Monthly Archives: May, 2011

GCSE’s Bust or Success for looked after children?

Can you remember being in the last year of upper or secondary school? You spend the whole of your school life wanting to be one of the big kids in school.  When you get there all of a sudden its exams, exams and more exams.  For many young people in key stage 4 this is a difficult time of the year.  As they wait to leave school and start on their next major stage of life. 

I can still remember it well, worrying whether I would get the grades I needed to go to University or even if I would be able to cope alone and succeed.  However, with many of the young people I work with, this is even harder as a looked after child.  For many 16 is a major number, it means to them a freedom from being in care, freedom to make more choices for themselves and a time when they should be learning who they are.  For many this dream can not happen as they remain on Care Orders until they are 18 years old.

So already when it comes to this important age the young people are already worrying about exams and their school prom.  Many end up worrying about “Where will I live” “Can I go home” or “Who am I”.  Meaning that revising for exams, attending exams is a low priority when wanting to be at home with their family, or out with their friends who they have adopted as their family.

New changes in the care regulations makes it clear that there should be no planned moves in this year, and where there has to be changes they should only be agreed by the Nominated officer.  This possibly is a start to try and protect many young people from failing in their exams by adding unnecessary pressure on to the young person. 

Looking back at this week I have seen this real pressure and dilemma, where a young girl is suffering from a pull with her family.  Wanting to be at home, but knowing her Mum does not want her there.  But at the same time not knowing whether to trust her Mum or Social Care.  Her Mum continues to rage a battle at Social Care for removing her Children; and  now trying to remove the younger siblings for the same reasons of emotional abuse and neglect. 

The power and way in which this is done by the mother is very simple and effective to undermine her placements (more than one) and place doubt in her mind as to who she can trust.  There is also an unwillingness to engage or give permission for Life story work to be done to help the young person understand the loss of her father, who she never knew  and young siblings that were adopted.  This is important as her mother has reminded her that it was her fault that they were adopted! and as a four year old how is this possible.  Instead the Mum has lead her daughter to believe it was her fault. 

So when I received an office visit I knew that something was wrong.  And I was right, immediately her emotional distress was obvious.  “I have an exam tomorrow, and at the moment I am so angry” “I don’t know who to believe, and I don’t know where to live” was common theme as she sobbed in the quiet room.  I reassured the young person and spent time listening to her allowing her to talk to me, trying to help put the events into perspective for her to be able to manage and understand.  Knowing really that this could not easily be swept under the carpet to allow her to be refreshed and prepared for her exam.

It is worrying that for this young person at a time where life is already difficult it is made harder unnecessarily.  We are lucky to have a team of teachers that helps children in care with their learning.  Dedicated teachers who are very experienced in working with schools, parents, foster carers and other resources in providing the best education support each young person needs.

I worry because this is now a vulnerable resource, with the change in EMA and government funding most of the money that this team would have received now goes straight to colleges or schools (academy’s).  It is then down to the them how this money is spent.  Which for many young people, if you have been able to get through all of the above and manage to get to college do you really want to disclose that you are a looked after child? meaning there could be a lot more children slipping through the net and not getting the support needed.

Good planning is needed for any young persons education and life, often young people will not be interested in another meeting.  So with education being so rigid in its curriculum, the cuts to this team are very significant.  The implication is that there will be a generation of looked after children who will continue to be vulnerable due to their lack of learning.  With only a small minority going on to college, and even smaller number going on to Higher Education. 

The back office

Can you remember the last time you tried calling someone and the phone just rang and rang! Its so frustrating knowing what you want to say and running it through in your mind over and over again just waiting for someone to answer at the other end.  Especially if what you have to say is important or more importantly the way you say it and the words used to express it.

Often when you try and contact a social work office the first person you will speak with is not a social worker but our Business Suppport.  Often they might even be the only people in the office whilst the social workers are out on visits, meetings or in court, or off sick. 

Business Support know how the office work, they know how to manage social workers and more importantly they have excellent customer service skills.  With out any specialist training they can manage the calls that come in and help the person calling get the message out that they want so they can speak with the right person.

Business Support can record meeting minutes and have them typed up ready for distribution quicker than I can work out where Microsoft Word is on my computer.  They can find and file any paperwork ,and know where it should be.  More importantly they can change the dynamic of the office, often making the mood lighter and manage the systems that other people do not even think about (such as the tea fund) 

Some Business Support officers take on different roles specialising in different areas of the business, but all knowing what each others role is.  Providing support and a good level of service to those that need them including the social workers and the public.

However, like every other department in the Public Sector the axe is coming with more force to make savings.  50% savings to the stationary budget – I can live with this it just means that when I put my pen down I just have to remember where that was.  But what I will find hard to manage is 50% less Business Support.

In the team I currently work in we deal with a lot of money as the Business Support pays the bills for our placements, weekly allowances for the Young Person and any other money.  There is a complex code system that breaks down the money we spend and shows from which budget to pay for that request.  I have to confess I can not remember a single code after a year working in this team.  Yet I hear our one Business Support officer could be cut, and the money for our team managed from a office with the registrars department.  I am sure anybody coming in for a Civil Wedding Ceremony will want to have one of our Young People “Kicking off” in the back ground demanding their money.

What I also find difficult to understand is the way in which these cuts are going to be introduced.  Sitting next to the Senior Business Support officer today, I am asked whether I have been invited to a consultation session.  I laughed (not insensitevely) but because no one is ever invited, I was more shocked when I was shown that it was going to explain the new business model.  “What makes me angry” I hear “is that the new Business Model has not been explained to the Business Support!!”.   “We are left to hear what the model will be like in drips and drabs” the Senior Business Officer explains whispering so that her staff can not hear her.  I ask whether we could just turn up at these meetings so that I can express my anger!

“The value of administrative support to social workers is often misunderstood or worse, disregarded, often being selected as the prime target for cost saving measures. For professional and safe practice within limited resources, however, this is often a false economy”

Eileen Munro highlights in her final report how Business Support is often misunderstood, simple administritive tasks can take over a whole day, taking social workers away from the work that is needed.  When families are in crisis and in need of support and advice.  There should not be a sound of a ringing phone to listen to when calling Social Care.  Or social workers unable to visit because they are driving a photocopier rather than a car to a visit. 

Can Business Support in Social Care really be classed as the same within any other Local Authority department, and more importantly can they be put through the same cost saving processes? As a social worker I know that I am able to manage my own filing, and capable of using the computer but Business Support is much more than this for me and for social work. 

But I am sure these cuts will be made and the pressures will be transferred to those left within the office, having a greater impact on the quality of work that is produced!

First job

Have you ever wondered what your first social work job would be like? I know that I did.  I remember finishing my training and having to return to work after two years of not being in the residential home.  All of the staff and the young people had changed, my views on practise had changed and my willingness to work shifts had gone out of the window.  My sleep was becoming prescious due to my two young children demanding more of my time.

I was lucky in looking for work as I live on the border of four Local Authority’s and two Unitary Authority’s.  The time it took to get work was an important factor in deciding where I wanted to work so this cut some prospects out.  I applied online with all Authority’s and then just waited to here.   I don’t mind admitting that it felt like a very long time.

It was like Christmas when the envelope finally landed on my doorstep, and it was very nearly Christmas to.  My knees shaked and my hands trembled as I opened the envelope and read its contents.   There was a hope that I could escape shift work and return to hours that meant that I could still spend quality time with my own family.  By this time I had slotted back into working in my old job and I knew it was going to be hard saying good bye to the  people that I had worked with for 8 years.  I also knew that I was becoming to comfortable in that Job and if I did not move on I never would.

I should say that the interview process scared me, it had been nearly 8 years since my last interview.  Then to see that I had a whole day’s worth of interviewing, with testing, group work exercises and interviews did worry me.

However, I was pleased when I finished the process feeling confident.  I was even more pleased when I was accepted in post, I think I was so excited that I told the business support worker I was speaking with that I loved them! (probably at that time I did, I was so pleased).  Especially as it meant my journey time to work was going to be reduced, and there was an added bonus of parking something that was very essential for me.

As a nearly qualified social worker I did not have to worry whether I was going to be a social worker in a child protection team or a Looked after team or even a child in need team.  The reason, it was still a generic team covering all fields.  Meaning I could develop my weaknesses as I gained in experience.

Social Work is never that easy, you must know that? A week in the job and I am told that we would all be going through “Growth and Change”.  It was to quick for me to decide, which team I wanted to work in with little experience in Child Protection and all of my previous experience in LAC I did not want to specialise to early.  So I went with Child Protection, wanting to work with a much younger age group than I had previously worked with.

Child Protection was a daunting experience to head towards as a newly qualified social worker.  When I started it was like a whole different world, I did not know anyone in the office, I did not know the area I was working in.  I had only been there twice before once for the interview and once shopping on  a bus!

However, for me it did not become that scary or daunting.  The home visits, the core group meetings, and Child Protection conferences became a positive challenge to achieve positive change for families.  Sometimes when the risk became to high the court process was initiated, but even this did not worry me as I worked in an open and honest fashion.  Although giving evidence is never easy and with your heart pumping you can understand how the people you work with may feel, when seeing me at their doorstep.

Would I change the path that I have gone down? No! Child Protection has given me a good understanding or risk, understanding working together in its truest form.  I understand how precious life is and fragile it can be when a referral is made.  I have learnt how hard some people struggle to break out and change everything they know.  Especially when they lack the support from their own friends and family.  Something I have always taken for granted in my own life.

Alot has changed since my first day, I now know everyone and everyone knows me.  I know the community and how the different groups interact.  I know most of the professionals and joint working has become easier.  The only thing that has not changed is the love of the job and the challenges and support that children and their families need has not.

 

Dinner

Every now and again I will meet up with the people that I used to work with in Children’s Residential.  We will go for something to eat usually somewhere in the middle, for everyone to meet at.  As usual for Social Care we came from absolutely everywhere.  Its usually a nice evening of talking, remembering and catching up on where everyone is at now.  


I remember when I started in my residential carer, that first shift and whether I could last working with young people.  But now when I meet with everyone (or the last few that still meet up) I really enjoyed working closely with the young people.   Laughing at some of the activities that we would do to engage with the hardest young people to engage with.  Or finding out about the staff and remembering our concerns about some of them, and no matter what happened they seemed to continue to be able to work.


Of course when you work somewhere for 8 years you will see a lot of young people and staff move on.  Some of the young people come back and say thank you, some come back and will still need help, thankfully this was only a small amount.


If anyone wants to know how to start work as a Social Worker in Children’s Services I would recommend working for some time in a Children’s home.  Why? Because when you are working with these vulnerable young people it is one to one.  Often at the moment that they are reliving or remembering their abuse or neglect.  It requires a strength, calmness and ability to keep your head in order to give the right support.  Developing your communication skills because you can not hide from the engagement needed to try and cause change for the young person; or even just to help put into words something they can not so they can understand an event or behaviour.


It also helps you learn about young people and their behaviours.  For me it has grounded my experience meaning that I will try hard to make a foster placement work rather than using a residential home.  It also means that when I do look at a residential home I know whether it is one that can focus on the young persons needs, or whether it is just for profit.  I also know how staff and the young people may interact, meaning that when I write a support plan it is usually a good plan supporting the placement and young person.


I also remember my own process of growing up and maturing working in the Children’s home.  Starting as a young man myself, single and with no commitments.  Over the time I met my wife, started my Social Work training and had children.  Learning how hard life is and the challenges we all face and acknowledging how for someone in care how this must be harder the support they have is less than my own.


During this time one person helped me, and every time we meet now we spend hours after everyone else has gone talking about life.  I remember one particular occasion when I told her in Southend I was going to be a Dad and not knowing how I was going to deal with being a Dad at such a young age.  She shares with me events and her ups and downs that happen in her own life as well.  We often chuckle as everyone else leaves and it goes dark around us saying we must catch up more often to prevent the late nights!


I guess for me a good team is very important to any work, supporting each other and having a positive goal of supporting young people is something we all shared and still do.  When I say good team this is something that does not always happen straight away and for us took a long time to develop and get right.  I guess now we are good friends rather than a team as we have all moved on and the Children’s home closed down.  But what I have learned I now share with the team I work with now and feel makes me a stronger person.



When is a title not a title?

Have you ever wondered how you could develop an interest into a speciality at work? for some people they happen to be in the right place and the right time.  From Social Worker to Commissioning Officer or from Social Worker to independent Social Worker completing Age assessments, or Initial Carers Assessments for the Courts.  Every team needs to promote skills or strengths right? of Course!


But what happens if the role you have developed, comes with no power or meaning! Making your title and job description confused.  This for me and my team has been causing a dilemma, and creating a unhealthy tension between two teams.  The other team containing unqualified workers, and all with specialist roles in one field or another.  The dilemma is always around resources, and the impact that each person has on these limited resources.  Our teams should be working together to support each other and improving the outcomes for the Young People we work with, using the knowledge gained from these specialist roles to do this.


An example of this is a Housing Officer who from a meeting that was held this week learnt that he is no more than a glorified Caretaker.  However, a very powerful one at that, who could visit a housing project run by the teams and influence whether a Young Person can remain there or not.  


People who may read this blog regularly will know what my views are on risk, and when working with adolescents the balance of risk needs to be understood in far greater depth and not one that can be generalised for all young people.  So understandably my blood boils when I am called to attend a meeting by the “Housing Officer” because the Young People living in the project do not always keep it clean, sometimes drink alcohol and smoke.   The assessments that are made by the team around their Young People, become meaningless because a worker who has not spent the time reading the files, speaking with all professionals and the family and analysing the need has decided the risk is to high.   


Now I understand that there is a need to support these young people, and this is where the biggest argument is created.  The “Housing Officer” is a Caretaker, his role is to look after the building and not the Young People.  The Social Worker, would love to have time to complete one to one direct work but due to size of case loads and the ongoing nature of Social Work time does not allow this.  The Personal Advisor whose role is to assist, support and oh…… develop their own specialist role not their job.


So sometimes I can see why so many people can get angry at their Local Authority.  Who encourage and create job titles with no meaning and power and in doing this duplicating work and pointless meetings wasting every ones time.  I can see why privatising some parts of Social Care can create more efficiency.  Social Work should be for Children, Child focused and enabling and supportive of the transition into adulthood rather than being held back by another persons misguided understanding of how individuals should live within their own home. 

Mountains


Have you been able to see a reduction in the work that Social Workers undertake? Has there been an increase in the seriousness of the cases held? It seems like it or is it just that the nature of social work is always complex. It appears that the most common comments raised about cases are around the complexity of them. I hope that this is not just a rise in thresholds, but instead a raised and increased awareness from all professionals working with Children and Young People. Better training in identifying when help is needed, and tighter regulations that have increased the number of referrals and assessments completed.

One definite that I have noticed lately is the increase in the amount of work that appears to be taken on by our team. Working in a Looked after Children’s team we have seen an increase in the numbers of cases that we have both of Young People on Care Orders and Voluntary accommodated.

There has been NO change in thresholds! Instead for our team some notable changes in Judgements and Regulations have meant that the number of Young People needing support has increased gradually.

The most significant is the Southwark Judgement, which affected Social Care when engaging with young People aged 16-17 years of age. This closely examined the definitions of Section 17 support and Section 20 accommodation, under the Children Act 1989 and whether this should be used rather than homelessness legislation. The implication of this judgement has been more Young People requiring support.

The second change is to the Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review, which came into force on the 1st of April 2011 and although this has not increased the amount of young people coming into care, it does provide new guidance for supporting Young People who may want to leave care sooner than 18 and the responsibilities on Local Authorities to ensure that the Young Person can return to being looked after or carry on being looked after in a supported way.
All of this has been a positive change for all Young People who may find them being looked after, at the age of 16 and 17. When young people are trying to understand who they are; and understanding their relationships. It is also a key time for their education and an essential time for support and guidance.

Has there been a reduction in thresholds? I can say where I am there has not yet. But there has been a push for early intervention, I worry that with a reduction in services within the communities that families that may not need Social Care Support have ended up with a referral because a lack of early intervention has escalated the risk or concerning factors within the family.