Monthly Archives: September, 2011

One year on

It has been an interesting day in the office forget the placement break downs, forget the phone ringing non stop.   There was an excuse today to celebrate a year of working in a “Fish bowel” managing to cope with no fixed desks, the facilities not working, faxes and photocopiers breaking down on panel days.

But as the table cloth is laid, and the assorted food is laid out and everybody is mixing and talking about the previous year.  The real business is being done else where, as the effects of the first years cuts were being talked about, the next two years were being planned.

This time the cuts will hurt and the impact on the service will be harder.  Meaning that there will be greater pressure on the workers to deliver the same service or a better service.  The true effect of what will happen is not known, redundancies and dismal’s are whispered, as well as a restructure.

But should I get excited about the changes, will the processes become simpler and made easier to identify resources for the young people to enable the young people to achieve better outcomes.   However, will the changes mean this or will the impact be on both the workers and the young people needing support.  

Monday Morning

You know when it is going to be a good week when ten minutes into work the phone has already rung off the hook.  The duty worker is late and when they do arrive, you need to ring for an ambulance for them! Normally it takes me several cups of coffee before I can even begin to digest the events of the weekend, and make sure everyone is where they should be and everyone is okay.  So by the end of the first hour of this week I was already ready to go home and start again.  And if this is how the week is going to go I will certainly need to make sure that I have my second cup of coffee before I leave home in the morning!

To make life more exciting the rest of the team managed to do complete a disappearing trick, either being on holiday or deciding today was the day that they needed to make their out of county visits.  Taking a look at my own diary it is not going to be forgiving  for me this week, with a secure order review and my own out of county visit taking two of my days up.  Leaving me two days to catch up on everything else.

With one worker off long term sick and no budget for a replacement member of staff for our worker.  I have been volunteered to complete his statutory visits.  Secretly this gives me an opportunity to get out of the office and spend some time with young people and not to have to worry about what might be happening in the office. But on the downside it means that I am fitting in extra work around assessments that need a lot of time and work to ensure the right outcome is made.

For me at the moment it is clear that the greatest cuts being felt within the team at the moment is ‘time’, with more work and more pressure it is important that workers look after their health.  Ensuring leave is used and time owed in lieu is taken and training is kept up to date.  However, what this means is that those left to cover are having to pick up the tasks to ensure a good quality service is being offered to our looked after children.

There is always tomorrow!

Guest Speaker

One of the things that I enjoy about my role is when I have the opportunity to be able to promote the team I work in and social work.  It must have been the nerves as I stood in front of 44 teachers all of whom support looked after children providing extra support and lessons for young people that need them.  My role as guest speaker however, was not as easy as I would have liked.  My time slot was just after the news of the cuts had been made to the teachers.  Each cut despite thoughtfully being made to ensure a service could be continued, still stung.  Mileage, lesson length all designed to offer greatest savings.  Although the support of these teachers had increased the GCSE success for our looked after children this year and also increased numbers of young people going to University the savings have still been enforced.

So as I began talking about the work our team does, I was mindful of the support needed from other agencies in order to achieve the best outcomes for the young people that we work with.  I was pleased after my speech that some care leavers were able to come along and also speak about their experiences of being looked after children.  What made this more special was that one of the young people was one of the first that I worked with when I had first started working.  Seeing his success made me beam with pride, and speaking with him afterwards listening to how he talked about work and managing living on his own.  This young man who had gone from crying because his parents rejected him both moving on with their new lives without him.  A young man who then turned to drink and cannabis, dropping out of school and becoming involved in petty crime.  However, finding him a stable long term foster placement and a few years later he has been able to turn this all around.

So then the second time in one week that I am asked to be a guest speaker it is with foster carers at a monthly forum meeting.  This time the pressure was on! “Why do social workers never answer the phone?” “Why are social workers always late for visits?” One thing that I like and respect is straight questions and I was certainly getting them.  However, despite this it was definitely worth it in order to talk about children who are looked after and the difficulties they may find and the importance of foster carers supporting the young people they are looking after.  I was pleased when I was thanked by the foster carers for coming in and speaking with them, however slightly worried that now I will be the point of contact for a lot of people who have questions about all aspects of social care.

Despite the knocking knees, and trembling hands I would do it all again!

lean thinking

Have you ever wondered what happen’s when the lean thinking system approach is used within social care?  Okay perhaps I need to take a step back, In order for Local Authority’s to save the amount of money needed to absorb the funding cuts.  The lean thinking approach has been used in order to improve the business process.  When you look at the theory, this is a tried and tested method of achieving success in the car manufacturing business.  But what happens when it is applied to social care.

Absolutely nothing! with the addition of electronic files it can take 10 hours to scan a document into the system.  Time saved none.  Fancy photocopier’s that can do multiple jobs; time saved none due to them breaking down all of the time.  ICS systems used to manage payments; time saved none because address could be wrong, not registered or because they are not on there due to adoption.  Its not until you look closer that all of these have been tried or attempted to improve the current system in order to make positions redundant.  Instead it has had the reverse effect of creating more work, more pressure and more stress on individual workers.

I struggle to imagine the cost this has had on the Local Authority, and still struggle with how this can be made when other services are being closed down, or having to tighten their thresholds in order to maintain working with young people.  When their are more young people than placements, and because of this less willingness to support vulnerable young people with more expectations on the Local Authority to pay for services that were once covered by ring fenced budgets for charities and voluntary services.

When I was being shown how to use the new printer (time I did not have) it was explained that the director would be able to see how much I was using the printer.  “You will have to explain why you used so much paper!” I am not sure as to whether I should have been intimidated by this or not? but being defiant challenged the decision making process for purchasing the new printers and if the director wanted to see me I would be happy to do so.

In reality you can not reduce the time it takes to make a fair assessment.  In reality you can not reduce the time to reflect on this information.  You can also not reduce the time it takes to make a fair and just plan, especially as the services change frequently and the eligibility changes more frequently.  You also need time for the plan to take place and take effect so as to evaluate how it is going, and then for the plan to be reviewed if necessary.

With the increasing number of families that we are working with and the reduced number of social workers. This process is being tested, instead of being able to rely on business support for support social workers are now having to balance their time equally between direct work and paper work, where as it should be more time spent directly working with young people.

Can we really save money through changing business system’s when positive outcomes are being challenged for children and young people?

Plan, win lose or bust!

Is it possible to write a five year plan for your future? Once it might have been potentially easy to write.  However, at present in Social Work, I wonder whether this is still the case. Or whether it is possible for anybody to still maintain a long term carer in Social Work? Budgets have been cut, services have been cut.  Not just in one area but in every area, Health, Education and with Charities and voluntary sectors to.

It is worrying with the current lack of investment in Social Work, especially as the work is with vulnerable client groups that desperately need support and help.  It is worrying that confidential information is still being taken out of the office, instead of the information being scanned on to a system where it can be read from an encrypted laptop.  Where bin men are given Ipad’s to help with their bin routes, instead of pre programmed Satellite navigation systems or maybe Bin Men that are not under pressure to collect all of the rubbish in half the time with half the staff!

Despite this and equipped with just a note book and pen (that is counted in and out of the office, and every page checked to see if it has been used) I would not want to change my job.  Case loads are growing, teams are getting smaller, which is good in a way because so is the office space! Guidance is growing and changing quicker than you can blink.

So it is not surprising that Social Workers are going off sick, battling with the work load is a constant struggle.  Managing cases that you can not give enough time to, whilst still completing the vast amounts of paperwork required to access funding needed to support the clients.  The real skill is to come back still focused and willing to do the job, knowing that the job will change again and again.  Knowing that the staff you rely on may not be there due to cut backs or promotions.  Knowing that when you are off that your work carries on and this has to be carried by the team, further creating pressure on individual workers.

So my five year plan is to carry on with my learning and training, to keep up with the changes that are taking place.  Hoping that I can balance work and my home life and that the pressures of work do not come home because of decisions that have needed to be made.

Camping, Childhood memories and lack of sleep

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to go back to your childhood? I do all the time and in a weird way this last week I have been able to.  Going on Cub camp with my oldest son brought lots of memories flooding back of camping and all the activities that are planned for these trips.  The main reason I was asked to attend this trip was primarily because I am able to drive a mini bus, without this it would have been very hard for the cub group to get away this year.

Its been nearly 28 years since I have last done anything with the Scout movement and going back as a professional I was amazed to now come back and look at the whole situation from a different perspective.  There was also many things that I was not prepared for and could not imagine.  Such as the energy and commitment that is needed to make it through a week with 26 Cubs and Scouts all fighting for attention or missing home.  Cooking a simple evening meal that took several hours to prepare, and washing up! what can I say also took several hours and water fights.

What I did not expect though was to be thinking about these tasks in such detail.  Such as how many people still wash up? many know how to load a dishwasher and struggle with the concept of standing at a sink and playing with the bubbles in their hands.  Something that once they have experienced enjoy doing! Or more complicated is sharing a bedroom with other people! If you come from a big family you may be lucky enough to share a room, but for those that don’t, sharing can either be a positive experience or a nightmare.

Big Society is used as a term for more people to become involved in projects in their local community to save money for the government but for everyone to take responsibility for their own community.  Scouting has been a way of doing this for over a 100 years and works with boys and girls and providing opportunities that young people may not have had an opportunity to do before.  I know that as a child I would not have had the holidays that I did if it was not for scouting.  I would also not have done as much volunteering and working with different groups and communities if it was not for Scouting.

This last week has been an eye opener and a great way for me to complete some positive work with children that are keen to learn and be respected.  I wont lie it has been hard, and I have never experienced feeling this tired for a very long time.  But stepping off the mini bus and being cheered by the Cubs and Scouts and being thanked by their parents made every day worth it.

My training and experience even came into use, as tensions rose within the group as it will do.  I could not leave and ignore the behaviours and sat the young people down to address the behaviours.  A positive outcome followed by a positive last night, with a camp fire, songs and marshmallows and a brilliant experience.  Which for many young people is so needed, and if you have time look up your local group and offer your support.  For many young people this is a great way to escape their normal routine, and provide them with learning opportunities all young people need to grow and develop.