Monthly Archives: July, 2011

Advanced Social Work Professional

Having got myself all excited about our Local Authority signing up for the ASWP (Advanced Social Work Professional) status I have been bitterly disappointed this week.  The scheme run and organised by the children’s workforce development council is brilliant.  It is an excellent way of keeping excellent and skilled social workers working with children, that may not want to develop upwards to become managers.

The ASWP status aims to make a difference to the lives of children and families by:

  • Encouraging excellent social workers to remain on the front line.
  • Promoting standards which other social workers can aspire to.
  • Strengthening professional leadership by combining experience with the latest thinking.
  • Enabling employers to identify staff capable of greater autonomy.
How could you argue or find fault in this? Well I attended the briefing this week as my manager was on leave. I am glad that I attended because sometimes the message that comes back is some what confusing.  At least this way I was able to ask the really important question.  The question that burst the bubble for me and many of the other managers around the table to.
“How much autonomy will this status have?” Bang! I knew the answer really, there have been many changes recently in the guidance, that there is very little autonomy any social worker can really truelly have when working with looked after children.  The answer was, We have yet to look at how we will implement this and decide how this will work within the teams.  Really, maybe we should have done so before inviting the CWDC to discuss this with us!
The application process itself is relatively simple although may take some time to write up and allowing time to reflect on your experience and practise.  But then the decision making process becomes intense and fast in the work and evidence needed to organise and finish the process.  Which from start to finish can be completed within 12 weeks ending in a direct observation of your practise and interviews with yourself, manager and the people that you work with.
My second disappointment is found here that our own Local Authority want to make the application process a little bit harder and limit the people who can apply.  By having a interview stage first with the senior management to see whether the potential candidates have the knowledge and ability to do this.  Which surely can be evidenced first by checking and approving the lengthy application form, without making this any harder?
This scheme has been piloted, and in Sheffield they have gone one step further and created a role rather than a status.  The advantage of this is that you can follow the guidance of the CWDC more closely and make this process more attractive to more experienced social workers.  Making it a real incentive to keep workers on the front line and holding more complex cases.
I guess what is important to remember is that not everyone can be a ASWP, you have to have the experience, training and knowledge to back it up.  You also need to be able to inspire and share your experiences with newer members of staff.
And for me, I hope that from now to when we introduce this scheme that our own employers invest more time into how they can make this status work.  As the benefits to the teams and especially the teams working within Child Protection could benefit immensely from this.

Final week of the school term!

The last week of school term is never a good week to try and find yourself some time to do anything for yourself.  So far there has been a leavers BBQ and leavers assembly.  Swimming lessons x2 football training x2 Cubs BBQ and then the Cub holiday meeting that for some reason I volunteered to help out with by driving the mini bus, and also sleeping out rough with some of the cubs who want to try this.  Every evening I come back feeling drained! and making this week feel like it has been the longest ever at work.  Of course it is the same as every other week.

However, I have still been inspired by something this week! I have been asked by the team that looks after education for looked after children, to address and speak with the head teachers in our local authority about the role of social workers and are day to day work.  Why do I feel that this is important? embarrassing to say it as obvious and as simple as the amount of time young people spend in school with their teachers every day.  Teachers can inspire, Teachers can detect early on with the right training and knowledge signs of abuse including neglect.

As a social worker this is very important when working with children and young people to achieve positive outcomes.  But it also essential that in times where there is huge economic strain and schools have been given control of LAC children’s personal education budget.  That teachers and headteachers in particular understand the difficulties that looked after children can potential have.

It is also a time when some local authorities are trying to save money or be clever with joined up resources and knowledge by replacing the director for Children and the director for Adult services with just one director  as described in the Community Care article called “is reunification of social services departments right for families”   The answer for families is probably no! However, working in a team where some children need a smooth transition.  I can see the obvious advantage that this would provide, rather than what now exists is a scrap and argument and finger pointing argument if the referral is not made in time to complete a smooth transfer process.  And lets be honest there never is a smooth transition even when the needs are obvious and clear that the young person will need continuing support for the rest of their life.

To make this week worse I cancelled my annual leave for next week in order to save it for childcare later in the year.  To find everyone in the office now talking about their own holidays they have booked for next week has made everyday a challenge.

Stale practise

This week I was asked whether it is easy for a social workers to become complacent in the work we do? I would like to argue that for me, that I would not let this happen in my own practise.  However, I know I am not the only social worker practising in this country.  

The argument that was put to me was that after many years of practise can the decision making process become based on assumptions rather than fact.  This question was posed by a Barrister representing me in a case at court so it shows really the difference in thinking in the professions.  Answering that years of practise working with family’s and their support networks, gives you a greater understanding of the complex issues and an understanding of the stresses and coping mechanism families have.  This includes a knowledge of the community and resources available.  
However, does this mean that social workers always use this knowledge appropriately? or even with the knowledge, are there the appropriate services in each area to provide the right interventions at the right time.  Often needing to make the services that are available fit the needs of the family or having to wait a long time on a referral list waiting for the service.
This was made worse for me this week as one of my social workers told me that one of her cases was in a unstable foster placement.  The fostering social worker was concerned that the young person was not engaging with the foster family! should it not be the other way around? with the foster carers trying to engage the young person.  Often professionals and families wanting a quick answer and solution to the difficulties that are being faced.
With the cut backs in the service and training budgets that are easily targeted as there is a big move to ‘train the trainer’ and ‘e-learning’ could make this situation worse.  The office space is reducing meaning that resources and tools are not able to be kept in the office.  Often the complexity in the cases that are now being held makes time precious, and spare time desperately needed to unwind and let go of the issues being dealt with in work.  Means that training through new ways is going to be harder to achieve as the pressure will be on achieving positive outcomes for the young people.
Social Work will sadly always be needed in some form and more importantly now needs to be protected and promoted.  Social Workers should be allowed to be treated as the experts we are in the case work we do on a daily basis.  And to do this should be supported in doing this through better systems and working environments and also training that can count and promote the expertise of social workers.  
The aim of which would reduce mistakes when working with children and their families in order to protect them and challenge appropriately before taking steps to safeguard children when needed.  When needing to do this that the court process is not delayed or slowed down because of further assessments that maybe asked for.  
With more emphasis with the right training in practise and when qualifying as a social worker I hope that when speaking with other professionals there would never be a doubt or need to ask whether social work practise becomes complacent or stale!

From student to Professional

Well its that time already, the 100 days placement has passed and the social work student I had in placement with our team has finished.  It was a sad for the team, and for me! I have enjoyed sharing my knowledge and seeing the development.  I have also enjoyed being challenged (in a positive way) about some of my decision making from a learning perspective.  It has certainly helped having a competent student on placement with us and I have wondered over the past few months how I would have been able to support a more inexperienced student.  The reality is with the work load pressure, and increasing monitoring checks and high risk meetings and other social work tasks, I could not have given any more time.

I would like to say well done to all students who have just completed their course or will be soon.  It is not an easy subject to study.  No right or wrong answers, just the obvious if you miss the point you wont do well.  This does reflect true life when working with families.  If you do not get to the right dilemma, issue then every thing you do after that first visit is a waste of time.

For many social work students and even qualified staff the current issue is finding work.  Work is out there with many teams still holding agency social workers.  However, experience is still preferred and essential when carrying out complex assessments and managing your case load. Support is needed to ensure that Newly Qualified workers can find work and work in relevant social work teams.

But as a student what can you do to get experience? working with the client group you are interested in helps, voluntary work, agency work such as residential work, supervised contact  is always good and trying to find unqualified posts are also a good way to gain experience. All of which needs to sold on your application form and linked to the criteria that is being asked for in the application form.

The other challenge is the interview once you have an interview don’t rely on your charm and smile alone.  Please research the field you are applying for.  Understand the legislation and how it affects practise, keep up to date with current issues affecting the area you want to work.

As social work continues to go through changes, viscous cut backs, and attacks from the media as mistakes are highlighted causing further tension and strain.  Social Workers are left taking the strain and pressure of increased demand and lack of time to spend with each individual person.  So support is needed, real understanding is needed from the government and passed to each Local Authority to provide trust and confidence to allow for development within social work both for newly qualified social workers and also experienced staff to ensure that social work practise does not become complacent.

So I wish my student good luck and hope she enjoys the challenges social work brings, I look forward to working with you again as a colleague.

Should know better!

Today has been an important day for me, my two sons went to their new class today.  And for my oldest this meant an exciting day at a new school.  As I sat and listened to my wife as she shares the joy with me after she has left our son and the information session.  I receive a call from my manager.  I find that I have been invited to meet the director at the managers meeting.  Which I soon learn is actually the Cabinet member responsible for fighting on behalf of all Children Services.

As an experienced practitioner I will always say that there is nothing that can shock me! But Politics and logic still make me cough with surprise.  The meeting starts well as I sit with the other managers in the looked after side of our service.  Tell me about your job? tell me about the excuses you have in why you can not do this? BANG!!! excuse me? EXCUSES??? “Oh yes that is not a good word to use!” Reasons then! 

A good start from the cabinet member responsible for arguing on the behalf of all of Children Services.  Someone who can champion at a national level and local level for the improvement, and increased funding for all Children in our Local Authority.  Please, show some understanding of the difficulties that as practitioners and service providers that we have.  Please do not rely on news coverage of Baby Peter as a base line for all work being done with Children.

Tell me about all of the good work that you do with the young people? …..Well there is……Okay enough of that tell me about adoption? Sorry, did you not just ask about the good work we do? Yes well, I want to know about adoption.  

Its like sitting having a conversation with someone who is visiting from a different planet or maybe different time.  

To make it worse my favourite comment of the meeting was “isn’t is great that middle class families rescue working class children for fostering and adoption?”  Wow, this is a real problem where we are.  The majority population in our Authority are affluent people who are very successful.  They may not even see the hardships and daily challenges that the rest of the population deal with.  Their only understanding of Social Care issues is what they read in the news papers.  Therefore we are only able to recruit very few foster carers to meet the need.  So I am not really surprised by this comment, but I am angry! The value judgement that only the middle class can parent, that abuse and neglect only happens with working class people! No this is not true.

Her agenda to take back to the cabinet was yes everyone is doing a good job, we need more business support to help out – Yes, but more Social Workers is more important.  So do I feel confident about the future of Children Services – No.  And if this is a reflection of a Tory government do I feel confident – No.  The final parting words “I can not go back and bang on about Baby Peter as the cabinet switch off” really? are we still not learning from baby Peter and the mistakes made… maybe not

I guess all I can say is if you represent Children or any Vulnerable group, please please believe in it.  Challenge the status quo, make improvements but not cuts.  All Children will grow up; and will if we do our job properly pay back all that has been invested in to them through working.

Secure places

Have you ever felt out of control, had the feeling of not being able to control what you might do next? of course we all have moments when we feel like this.  However, somewhere inside our body and or mind kicks into overdrive and it passes.  Maybe with the help of someone else or maybe because we have removed ourselves from the situation.

For many young people who live in care do not always find this possible.  Many will not come into care until they are already experienced severe neglect or harmful behaviours.  The effect of which means that the young person could experience placement breakdowns, poor school attendance and attainment.  The young person may struggle with making positive new attachments.  What does this mean? It means that the carer will have to work hard to develop trust, and a positive relationship that can begin to address the basic parenting needed to provide the skills and resilience to help the young person.

It is very important to remember that this is not true of all children in care for those that have experienced a positive start their chances are more positive.

I believe that this is why our early years is so important, it does not prevent harm as the young person grows up, it does not make us invincible.  But what it does do is help with settling into a new placement, it does increase your chances of continuing in education, it does help with being able to talk with adults and make friends all important to help with good outcomes.

The series Kids behind bars has shown the challenges that some of these young people have experienced and what may happen.  It shows how young people with chaotic lifestyles arrive at secure and struggle initially with the strict boundaries and then with the intense personalised programme thrive when care is provided rigidly but also adapted for the right level.

This week I have worked hard with one young person helping them understand how their behaviour is leading them to a secure placement.  It has been hard for me knowing that this is not always a positive outcome.  Every time the young person goes to a secure unit that the chances that the good work that happened before may not always be repeated increasing the risk of a dependence on this life style.  The danger is a reliance and dependence on this life style that promotes repeat offending into adulthood.

Having watched the programme, worked in residential and my own experiences of working with young people that have been in secure there is good work being done with young people in secure homes.  However, this work needs to be followed through afterwards by the social worker, and youth offending worker if there is one.  Where this is not being done and the right procedures not followed the Howard league provides support and advice for people that have been in Prison or secure unit.