Monthly Archives: February, 2012

Can I assess who is a child still?

Its an interesting time working with children.  I have recently put myself forward for a research project and as it has to be relevant to my work place and my employers.  I have decided to look at the thorny subject of age assessments.

Probably a bad idea when so much research has already been done around this firstly by Heaven Crawly in 2007 with ‘when is a child not a child?‘ and now more recently by the Children Society with ‘I don’t feel human’,   Yet even with this mistakes are still being made about age assessments and vulnerable young people not receiving the right support or help.

The answer is sadly not easy and with no matter how much good will is made with the assessments that age determination on its own is going to be hard.  Furthermore, there is the objective of the agents bringing the young people into the country.  Especially when considering child sexual exploitation and the advantage of having young girls or boys act older to get past the assessments in order for them to disappear.  There is also the dilemma around the benefits that are provided to young people if they are under the age of 18, meaning the credibility of a few impact on the outcomes for so many, when older young people who may still be vulnerable in themselves have argued to be under 18.

Despite this, looking further still into the assessment process I have had to look at definitions of childhood.  One argument that has been consistent in all research is that young people from poorer economic climates may present as being older looking.  And their demeanour presenting as older because what advantages are there in being a child.

This amuses me because actually the research is right, when completing an assessment of age it is essential to understand what that young person defines as childhood? what have they had to do to grow up and survive? And what are our comparisons in the UK? I guess the bit that makes me chuckle was observing an independent advocate pulling a toy train out for a 17 year old young man to play with.  It is clear that we can not make comparisons so should we force all aspects of what we think is childhood onto someone who has already had to grow up?

But then I wondered is this right, in the UK right now there are more and more young people experiencing poverty, abuse and neglect.  Growing up in poor conditions and failing to engage with education and employment due to their basic need of survival.  And also is the young people making it to the UK the most vulnerable or the ones who have had the money to make the journey originally.  We are now hearing of stories of tragic losses of young people in Afghanistan freezing to death in make shift illegal camps.

But again it is not easy, what is right and wrong? are our perceptions of childhood changing and are we able to understand what childhood is? Which, means spending more time researching these subjects but also more time working on for us in social work that have to undertake these complex tasks is our understanding of assessments.

Alone this is a massive subject with many different theories and data which could provide the wrong cue to through the person or people out who are completing the assessment.  Experience is essential, however can be less helpful in this situation of completing age assessments.  The reason for this is the time allowed to complete the assessment and fully analyse the information given.  One reason for this is the information shared by the young person you are assessing.  When understanding the experiences that a separated child may have experienced in travelling to the UK it is important to understand the difficulties that they may experience and then why they may not trust us as professionals.

For me this subject remains immensely interesting and important at so many levels, firstly to safeguard separated children but also in improving the understanding of social worker with all children that are vulnerable and continuing to improve the assessment process.

Getting there!

Recently I wrote about my entry route into Social Work in the Guardian Social Care Network.  However, today I am writing about my wife’s route into social work, which for me is a far more impressive.  For me social work was always a reachable role and carer for me to achieve and I had the support and positive role models to help me achieve my dream.

Sadly however this is not the same for everyone in society and where dreams are quickly forgotten because of the fear of heartbreak that they bring with them.  I did not get this memo however and want everyone to know that it is possible to achieve your dreams even if the mountain you have to cross is out of your reach at the moment.

Like most families where neglect is nurtured due to the environment and perhaps dated values of what gender roles should achieve, my wife from an early age was always told not to aim or try and achieve anything.  Her school had wrote her off as a trouble maker and parents scoffed and made nasty comments.  Her own parents were only interested in their own needs and even today can not put her needs before their own.

When we started our relationship I did not know what had hit me, and I was not living in this world.  I had never heard so much negative talking or unwillingness to try anything new.  The only way I can describe this is if you lose all of your senses and start living again knowing there should be something there but there is not.

When I met my wife she could not drive, did not want to drive.  The theory test is to hard she said! having failed it twice already.  The support from her parents was much the same ‘don’t waste your money your not bright enough to pass’.  It is fair to say that I have not known anger until I started my relationship with my wife.

But there comes a point in your life when you are up at 6am in the morning to take your wife to work and then picking her up before gaining into work yourself that changes need to happen.  I brought the DVD for the theory test and spent many a long night with my wife working through it.  I did learn something doing this, and that is that I would not pass the theory test either.

The day of the test came and for the whole time I waited for her outside can only be described as the most anxious time of my life.  But from the moment she exploded out of the building trying badly to hide her own emotions of joy.  I knew that nothing would stop her from achieving her dreams other than herself now.

Despite this, I could not encourage her to take the sponsorship into social work.  It was not until she stood up against her employer in a complaint about the work place that her true potential was recognised.  Some gentle words and persuasion encouraged her to apply with only 72 hours to the deadline to submit her application.

I have to admit I was always biased about what my wife could achieve, her passion, strength and determination to support vulnerable people and give her time without question is something that I have not seen in many people.  I understand now where this comes from, her own background has meant that she does understand the impact of other peoples negative views on life.

Each step of the way was an individual milestone for her, the acceptance letter, sitting in the first lecture and submitting the first assignment.  Completing the first law exam and starting placements.

So here began a long journey of tears, arguments and hurdles like no other and final recognition that she was further hindered by dyslexia.  This is and always will be the hurdle, unable to read more than four pages at a time before the words began to jumble up and blur causing a headache that would cripple her.

But this did not stop her fighting the University for support, and her workplace.  Spending less time with her family for reading, study groups.  There was another thread throughout all of this the constant nagging in the back of her head, the doubt sown by her parents so many years ago ‘your to thick to do this, just give up!’ What this meant was that before any essay began a delay was created as a barrier was put up and each time would have to be smashed down.

And I have to admit with tears in my eyes at the time, when the final e-mail came in stating she had passed her final piece of work smashing the final hold her parents ever had over her.  You have just completed your degree in Social Work.  In my opinion something which is not easy to do.

As I write this I am aware that it does not adequately reflect how difficult this actually was for her, dealing with her own parents separation and many further unthinkable events that it brought with it.  whilst studying and supporting myself and our children.  To do it with earning the admiration of many of the lectures and fellow students being nominated as Student Union representative.

But the message is, no matter how hard it is what ever you face in life your demons can be beaten.  I have supported my wife in doing her course, but I could not do it for her.  The social work process is not just a journey through a course it is a life journey for yourself.  So don’t give up, do not look back and keep going.  Find your support and help other people and one day hopefully your dreams will come true to.

feeling positive?

Sometimes and only sometimes I wondered whether I made the right choice in becoming a Social Worker.  You never finish on time, you can never achieve what you want to achieve and always blamed for something that has not gone right even if you have no control over it or not.

Despite this I can not help to feel proud to be a Social Worker for Children and Young People.  I find the everyday challenge is given back over and over on a daily basis not by the media, not by your employer but by the young people you work with.  Because despite the minority that sadly do not have a positive experience of social work intervention there still remains a majority that are grateful.  

Young People who despite being abandoned by their family, excluded from society because they struggle with managing on a daily basis.  That are grateful for any chance, someone to talk too, someone who will fight for them and support them to achieve positive outcomes.  And I guess why I enjoy working with young people rather than children, is because of the variety in expression portrayed helps me engage with harder to reach young people.

In one meeting this week a young person who I met for the first time came in to see me screaming, f’ing and was generally very angry.  Instead of finding my heart sinking instead I found it filling with pride and admiration that the young person at least cared what was happening to him.  My role was to prove that I felt the same, and this is a challenge ‘why would I be any different from anybody else this young person has already met before?’  

I also met another young person who had been living with her older siblings, passed from one to the other, but neither having the time or the wish to care for her adequately, despite full support being provided.  The impact on the young person had left her desperate for attention, which she had sort through shop lifting hoping to be caught each time.  Her maturity and pride impressed me greatly in seeking help to improve her own life and make the decision to leave this situation.  

So for me leaving social work is not a choice I can not make, however I do find that it is important to be continue my learning in order to provide the best practise I can.  And hope that through my practise I can encourage other workers to feel the same.

Did I understand you?

Have you ever wondered how easy is it to communicate what you want to say? When you are anxious or nervous, angry, sad or just confused! for me I can find it very difficult and often find myself tripping over the words that I want to say.

However, as a Social Worker we learn that communication is a powerful tool that needs to be used carefully in order to make positive changes.  Some people would argue however, more could be done to support families in order to help them communicate with their social worker. 

Communication is therefore defined as: ‘the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium’: (Oxford dictionary).

As a Social Worker working with young people I find myself very conscious about how I communicate and often consider how I can create an environment that promotes communication.   Each person I meet is different, and the way that they want to talk to me is different.  Some prefer a soft caring approach, other young people need and prefer a firmer approach to help them feel safe.

But what is lost is that the spoken word is only a small amount of information that is being communicated at any time.  It is very easy to argue that someone is not listening.  However, it is not as easy to argue that someone is not listening when you are saying one thing whilst carrying out different actions.

There is no magic wand that can change this, our non verbal communication is often done by our subconscious.  And the most damaging especially when the Social Worker meets someone for the first time and the wrong signals are sent to each other, which means an honest exchange of information is going to be harder to achieve.

In order to safeguard children is is therefore important to understand for  families to understand it is okay to be challenged, as long as the points they are being challenged on are answered honestly.  It is also therefore okay for this to be reciprocated and families challenge decisions made in an appropriate way, either through the complaints procedure or Judicial Review depending on the decision being made.

It is in my opinion that certainly when working with young people that support is being provided to enable good communication, through their pathway planning, looked after children’s reviews, advocates or solicitors.  I would also like to see more children and young people being encouraged to take part in Participation events, working with Children’s Trusts to develop the services in their area to meet their needs.

I would also like to see the stigma being removed from people who need to have the support of Social Services and maybe their is a time for a change in title.  However, the role of the social worker is very important and families should not live in fear that Social Care may knock on their door.  Instead communities should work hand in hand with social care to promote a more positive supportive relationship, focusing on early intervention rather than removal.