Monthly Archives: June, 2012

Forgotten Children.

It is easy to see how teenagers, especially those who are 16+ can be forgotten that they are still only children.  This is especially significant as half the children in care are in their adolescents, we can break this down further with most of these children having grown up within the care system and those that have come into care as adolescents.  However, both groups will have something in common and this is their emancipation from being in care.

As practitioners we have known even before the Children Act 1989 that our understanding of this age group needs to be improved in order to better meet the needs of the most complex and difficult age group to work with.  It is this rush to emancipation that can cause the biggest confusion to those working with Teenagers, balancing the needs to develop and learn as an individual towards independence but remembering that they are children and still learning.

As a manager of an adolescent team I have been reflecting upon this all week, often I am given reports regarding ‘incidents’ of challenging behaviour and from this discuss with the worker what the issues are, if any.  It is these reports that I am often left wondering whether we have forgotten that these young people are still only children?

Moreover, I think this reflects who we are in society that we find criticism easier than compliments, so much so that many of us struggle to accept a compliment now.  For teenagers who are striving towards the goal of independence and adulthood who are still learning about themselves and who they are (where they have come from and going to) It is important to seek approval and recognition.

So, after many placement breakdowns, rejection and loss, after many meetings and different ‘professionals’ visiting you and transporting you to different placements rather than homes, it becomes easy to understand why many young people can behave the way they do.  Or is it?

Time can quickly pass, and before you know it you are faced with a six-foot teenager that has grown up with uncertainty and rejection.  A young person who has not know stability or love or learnt to trust either their own family or the people who are there to care for them.

A message that I heard this week from an incredibly perceptive young man loud and clear, which if it had been a punch would have winded me.

‘I know what I should do! I just do not like been told what will happen if I do not do it! Why can I not be told what the positive will be, if I do do it?’

Understanding human behaviour is often complex and yet also simple sometimes, and this young man had a good understanding of this.  Therefore understanding adolescent behaviour is achievable if you can remember that after the bravado, the posturing and behaviours that these young people are still children.  That it is becoming more obvious that it is easy to forget that teenagers are children and that although they might not want to be treated like a child that our language and behaviours must balance  and reflect that we understand where they are in their development.

So like children firm boundaries are needed, but also to develop and stimulate their learning a strong positive emotional warmth is needed.  And we all know when this is genuine or the person trying to emulate it is not really interested and therefor even the most genuine person will have a hard job to convince this to a looked after young person of this, but the difference between those that understand adolescent behaviour and those that do not is those that do not give up trying.

It continues to worry me that with a lot of thought and consideration being given to early intervention and the reclaiming social work models that an understanding and time needed to work with adolescent young people will be lost to teams designed for prevention of these young people entering into care rather than the careful analysis and understanding that is needed.  It also worries me that even though extra funding was found for CAMHS that this vital support is not getting to the right people.

It also concerns me that the focus remains looking at behaviour and whether young people can be safeguard from their behaviour.  Instead of looking at what positive actions we can take to prevent their behaviour from turning from healthy learning to defiance and rejection.  To use the words of the young person I visited this week again

‘my friends think they understand me because they have watched Tracey Beaker! but they can not know how alone I feel and being in care is not just about having a different activity each night of the week!’

This is an important message for residential care providers, foster carers and social workers lets not forget that teenagers are still children, that understanding our own impact and words have upon the young person is essential to prevent the most severe behaviours and the impact of a placement breakdown can have upon the young person.

I know that when I receive information about ‘incidents’ that i work closely with all involved to understand what has happened and ensuring that the outcomes reflect proportionately what has happened.  And often this involves unpopular decision sometimes for the placement, whose first though is to sanction the behaviour, which can be needed still.  However, for me it is preventing it from happening again which is important and often the hardest lesson to learn.

So let’s not forget the Children and help them become adults and achieve their emancipation of being in care and prevent their own experiences becoming learnt behaviour.

High Runaway Numbers!

Its nice to hear that finally the Government has realised that there is an issue with young people that are in care who go missing.  With the Children Service blog from the Community Care website reporting that some young people require 30 failed  placements before residential care is chosen.

Going missing is a key indicator that a child might be in great danger. When children go missing, they are at very serious risk of physical abuse, sexual exploitation and sometimes so desperate they will rob or steal to survive.  (APPG Inquiry into children missing from care, 2012)

A worrying factor for already vulnerable young people who have been placed into care, who are in desperate need of care, support and a sense of belonging and a placement that can help develop resilience and self esteem.

Having worked in Residential Care for nearly ten years, it was very rare that I would have to deal with young people that went missing for any significant period of time.  But, this was based on the work that team completed with the young people representing the investment in the young people we were making.

As a Social Worker working with adolescent looked after children, and some of whom that are placed in Residential Care, I can understand some of the difficulties that some young people experience with multiple placement moves and also some of the issues the staff have working with them may experience.

So what is the definition of a missing child?

For the purpose of this Procedure a child (i.e. a young person under the age of 18 years) is to be considered ‘missing’ if their whereabouts are unknown, whatever the circumstances of their disappearance. They will be considered missing until they are located and their well-being or otherwise is established. (LSCB, 2002)

However, more commonly the young person may have an ‘unauthorised absence which is defined as

This category is critical to the clarification of roles of the Police and Children’s Social Services. Some children absent themselves from home or care for a short period and then return, often their whereabouts are known or may be quickly established through contact with family or friends or are unknown but the children are not considered at risk. Sometimes children stay out longer than agreed as a boundary testing activity which is well within the range of normal teenage behaviour. These children have taken ‘unauthorised absence’, and would not usually come within the definition of ‘missing’ for this Procedure. If a child’s whereabouts are known then they cannot be ‘missing’. Unauthorised absences must be carefully monitored as the child may subsequently go missing. (LSCB, 2002)

 Of course the concern is not so much with the second group but more with the first.  I wonder why it is only now, after the incident that occurred in Rochdale that this has only just become a bigger issue.  Probably because even though the recorded figure from the Police is 10,000 children going missing over the past year this still only represents a very small percentage of the population, and until now not a priority for a Government trying to save money.

Furthermore, in order to save money the government has tried to reduce costs and has indirectly removed departments, and passed on the need to make savings to Local Authority’s that have all impacted on the service that can be provided by all agency’s.  Moreover, meaning that training for Residential workers has suffered and that Local Authority owned children homes have been sold off.  Meaning that more placements are sort further away due to the cost of buildings and staffing cost many of these have appeared in the north of the country, where this may not be such an issue.

What would be interesting to know is whether the 10,000 young people that are going missing are doing so just because they are placed out of county or because of other more deep rooted issues.  But to acknowledge this would then mean that further training for all residential workers is not only important but essential.

I would then also support the need for better regulations of the workers and also as discussed in the report a change to the inspection ratings for Children homes that have a lot of young people who repeated go missing from, meaning that Social Workers could better decide where to match the young people they have with placements.

More significantly I also find Tim Loughton’s comment upsetting and ignorant of what his party has done towards Social Work with vulnerable young people and children in care.  He argues that….

“It is completely unacceptable that existing rules are simply being ignored and frankly, some local authorities and children’s homes are letting down children by failing to act as a proper ‘parent’,” he said. “It is wrong for local agencies not to have a grip on how many children are going missing from care nor for proper alarms to be raised and action taken when teenagers run away multiple times. It is shocking to hear that any professional could think that teenagers at risk of being physically or sexually abused are making lifestyle choices of their own volition, rather than being the victims of crime.” (Gaurdian,2012)

 I find it shocking because I do not know any social worker who would use this language when describing a young person who is in the care of the Local Authority they work in, or a social worker who would not work late to collect the young person up often from an unknown address to ensure that they are safe, giving time that they might not be able to claim back due to the amount of work undertaken by social workers.

I also find that it further reinforces the need to have teams that understand the needs of looked after children.  That have the time to track down young people who may be missing, to have the time to explore how and why this might happen, to return them to their placements and discuss and work through the issues with the placement provider.  It would also be important to be able to have the time to have a multi agency meeting where every agency attends where every one contributes to the plan and provides the support to the young person on their return.

So rather than the government criticise every other agency for the failure to looked after children, instead it should criticise its failure to properly invest in young people.  To provide better training, registration and inspections.  By over burdening professionals and removing resources and trying to provide a better service through privatisation and by growth in the independent sector.

Furthermore for more research to be completed into why young people go missing and try to identify a provision that can start to meet the needs of the most disaffected young people who have suffered severe neglect and physical and sexual abuse at home before being placed into care.  It will be a long time before we see the effects of early intervention having a meaningful outcome on reducing the numbers of young people coming in to care, so in the meantime funding should still be provided for the most needy and vulnerable and as the Government now understands is essential and has a serious outcome for the young person if they are not found or further abuse is not prevented.


Can we change?

As a social worker it is very hard to not accept change, after all it is what we try and achieve on a daily basis within the communities we work in.  Sometimes the changes are small, others maybe life changing – but all are equally important.

However, more frequently it appears as social workers we are beginning to be asked to define are practise, forced to choose an approach and disregard years of learning and experience in order to support the organisation during this time of austerity.

But if we are to change for the better and if we are to decide on a model of practise to define what Social Work is in today’s society and furthermore what the role Social Workers play within this.   Should we not start from the position that Social Work is a growing profession that should be respected by all professions.  Moreover rather than Social Care being an organisation that deals with the parts of society that we do not want to acknowledge or accept.  That practise and interventions should be a positive sign within families to make positive changes, it remains to easy blame social workers for events, crises that lead to tragic circumstances such as family breakdowns or death.

However, despite these changes that are occurring and to a large extent mostly these are positive changes there is still a contradiction between demand for a service and the ability to practise as taught and developed through safe practises.  Making the most effective tool in the social work tool kit as the social worker themselves, and without the time to spend with the families and young people this becomes ineffective.

Therefore if the Governments are serious about social work changing then serious decisions need to be made in supporting the work that is done with families that are in crisis, with young people that need a genuine targeted, direct meaningful impact from the social worker.  A skill that can not be gained from inside the office behind the computer.  That only by providing the right funding, training and support can social workers provide the right interventions to the right people and develop as a profession.


Understanding Teens

Have you ever wondered what happened to being able to understand teenagers? We have all gone through this stage unless you are reading this and you still are a teenager.  In which case help!! who are you and how can social workers meet your needs?

Is it really that bad? can social workers really not understand teenagers of today? is the assessment of need that is started at 15 and a half a poor assessment of adolescent needs? As a social worker who has worked with adolescent young people for over ten years it does worry me that such bold statements have been made, especially in the ‘Rochdale‘ incident.

However, does this not go deeper than just social workers not understanding teenagers and Residential homes that can not keep teenagers safe? Yes it does, this can not be about another story where social workers can not keep children safe! if this statement was true then what is the point.

However, better matching of young people who are going to be placed and living together is needed rather than a ‘take as many as we can to raise our profit’ attitude is definitely needed then maybe this could be a start.

But what is it that teenagers want, and why is it that they remain one of the most vulnerable groups in society? is perhaps a more meaningful question.  The issue of young girls and boys being groomed by stronger and more unsavoury characters is not just confined to children living in residential care, in fact if Local Authority’s are struggling to keep them safe when they are already in residential care how are they also keeping the teenagers living at home safe.  Where moody grunts, doors slamming and late nights may all be part of what could be classified as human development and teenagers learning about themselves.

The teenage years are the most important years after your ‘early years’ for social, physical and emotional development.  This is particularly significant for children in care that have suffered early childhood neglect and abuse.  Where early messages of hate, distrust and self worth have already been preprogrammed into the identity of the young person.  Where emotional warmth and knowledge of who you are become confused between torn and inconsistent messages from families and social care.  Where older younger people start to develop their own relationships and start to make and take risks of their own.

All acceptable human development so far, but why then is it that more and more young girls and boys rush for relationships that are or may be abusive.  Moreover, why is it so hard for workers to have these conversations in a meaningful way challenging already learnt behaviour and making positive challenges to these types of attachments.

Perhaps the biggest question is why are local authority’s are not trying harder to engage these vulnerable young people.  Maybe this is to harsh as I know that especially where I work that there is already a lot of support offered to young people.  However, what is lacking is the time and ability for social workers and residential workers to identify and promote participation and answer questions that young people have about their own families, themselves and life.  Rather than ticking boxes, and offering meaningless services as a way of approaching this subject.

But what is clear is that social workers should be checking out placements before they are being made, ensuring their levels of visits are maintained and that the level of engagement with the young person is being maintained between the home, family and social worker and the reviews of the looked after children’s plan should be perhaps more frequent where the placements are made outside of the local authority.