Monthly Archives: March, 2012

Socialworkhelper.com Social Work of the future!

its not often that I get asked to review websites, mainly though I am asked to review pathway plans, care plans or assessment of needs or Core Assessments.  So I write this with a little bit of excitement, and nervousness not only with the worry of the wonderful person that asked me to do this but also of all the people that may have their own view and decide to differ from my own.

So I here I go…………….

socialworkhelper.com describes it’s self as..

“a free social networking community created exclusively for social work, social care, and human service professionals and students”

Created by Deona Hooper, MSW a Social Worker who has gone on to get a second degree in Information Technology.  Deona explains that she created this website ” as a place where students and professionals could connect and get immediate feedback to a question or concern, without the usual delays you may have on twitter or bloggersphere”.

It is also very exciting as the website is still in its infancy but already had a varied selection of professionals and students as it members.  And I am now one of them, I have to be honest I am now a geek that does almost everything from my generic mobile phone (iPhone) and was disappointed that I could not access the content from my phone.  The thought of sitting in front of the computer when I get home is not something I enjoy.  So prefer the casual use my phone allows me, but don’t let this put you off.

However, Deona has been kind enough to upgrade the site to allow for ease of access for the professional on the go who can not get to their desktop.  This has enhanced the user experience of this site socialworkhelper.com Thank you Deona

The registration process is quick and easy and soon you have full access to the community.  I have kept my Twitter name @SimplySW for the site.  And I had considered whether I should shed the mask and step out as my true identity, but aired on the side of caution not wanting to risk the young people I work with or the organisation being identified.

What Deona has created is very interesting and complex, I doubt that I would have the skills to do the same.  The site has the ability to allow you to connect to your favourite social networking sites whilst communicating with other professionals and students safely.  Moreover, If you are someone who has thought about blogging but has not wanted to do so openly their is a chance to do so on the socialworkhelper community site.

What I do like about this site is the potential that it has, an acknowledgement that social work is no longer a profession relying upon a note book and pen.  A profession that has suddenly become technologically aware, and as daft as this may seem I still hear some social workers ask how to switch the computer on!

Social work is a fast piece of intervention that should take place before the crisis has occurred, and the need for this intervention takes place on many different levels.  The first is the political level ensuring that the government in each respective country continues to have the social needs of the country at the heart of their policies.  Which is where socialworkhelper.com and twitter can have a voice for the College of Social Work or BASW or the International equivalent to allow Social Workers to share their thoughts and allow these thoughts to be snow balled into action through free speech.

At the next level social networking allows the work of social work to be shared with others, the pressures, strains and challenges the dilemmas and risks that are taken to allow families to stay together whilst battling their own demons.

However, what I would like to see is what these guys at Social Work/Social Care and Media have done, their ability to stir up enthusiasm and discussion has been exciting and fast paced.  From the student to academics to the professional.  The discussions have been relevant and important and allow free involvement from anyone who has a view, and is able to share it in 140 characters or less.

Combine this with what Deona has created on Socialworkhelper.com  and there maybe something beautiful created for the future of social work in the social media.  Of course there is always going to be competition and an already established forum is the Community Care space.  However, what this lacks is the ability to join in with Twitter and Facebook and allow for instant messaging with a group of people in discussion.

I guess the message is take a look for yourself, and if you would like a venue where you want to talk about social work or social care.   Then this is definitely the place you will want to check out.  Maybe we will have a chat there about social work!

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Continuing Professional Development

For me it is the time of the year when I am asked to complete my appraisal and the appraisals of my staff.  Which, is interesting as this week I have also attended my wife’s graduation ceremony in social work.  In the back of my mind as I watched her shake hands with the Dean and collect her certificate, I wondered about my own development and social work development in general.  Or as I should call it ‘continuing professional development’.

So in 2007 when the social work degree was introduced it was aimed to ensure that more credibility was given to the professionalism and training of social workers.  Which, once completed included an element of continuing professional development requirements of 90 hours from the General Social Care Council and a framework for a post qualifying award.

As a practitioner I recognise that there is a need to continue with your learning, developing your experience and being able to stand up and argue that you are an ‘Expert’ in the field of social work that you practise in.  It made me chuckle and the statement is true that I heard in the guest speech at the Graduation ceremony  “You usually find experience 20 minutes after you needed it!”.

As we approach an era with a new professional body with the Health Professional Council ‘social work’ continues to look for an association that will raise its profile and provide regulation that demands some respect through its regulation.

So the Health Professional Council define continuing professional development as:

‘a range of learning activities through which health professionals maintain and develop throughout their career to ensure that they retain their capacity to practice safely, effectively and legally within their evolving scope of practice’ HPC

As professional workers it is important to maintain a record of our development, it is not necessary to submit every year with the HPC but may be required if audited.

What strikes me first with the definition of continuous professional development is the statement ‘retain their capacity to practise safely’.  An essential line that covers ultimately everything about social work, especially for those who are the public that we work with.  When faced with a decision that requires a complex risk assessment, can you make the right decision to safeguard and protect the person you work with?

With the specialist award for children and young people being phased out with the General Social Care Council the current assessed work based programme has gone.  Whilst more academic courses remain available in some interesting social science subjects these remain the personal responsibility of the worker to fund and complete in their own time.

It is important then that perhaps I reflect upon the past couple of years and the sacrifice required to complete the degree in social work and whether after this time, will social workers want to continue with a formal learning environment? Or should other methods be explored?

E-Learning is a popular method and for subjects such as using the systems and legislation changes this is a great method of learning.  I have found its drawbacks however, make it less appealing to me, and with the priority of the work will always be pushed to the bottom of the pile of work that is needed.

Reading is another great way of continuing your development and would further be helpful if social workers were to be provided with a generic system that could enable books to be stored electronically and accessed quickly including the volumes of guidance for the Children Act.

But learning only happens through real practise and understanding, reading a book may prepare you for understanding challenging behaviour.  But, until you have experienced first hand crisis, fear and aggressive behaviour or your first disclosure the look of shock can prevent the then essential engagement.

However, it is not right to always throw someone into this situation without some experience being shared.  Certainly I have mentioned before the need for better training and understanding around the area of assessments.  Therefore if you have sufficiently experienced social workers who can motivate and encourage good practise then their experience can be shared to enable others to learn and be recorded for their continuing professional development.

How would you like your continuing professional development to look? and how would you like to continue with your learning? maybe worth a thought and checking with your employer as to how it will be delivered where you work!

One cut to many?

Sometimes when the phone is ringing, and two different clients waiting in reception wanting to see you urgently, and your manager is wanting more updates on your out of county placements and the latest pathway plan urgently. The heat in the office is extremely high as Health and Safety will not let you open the window, and the last time you had a drink was five minutes before you left home this morning.

This is just a one minute snap shot that is repeated every five minutes of the working day. What gets you through the day? sometimes I wonder but the support of your team is one good way. But really it is a confident understanding of the procedures and the legislation that we work to. Understanding the remit we work in, enables clear guidance to underpin the knowledge learnt whilst studying to become a social worker.

It can already feel like that if you have not got support from any other agency the expectation is that Social Care will provide it. For some people this is essential for them to manage, however for others leaves families angry because the support they feel they should have has not been provided.

So although I do not like having to read through books and books of guidance, I understand that it is important. So maybe scrapping the guidance is not necessary but instead understanding where it is and how it can be accessed would be a better way of managing the bureaucracy.

The working together document is not just a useful document for Social Workers, it also provides useful guidance for other agencies. Essentially, it provides accountability for social workers and provides a basis for support.

And lets be clear this guidance does cover a large variety of abuse from neglect to sexual and all of the variety’s that this may be forced upon children. So to take it from one document, will ultimately mean that others will have to be written.

It is not the guidance that needs to be cut nor is it the budget that needs to be cut instead it is the time spent fixed to the desks completing funding request forms, forms to pass information up to management, forms in triplicate to make a referral, forms to request other forms.

I guess the one area in which the young person would like to see more of will become a luxury and that would be to see their social worker more often. Rather than just the statutory guidance, which many social workers will find hard to manage with the constant pressure they are under.

So lets not cut the guidance, instead be creative as to how it can be found I do not want to have to trawl through the intranet, or the Safeguarding board website then to the Department of Education or Opsi to find the information I need. Instead, provide the systems that help social workers make their decision accurately, quicker and more effective to enable true safeguarding of vulnerable children. To enable them to remain within the family when they can and to process child protection system’s faster where they are needed.

Difficult and Challenging

A critical time for all young people is in their late teens, understanding who you are is often a complicated task on its own.  For some not knowing where you have come from or if you are a separated child from another country this process becomes even harder.  Over many years of practise that there is no easy or quick fix to help young people work out this process.  Indeed for some the early years neglect and abuse establishes a chaotic behaviour that is misunderstood and occasionally poorly managed.

It is understandable then why the Government would want Local Authorities to focus on early years intervention.  Despite the major floor in its plan in cutting budgets to all services, which inevitably will reduce the referrals and early identification when essentially they are needed.  Furthermore, many parents may have already experienced disorganised parenting themselves and fail to identify the need to change their own parenting style.

The damage to the young person is often devastating and will impact on their ability to form new relationships and attachments.  For me this is key in my role supporting social workers writing assessments of need and pathway plans.  With the current pressures on budgets to move young people out of often expensive out of county residential placements into semi supported living, it is essential to get this right.

This step down is needed and for many young people turning 18 years of age it is a shock to know that suddenly to find it removed.  And for many years young people who have been angry that they have been in care and have been told by their families that they can return suddenly find out that their family is not there for them.

What many young people need is for their social workers to be able to spend more quality time unpicking these key issues.  Social work is not about ticking boxes and assessing need without following through with the assessment made.  For many local authorities they will want to reduce placement costs and one way to positively due this is by allowing positive social work to happen.  Either through creative thinking or longer term projects addressing need.  Running support groups and challenging myths.

This week I heard that a young person had taken their own life because of their placement.  I disagree that it was the placement that resulted in the young person sadly taking their life.  Instead, it was likely the early childhood trauma that had not been able to be addressed in order for the young person to feel safe and develop a resilience in their life.

And for young people in care that sense of feeling alone in the Universe is something that I will never experience, so need to be mindful of and ensure my social workers understand.  For many others who are fortunate enough to be able to enter into care at an early stage they will be able to develop the resilience needed to help them through their adolescents and into adulthood.

I guess the message is that Social Work is essential in supporting young people and reducing staff will increase placement costs as placements breakdown.  Increasing staffing budgets will reduce placement costs as placements are maintained and better outcomes are achieved by the young people.

World Social Work day, can it kick start positive change?

 

On World Social Work Day 2012, I find myself reflecting on Social Work practise.  From all over the globe other professionals are engaging with Social Work on a daily basis.  And in a recent conversation with a social worker from Nigeria I found myself mesmerised by the tales of practise and the different work that is trying to be achieved.  By tales of practise I mean good practise, and how culture can impact upon the message that Social Workers are giving to vulnerable people.

On this day the 20th of March World Social Work Day passed quietly in my office, Social Work still happened of course.  For me though I found myself in a position where today I learnt something new about post traumatic stress disorder, and infants and their early attachments.  The session aimed at Educational professionals screamed out at me on many different levels and left me wanting to learn more.

Now although I did already know about this subject the presenter delivered it in a manner that summarised my previous learning.  There was no information hidden or impact reserved the message was clear and aimed at professionals.

There was criticism of the impacts of the cuts and the likely effects this has on services to prevent this from happening.  And I wonder whether the Coalition has calculated the impact of the cost of PTSD on students and young adults in the future because of the cuts made now.  With less free child care facilities, Children resources being cut, Drug and alcohol services being cut, Education and schools having to cut back on training and Teaching Assistants.

Being young and vulnerable is a challenge already, but to be suffering in silence with the effects of abuse and trauma can further impact on this.  If professionals can not have the right time to assess and identify the right need then young people can be misdiagnosed with ADHD rather than PTSD.  The impact is that the young person can then associate the effects of abuse and relying upon a substance to control this first of all ‘Ritalin’ or ‘Concerta’ then Alcohol or illegal drugs.

So on World Social Day it is important to remember Social Work and Champion the work we do.  It is important to continue with our learning and remember why we become Social Workers.  It is to make a difference and help other to bring about the change they need.  In order to do this first we must be able to stand up ourselves to those who want to bring about change in Social Work without understanding the consequences of doing so.

But also remember in doing this that as Social Workers we must protect ourselves from secondary Trauma and remember that this is why it is important to promote today (the third Tuesday of every March) For Social Workers.  To supporting others who make everything we try to achieve possible.

 

Picture Credit: utexas.edu and blogs.sfweekly.com

Change and Hope?

If every day was the same life would quickly become boring.  In social work this is one certainty you can guarantee, that every day will bring something new and exciting.  But with this comes a lot of pressure and responsibility that would be expected when working directly with young people.  And also for a Local Authority that will be under pressure to demonstrate it is performing well, which is quite right considering it is using public money to do so.

The other topic you will here regularly is change, designed to ensure efficiency is achieved and the best service can be delivered to the minority that need it the most.  Despite not practising for not as long as others I have already experienced these changes almost constantly since qualifying.  Which, to me already makes these changes pointless.

Furthermore, I can not see how they save money as different parts of the Local Authority are sold off highlighting each mistake like alarm bells as the dwindling pot of money disappears.  Each time experienced knowledgeable workers are retired or made redundant to be replaced with inexperienced colleagues who are increasingly becoming over worked.

Now it is not really hard to see what is happening in the bigger picture with the coalition government in power.  We all understand the ethos, and the need to make money from private enterprise.  So here we are being run into the ground and with 270,000 public sector workers already unemployed, it is certainly going to plan.

This will not be getting any better for the foreseeable future so if we have to make changes let them be positive and beneficial for the people we work with.  Lets stop changing job titles and rising pay with it, lets stop creating position for people that have no direct meaning on the work we do.  Lets stop funding pot hole repairs and use tarmac that won’t erode under heat and cold weather conditions.

Social Work, despite its criticism is not about reacting to problems, it is not about removing children in order to meet adoption targets.  However, it is about safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children and young people.

Early intervention should be early intervention, multi disciplinary teams should not just be professionals but also volunteers to provide family’s with advice and support.  this should also include legal advice for people who are suffering from Domestic abuse in order to achieve change sooner.

Moreover, early intervention should be the responsibility of everyone making more use of the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) for all professionals to understand what is happening for these children and young people.  To invite support sooner for their families and therefore creating more positive home environments.

The coalition government has removed funding for everyone, making it harder for the third sector to survive and provide the essential support it has always done along side the public and private sectors.  Local Authority’s should also invest into the community’s where the support is most needed, rather than moving troublesome families around the housing association need to share essential information to ensure the right needs are being met.

Child protection should also be essential training on all courses that involve working with people.  Whether it be teaching, health, mental health, government the aim to ensure that everyone understand what everyone needs to do to ensure the safety and well being of every child.  So that it does not need a referral to Children’s Social Care.

In order to do this the government will need to start considering the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child with all legislation that it wants to bring in.  Making all children prime consideration at all times and not just after a tragic death.

I live in hope

Am I ready to move on?

Working in a looked after children’s team working with young people preparing to leave care, I was not surprised to read in my daily Community Care e-mail this article on Care Leavers. Although it does not surprise me, it does worry me and whether maybe the research that was put into this is now out of date? As the link at bottom of this articles states the Care Regs changed in April 2011. However, if you are not signed up to CCinform the full guidance is here.

In short the new care regulations promotes 16 year olds remaining in care rather than being left to look after themselves in their own flat. The main reason for this is for the exact reason describe in the Community Care article. Of course if they can return home or can live with friends then this is also encouraged and will provide young people an opportunity to understand independent living.

However, it does not matter whether you are 16, 18 or 24 years of age, if you are not ready to live alone or do not have the skills independent living is is always going to be a challenge. Furthermore, once you have left care there is very little protection for you. If you make a mistake in your rent payments or a vulnerable young person and can not manage your tenancy then you lose your right to hold another tenancy.

Although the leaving care service does provide a transition for young people leaving care, their role is not statutory. As young adults they can make the decision not to engage with their workers and for many young people leaving care they do not want to continue to think they are still being “looked after”.

It is also worrying the cost of placements for young people planning on leaving care. Making it impossible sometimes to find sustainable housing for them. This is another area in which vulnerable people are being affected on a daily basis by the cuts being made else where. The lack of suitable accommodation and support provide in what is available can impact on all other areas. The good placements where support is at the right level are often to expensive and may not transition into a placement that will provide an independent placement post 18.

There are also many challenges for young people especially those who have been placed out of county for many years and no longer wish to return to their Local Authority where they might have housing priority. For many young people to be able to feel confident in moving on, the need for a positive support network maybe essential. And often this can not be a professional network that finishes work at 5.30pm.

For some young people their teenage years are often spent in turmoil and chaos, despite the all of support and guidance offered. Reigning in their own emotions is not achievable, and often the only way to feel secure is to be around a lot of other people. So when moving on plans are discussed in review meetings, or reviews of the pathway plan or on visits this causes the trauma to be triggered again. Making any move on plans harder to make.

Sadly no Local Authority is the same in the services that might be offered, but whilst pressure for budgets to be cut on all services again leave young people being forced to cope often alone due to what each Local Authority might be offering. Cuts on budgets also means higher case loads, lower support packages and placements being ended to ensure a service can be offered to everyone.

And despite the perception of social workers this can impact on the way that you feel about the work, the pressure and strains this can have whilst social workers fight to ensure young people can manage. Many often putting in long hours to try and achieve sometimes the smallest tasks for the young people.

 

Workshop

 

It is easy to forget something when the majority of your week is a blur of chaos and tension. however, this week I did find an interesting e-mail asking whether I would be interested in running a workshop on ‘Equality and Diversity’ for a group of social work students.

I have to admit that I had to open the e-mail fully to check who the message was for, after all its not every day I receive these messages.

However, my excitement was my managers panic, and how often will you be gone for this? “don’t panic it is only one workshop”. Not that it should make any difference! But I guess that I should be flattered that I will be missed.

Why would I get so excited by this? I guess for me it will be doing something that I enjoy – which is talking about social work in practise, whilst also supporting Social Work Students in their learning.

As a social work manager reading a lot of care plans, pathway plans and assessments I often find myself questioning whether the young people have any diversity needs; and is therefore always a subject that I find myself having with my social workers that I supervise.

But as I gently challenge the social workers to reflect upon each young person and what makes these young people different from their peers. I can see how this then leads on to improve the quality of the assessment or even to a better understanding of the young persons needs. I have also seen an improvement in the outcomes for the young people we work with. Mostly this has been evidenced with fewer placement breakdowns over the past six months.

So I am excited about being able to talk with students alongside an academic to promote good analysis and reflection around an important subject that is relevant to everyone.

 

photo credit to: estuary.co.uk

 

feeling drained

Its one of those weeks again when despite everything you do, you still find it hard to feel like you have achieved anything meaningful. At the moment it feels like having sole responsibility of painting Golden Gate Bridge on your own. Knowing once you have finished, that you will have to start again.

I wonder whether I have made the right carer choice sometimes? I know I like social work, and spend a lot of time doing my own reading and learning. I understand good practise and enjoy spending time with other social workers sharing what I have learnt. Furthermore I really enjoying seeing their faces or hearing the stories when they return to the office after my advice has helped them.

Still, despite all of this social work is trapped within a small bubble a small percentage of the population. That already is disadvantaged by poverty, lack of education encouragement and low job prospects. Moreover, the services required are often rare and where available costly.

Which, often means that each management decision sort is a battle that after time becomes draining, consequently having a massive impact on not only the social workers, young people but now me!

Don’t worry I am not looking for sympathy! because each day is a new day and a new battle. Each one leads to a better outcome for the young people as rules for engagement are learnt. However, as a social worker it is important to understand the needs of the young people. Without this understanding, without those important conversation being held with the carers, with the schools or the managers then social work can be a difficult task in protecting essential funding for the young people.

picture credit: sanfranshuttletours.com

Research diary March 2012

As part of a research project it is often useful to keep a diary or journal, I do not have a diary but thought how about writing posting my thoughts here. Hope you do not mind?

The formal learning part of this module is scarily going past quite fast, and my draft proposal is almost ready to be submitted. I have to be honest, this is the first time I have taken on a piece of work like this. The project itself has sparked a real interest in research for me. Its not that I have not been interested in research, the pressures of day to day life and work seem to make this a difficult subject to find time to do.

However, now that I have started it appears that there is not a minute that has gone past when I am not thinking about something or the other to do with the project. I do think that because of the amount of work this does cause in my day to day job has helped me to reflect upon the subject material that I have been reading.

I have found many interesting articles that have been very thought provoking in the area of age assessments. And I guess when undertaking research projects gaps in research start to form sparking further interest into the subject. Ravi Kholi in ‘The sound of silence: Listening to what unaccompanied asylum-seeking children say and do not say’ highlighted this saying that steadily over the last few years the detailed lives and circumstances of these children and young people have begun to be charted and understood (Kholi, 2005). Some of these I have saved in my useful links page.

Furthermore because this has been well written and covered about topic my focus has to take a different direction. Again I find Ravi Kohli’s comments interesting as he argues what do we know about the young people’s ordinary lives before they make their journey? and by understanding their ordinary lives we will start to see separated children as ordinary children and not people trying to beat the system (Kohli, 2005). This argument is supported in a report called Negotiating Childhood: Age assessment in the UK asylum systems where UASC whether they are ‘genuine’ refugees or not their status as ‘genuine’ children may still be challenged (Kvittingen, 2010).

My next stage once I have completed my research proposal is to start collecting the information that I need. Although this creates some apprehension in whether I will be able to find any meaningful data from the sample I will be approaching. I do not know, and although this appears very vague at present I guess I have to protect the work I am doing.