Monthly Archives: June, 2011


Wow, when you hold your case load you will have an emergency and it can make life exciting; managing the crisis and putting in interventions to return everything to calm. When you manage social workers and there is a multiple crises you really learn how to tread water.  

However, this week I have been able to work on something different.  In our little Authority gang culture, is still unheard of (at least not in any news worthy way yet).  Young People who hang about on the street corner or the odd scout troop putting on a gang show! Youth crime happens, young people abscond, hang out, fight and get drunk.

But Gang land activity, risk of Death, Serious Crime, Post Code fighting is all new.  As an experienced worker my only knowledge of this has been through shared experience with other workers and good assessment skills.  

The Young Person had recently been a victim of “mistaken identity” as a result, his injuries left him in hospital and needing his jaw fixed.  The reality of what life is like as Gangs take hold.  Vulnerable Looked After Children placed in unregulated placements become vulnerable to fast money, drugs, and older stronger youths who often themselves lived in these placements recruiting the next residents. To run their drugs, take part in organised crimes and allow their homes to be used to hide out in when needed.

In this case his name was being used in crimes, his address used for a safe house.  The downside his face was kicked in.  His defence “it was a mistake, they did not want me!”  Yet he believes strongly that he is not involved in gang activity.  He hopes to complete college, he hopes to marry his girlfriend and leave behind this activity.

His own emotional well being is low due to early child experiences living in a war torn country, not knowing if his brothers and uncles family is still alive.  

For me, it made me look at what I thought I knew and trusted.  It showed me that even if you thought life was difficult it often is even harder for someone else.  

The young person described his situation as if he was within one big family.  His ‘bruvers’ would look after him.  If he needed help they would be there! A community that looked out for each other, supported each other.  As he describes what is happening and living where he is it raises my anxieties even further.  Yet the pull is so strong, the fear of leaving the fear of reprisal to great the need to belong preventing him from escaping this and starting again! 

Harder to reach

Just when you thought it was safe to practise social work again after the latest scandal and in depth report.  The local safeguarding board produces its latest policies.  These are great and actually really useful, except there is a common theme them running through them all.  “Serious Case Management” or “Serious Risk Meetings” or “Management of Serious risk”.  All meetings that involve everyone within the council to analyse, reflect and examine everything that you have done, and then suggest something different.  Sometimes this can be useful, and for some cases very definitely needed.  Especially around the transition period from child to adult, when the threshold for a service suddenly rises leaving many young people with the bare minimum of support from their aftercare service.

Working with looked after Children aged between 14 to 18 years of age is not always easy for many reasons.  The latest guidance produced is ‘working with children that are harder to reach’.  Interestingly enough it suggests that many young people are harder to reach because they do not see their social worker enough!!  However, its answer to this problem is to arrange a senior managers meeting taking you further away from the young person.  Rather than allowing you more time with face to face contact allowing you to practise social work.

Today I spent most of the morning talking with one of my social workers.  Sophie (not her real name) Sophie was sharing her frustration and feelings about the current pressures of her work affecting her health.  “Its not the work Sophie talks about, its the increased reporting, longer pathway planning, computer systems creating duplication.  Statutory visits that now consist of questionnaires, and information gathering, in order for the Local Authority to keep an eye and evidence on what it is doing.

I would argue that this is the reason why many of the young people we work with are becoming harder to reach.  Losing confidence in the work we do with them because they can not see the benefit, as every visit is about information and not about them, losing the child focus and does not relate to them directly.

I like the idea that Munro gives of one continuous assessment, as long as it is accepted by everyone as a the basis for any information they receive.  This way systems could be developed that enable better communication, and perhaps even indirectly through different applications that enables the information needed to be gained in a less intrusive fashion allowing social work to be developed with the young person.

Instead at present we have the daily dilemmas of which fire to put out, balanced with the paperwork required.  Thankfully not in triplicate but still the working together document will look like a pamphlet compared to the number of people you have to remember to send all of the different information to.

Meanwhile Sophie is left frustrated and torn between the job she enjoys and the frustration of a system that is far from child friendly at times.  Hoping that the positive visits will out way all of the negative meetings, that the small progress seen are greater than the massive set backs seen on a daily basis.

On the stand

Have you ever wondered when beginning your social work training, which part of the job would be the most exciting and most  nerve wrecking as well.  Its probably every minute of the day, but there is no hiding from the fact that when working with people and their lives that everyday you will want to make a positive impact, achieve change for the families you come into contact with.

I had been off for half term week and returned to work last week, I was greeted by my old manager (who I think would be happy if I would return to work for him again).  The smile gave it away as he sat himself down on my desk.  “What’s up?” I asked.  And so began the tale of one of his social workers giving evidence on the stand in court.  I have to admit that sadly there is not much in life that shocks me any more.  But this story shocked me! and made me remember my own involvement with the legal system.

I remember completing my own social work training, I had been sponsored by children’s social care so at some point I knew that as a practising social worker doing child protection work, I would need to attend court and give evidence.  Something that I was not looking forward to.

Laughingly I remember my first day and being told that my first year as a newly qualified social worker I would be protected from court work.  I had not even completed the in house training from our legal team, when I had been asked to write my first statement.  I could see the logic in this, I had been the only person able to engage with the young person and heard his disclosure of physical and sexual abuse.  My evidence was important and significant in order to safeguard him.  

The next case was “oh well its just to deal with the end of proceedings” its a case of rehabilitation of the baby boy back to his father.

However, quickly I began to enjoy going to court.  The process is clear and the tasks are clearly identified.  But what I enjoyed more was sitting and watching the proceedings play out.  The Barristers and Solicitors one minute chatting and talking about their new cars, or latest win in court or their last holiday.  to then arguing the finer points of law concerning the case.  It felt like a different world from mine and was like waiting to get on a roller coaster.  I could feel the adrenaline pumping and the nerves kick in waiting to get in the stand and give my evidence.

I would spend a long time writing my statement and court care plan to ensure that it was correct.  That my analyse was considerate of all possibilities and that I had tried everything I could to prevent the case getting to court.  One lesson I learnt on my first placement from my practise teacher was always be “Honest” so when talking with social work students I promote the same ‘honesty’ and for me when giving evidence it makes it easier as I never had to worry about getting tripped up on my evidence.  

When hearing my previous managers comments, it is essential that you have a good understanding of the social work process, that you have a good understanding of the Children Act 1989 and the Guidance that goes with this.  It is also essential that before going to court that you are prepared.

As there is no greater feeling than when you have been in the stand for 6 hours and the Judge comments in his Judgement at the end of the proceedings about the credibility and honesty shown by the social worker in their evidence.

This is not always going to be the case, and when the case is more complex, sometimes it can be 6 hours of grilling, difficult questions and an outcome reached that may not be the one we set out to reach.  However the main and only outcome wanted is the safety and well being of the child/young person.  So their is an element of pressure when on the stand.   The evidence you give is important, but the final decision is down to the Judge to ponder over, and look at the level of evidence to see whether the threshold has been reached in order to make any legal order.

work or benefits

Looking for work or been unemployed, how can the Government get people working again BBC – Panorama explores. A massive task, after the Governments cull of Local Authority workers and services that Local Authority’s support directly and indirectly. For many towns, city’s and counties the Local Authority has traditionally been the biggest employer, and a provider of a job for life. A notion like “Work ethic” that seems to be eroded away. Instead, make money fast and invest back into private business to continue making money and allow the next person to try their luck seems to be the current job climate.  On top of this many other employers have prepared for tough economic times by cutting their work forces as a way of improving profit margins and safeguarding against further job loses.

The theme of supporting people back into work will be continued with the Fairy Jobmother looking at individuals and overcoming their barriers at finding work. Another great way of making people who are unemployed, or stuck in a rut feel good about themselves. if only there could be two of these in every town, village and city the unemployment problem will be resolved (maybe). However, missing the real area in which the work needs to be done in the first place. With many young people being raised in poverty, used to drugs, or have developed or battling against mental health issues. The traditional way of looking for work needs to be changed. 

Instead of fighting for every job you apply for, trying to sell something that each applicant already has to an employer who has heard it all, already. Young people need to know that there is work available and need to be able to move straight into it after finishing college, or even school if this is what they choose. Without this concept for many of them work will always remain a myth, or a fear that it does not exist. Something they will never achieve if they do not have a qualifications, or they have been told they will never be able do it.

Giving someone the skills to cook, clean, fight, or build is not good enough on its own, especially if at the end of the course the only thing that happens is that you return to doing nothing. Allowing the self esteem that you have developed quickly fade away as day by day your circumstances get worse and worse again. Repeating the course compounding further your worthlessness.

For young people leaving care this battle is even harder, often been called ‘NEET’ or Not in education or employment or training.  Young People who were used to being looked after, used to having support, and someone to pick them up and help them learn from their mistakes.  Find themselves more vulnerable for some this already makes their confidence lower than everyone else’s, and makes courses/training less appealing.  Often taking the young people longer to realise that they might need to return to education, which until recently was not possible but with the recent update to the Children Act 1989 volume 3 guidance there has been a positive change.  It now sets out Leaving care support for all children who are eligible for this service to be able to return to their Local Authority up to the age of 24 years of age to ask for support with training.

We are all aware that there are many factors that make work possible.  In order to support people back into work especially young people leaving care.  We need to look at their accommodation,  transport and emotional well being.  Each one of these could impact on the ability for anybody to work.  So with changes in Housing benefit, the increase in rents, cost of living and travel, sudden changes in the level of support provided we can see that there is a bigger challenge in helping people back into work.  Than just whether their is work available for them.  Especially if finding part time work could have a serious impact on their accommodation, and the support that they receive. 

So has this government got it right? No! do they understand it? nearly, the need to stop the situation getting worse is important.  But it is not all about protecting the wealth that already exists, instead it should be about creating opportunities and about protecting support services, charities, youth services, housing and mental health services.  To ensure more young people are fit and able to work.

Corporate Parenting or Case Number

This week I was struck by an article in community care called “Is corporate parenting one challenge to far?”  In essence the decision making process as workers working directly and indirectly with children and young people should make.  The term corporate parenting does not replace parental responsibility or parental consent.  However, it does mean commonsense and thinking sometimes out of the box and often within a restrictive environment that requires forms to be completed for every activity.
Working in a child focused way often means taking a step back to take a holistic view of everything that is taking place for the young person.  In social work this is especially important when working with young people in order to develop rapport and trust.  And this is not always easy, especially if the young person has already had numerous previous social workers.  It is also important to remember that corporate parenting is not about being a replacement parent.
Having worked both in residential and social work I have seen both extremes of practise.  Finding a commonsense balance is hard with often no immediate indication and reward as to what you have done has worked, or even the right thing to do.  It is not over compensating and ignoring boundaries, such as rewarding negative behaviours with activities, food or financial rewards.  This is more harmful and abusive to the young person, as it does not help with their development and understanding of their environment.  It is also not prescriptive, institutional, distant and cold.
More recently Neil Morrissey in his documentary highlighted the need for good corporate parenting.  In this example, his teacher promoted and nurtured his interest in the arts.  The same should happen in a children’s home or foster home.  I know when my own children start showing signs of getting into trouble and boredom that I need to do something to prevent this.  The sooner I do this the better the outcome for them and me.  So when working or caring with children in care it is important to recognise and prevent these behaviours, to find young peoples interests and nurture and develop these.  The result will lead to better outcomes for the young person and more stable placements.  This does not I believe always need to be spontaneous, instead thoughtful and consistent.  This I believe is the greatest challenge in social work with high case loads and tick box checklists, which can often reduce the quality one to one time with the young person.
So is corporate parenting just an idea? Is it good practise? It is definitely not a way of replacing the family.  It should be thought about in care planning or pathway planning and should be a way to keep the young person in mind, and a useful way to look beyond the plan and nurture it to ensure the young person can see their dreams, wishes and feelings develop.  Evidencing a feeling that they are not just in care but being cared for as the care leaver in the article describes wanting to feel.  Otherwise if we can not do this, children in care will be like battery hens stored in crammed conditions and only released when they no longer need the service, which is not a good idea. 
Is corporate parenting then one challenge to far? Maybe, if profit is the first objective.  But as evidenced by many families with low incomes money does not mean good parenting.  Therefore corporate parenting should not be a challenge instead something that is embraced and supported by every worker, carer, teacher, youth worker, or anybody in contact with children and young people.