to allow everything to get on top of you, and sink in the feeling of dread that you are not making any progress! 

And for one Social Worker this week, I could just see this starting to happen.  After she had called in sick I became concerned as to why.  Over the weekend two of her cases had been playing up and it was clear that she was worried about them.  Both were making complaints about their care and demonstrating extreme behaviour of self harm because they were not    getting what they wanted.

Added pressure was being created by the placements not coping with their behaviour and the recent cut backs straining the support available for both the young people and the Social Worker.   

A common question that is often asked by almost everyone is “How do you cope with the job that you do?” and the easy answer is that some people can not.  We are human after all and when dealing with stressful situations sometimes enough is enough.  But what is important is good Supervision, and a good peer support.  And at a time where there is a lot change taking place, as team members change due to long term agency staff being replaced.  Offices are changing as Local Authority’s sell off buildings in order to save money.  All of which impacts on the working environment, and increasing stress and pressures on workers.

So this week I have been exploring the need for good Supervision, helped by completing a half day training course in ‘reflective Supervision’ provide by Research in Practise.  Supervision is an important part of Social Work, and to providing job satisfaction “Social work supervision: contexts and concepts” (SCIE).  I recognised that for this Social Worker there was a need to help facilitate supervision to help understand how she was feeling and also be reflective on the practise and help develop plans.  

Since I have joined this team it has been an interesting process developing supervision and Peer Supervision.  When I joined the team, supervision was a prescriptive meeting for the workers only interested in me giving decisions for their cases.  My training reinforced my supervision style, and has also created a new way for my Supervises to reflect in their own supervision.   

Age Assessments

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. 

But my interest in age assessments goes further, developed from a very long conversation with an independent Social Worker recently employed to complete an independent age assessment, for our team after a challenge to our assessment.  At present I do not undertake these assessments, although I have been asked too as the internal policies change due to the number of recent challenges to age assessments.  So interested I asked what training he had to help with the assessment.  His reply “I have not had any! there is none!” I learned that his experience has developed from being in my position and the conversations and research he has completed through his practise.  However, this has not filled me with confidence when I learnt further the detail and level he probes to.  

His knowledge now includes the education systems in Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.  Perhaps more impressive is a working understanding of the Koran and the various practises of this belief in these different cultures.  The spelling of town names, Services provided in these countries, Family traditions, Working attitudes, Whether there is National Service and the age that this comes in force.

Why is this important? it all plays a part in developing a picture from which can be tested to accurately create a picture of the age for the young person.  One that can comply with the Merton guidance and stand up in Court as being fair and accurate.

I also learnt that it is important who completes the age assessment.  It has been a reoccurring theme that if there has been a complaint about an age assessment one issue has been made about the person completing it.  Another key factor is understanding the language that is spoken and also the different dialects that may impact on the translation.

I guess the easiest answer is research, research and more research and this is what I will be doing from now on.