The ‘Social Work’ Matrix



Have you ever sat in your office reflecting and thought about the amount of work that is required from you? You stop, look up and around you, you see time is flashing past; phone calls coming in from families, professionals, e-mails pinging into your inbox.  I have had these thoughts and it has reminded me of a scene from the film ‘The Matrix’ where, the characters slow themselves down by controlling the computer coding within the matrix, in order to be able to control their surroundings and in one scene – dodge the speed of the bullets.  I can often feel like this in my current role, the matrix code instead being the complex code in the world wide web is the complex amount of legislation, additional guidance, case law, private law and policies and procedures that social work tries to work within.  Instead of bullets it is questions and they are fired in my direction all day.  Many social workers will relate to the feeling they have everyday, of being completely overwhelmed and recognise that there will never be an ideal caseload that will prevent any person from this feeling.

Since the review of Child Protection in the UK by Eileen Munro, there has been no escape of the review and public scrutiny of social services and children services.  There has been no decline in the number of referrals to children services or early years intervention or in the number of children that come into care.  There has however, been dramatic cuts in funding to services, changes in the terms and conditions of employment, training and support to social workers.  Where working over your hours was offered by social workers as a good will gesture in order to improve the outcomes of the children and families they were working with, has now been taken as granted in order to achieve the targets so tightly set.

It can feel suffocating as the timescales crash in, challenging assessment timescales to shrink to fit to court timescales.  Further challenging the skills and assessments of social workers balancing the needs and demands of courts within the needs and wishes and feelings of vulnerable children and families.  Social Work remains a complex serious of interventions based on communication, trust and learning of what it is like for the children to live within their home and family life.  Of course, this involves skilled approach to break the quiet mistrust of the media stereotype image of social workers as child snatchers.

As a manager within this process I have found myself being pulled in all directions (literally sometimes), challenging the workers with their practice, whilst supporting and developing their learning needs and experiences.  Hoping, from role to role within the umbrella of my title; manager, coach, educator, mentor, support.  Carefully managing the day to day crises and enabling the work to be completed.  Sometimes I wish I did understand the matrix code, I would delete the strands that bring suffering to the vulnerable.  And programme more support services, to provide the support and understanding needed.  Removing the stigma of living in a dangerous environment and the feeling that you can not speak up for fear of your children being removed or harmed.  Instead of a multi million pound movie, I will carry on working within the offices, homes, schools, children centres and courts I visit, challenging my practice and experience in order to ensure the decisions that are made safeguard and promote the right outcomes.








3 responses

  1. Families in crisis often feel trapped. Despite the time demands, just taking 15 minutes just to listen is critical. Worked well for me this week and thanks for spreading the word 🙂

  2. Some interesting reflections here, it sounds like you can get quite frustrated that you’re not really helping people in the way you’d like to, rather you are a pawn in a system, almost an unintended side effect of the complex interaction of many authorities and their prerogatives.

    I came across some interesting reading lately on a range of issues to do with what children seek to achieve through making disclosures, what professionals can do to support families and how professionals can support each other, all of which speaks to a tension in social worker, which I think you also allude to, which is the tension between controlling people and supporting people.

    There has been quite a lot of research published in the last year or so about how children who are being abused do not always want to end the abuse, rather they seek support either in addition to the fact that they are being abused, or they seek support for the people who are abusing them. This is because children know and experience the rather paradoxical reality of being loved and abused by their parents and of feeling a mixture of love and fear for their parents. This poses real dilemmas for the young person and the social worker, for both want to support the young person to live the life that they want to lead within the constraints of their family life, and yet both are compelled by law to remove children from abusive environments, end of.

    This tension also finds itself manifest in some of the interventions that social work and other such staff provide to families. We find that in some cases the interventions are often focused on communicating to parents on what they are not doing. Recent research on certain initiatives and programs find that parents who come under the gaze of social workers tend to be those who have had life experiences of always being told what to do and very often being either neglected or continuously criticized. They can often respond to further intrusion and criticism, by resisting and minimizing their interaction with the professional, not because they are not capable of change with the right support, but because they have learned to be hostile to intrusions into their lives. Recent evaluations and research have demonstrated how professionals can get the best out of parents by engaging them within a cycle of support and continuous reflection and praising of the positive aspects of their parents. This again goes against the grain of what social workers are expected to do, which is identify problems, areas in which the child are being maltreated, and then respond by issuing critiques and ultimatums to parents.

    We can see the same process taking place within organizations between social workers, where personal autonomy and discretion is minimized or at least forbidden wherever there is a sense that such behaviour opens the organization to criticism to avoiding behaviours and processes, which are assumed although not proven to protect children. Controlling and managerial behaviour drains workers of their confidence. Solution focused development of staff, where social workers are encouraged to come up with the solutions, and where social workers encourage parents and children to come up with the solutions is probably the most effective way of developing positive change. However it is resource intensive and rests on a political philosophy that it is worth the state coordinating a societal wide initiative to ensure that every child and every adult that wants and needs it, is enabled to receive some kind of positive social support from another. But not everyone wants to live in a society like that.

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