Category Archives: concerns

future changes

There is one thing that I can say about social work, and that is you never really know what direction you could be going in. What I mean is that working in a Local Authority you are always subjected to the effects of budget cuts, and in all the years that I have practised the budget has always been reduced.

For some of us in social work especially children services we became excited over the prospect of social work becoming social work again. So looked forward to the next change with a glimmer of hope that it would bring the promise of more direct work.

It appeared that the sun was going to rise upon the social work profession. A new body monitoring and regulating social work practise, The College of Social Work to offer support, guidance and much more. The Munro Review providing the argument and understanding why the change is needed for social work and a direction that it could take.

But like a firework display on a very wet night the hype was there and dampened by the rain it so far has not amounted to much. The promise of reclaiming social work may still be a dream relying on social workers to give more of their own time to offer a small percentage of what the greater public expect of the profession.

The effect is staff that burn out, children and families that stay in distressed states unable to manage and unsure what is happening. The trouble is that often intervention for families does not need to be at a high level, often intervention at an effective level at the right time will prevent stress and separation within families. And the changes that are still promised in social work are geared up towards this work.

The trouble is everyday that passes by leads to the risk of another serious incident putting young people and adults at risk of significant harm. Although serious case reviews take place and learning is applied to professional practise, this does not give the information needed by each local authority to redesign their provision to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.

Change will happen, I am sure of that but what I am not so sure of is whether it will bring with it a glimmer of hope. A service that can prevent family breakdown where possible. A service that keeps children safe at home and when they are in care, can invest in better quality contact and therapeutic interactions.

But don’t be fooled every day positive work still goes on, social workers going beyond what is expected for the people they work with. It is also important that social work myths are challenged and dispelled and it was good to see the three-part TV series Protecting our children. I hope that more will follow and show all aspects of social work in the same caring positive light.

Child Protection

If you could point a finger at someone to blame for the cuts that we are starting to shoulder and feel the bite of who would you point it at.  I would imagine that it would be like a game of spin the bottle but no one wanting to get in the cupboard with Local Authority’s.  

Its hard to imagine that anyone would want to do that anyway? after all in some areas they are one of the biggest employer (or were).  But it is like being dragged to the hair dressers when you are a little child and you want to let your hair grow long.  “You will make the cuts” – “you will have your hair cut!” So 25% goes straight away from every service including Child Protection and the specialist services.  I mean its a Tory council so there can not be pot holes in the road.
But as a Children’s Social Worker should I be pleased to hear that finally a review of the cuts is being asked for  by the four Children’s Commissioners.  Although we already know the answers, and why the NSPCC argued that it is a false economy to implement general cuts to all services.
Could I be to harsh about the impact of the cuts, should I be looking at ways of supporting the community to help others within the street in child protection issues.  How to have those sensitive, difficult conversations with their neighbours about domestic abuse, substance misuse, physical, emotional, sexual abuse and neglect.  I have lived in a street where the neighbours have wanted to know all about everything that is happening in your life.  Where it is common for people to walk in and make the tea.  The trouble with this is if you can not get on with everyone the situation often becomes worse.
Its not all doom and gloom, there is opportunity for groups to come together to manage community centres and run breakfast clubs, after school clubs, support groups, parenting classes, keep fit classes, cooking classes.  Managed and promoted by the community for the community.  Providing support from people who are living in the community and understand the difficulties that are specific to that area.  Therefore the support being provided is relevant, necessary and needed.
Child protection is important at all levels and can not be cut in the community, or at the higher level.  Because the impact on Children does not last just until 18 years of age, learned behaviour is hard to change especially if there has been damage done.
So to the Children’s Commissioners speak to the young people, hear their complaints about their care, accommodation, access to education, contact with family and their future prospects.  Challenge the Government on the cuts, and ensure the right services are provided for all Children and Young People.

Harder to reach

Just when you thought it was safe to practise social work again after the latest scandal and in depth report.  The local safeguarding board produces its latest policies.  These are great and actually really useful, except there is a common theme them running through them all.  “Serious Case Management” or “Serious Risk Meetings” or “Management of Serious risk”.  All meetings that involve everyone within the council to analyse, reflect and examine everything that you have done, and then suggest something different.  Sometimes this can be useful, and for some cases very definitely needed.  Especially around the transition period from child to adult, when the threshold for a service suddenly rises leaving many young people with the bare minimum of support from their aftercare service.


Working with looked after Children aged between 14 to 18 years of age is not always easy for many reasons.  The latest guidance produced is ‘working with children that are harder to reach’.  Interestingly enough it suggests that many young people are harder to reach because they do not see their social worker enough!!  However, its answer to this problem is to arrange a senior managers meeting taking you further away from the young person.  Rather than allowing you more time with face to face contact allowing you to practise social work.


Today I spent most of the morning talking with one of my social workers.  Sophie (not her real name) Sophie was sharing her frustration and feelings about the current pressures of her work affecting her health.  “Its not the work Sophie talks about, its the increased reporting, longer pathway planning, computer systems creating duplication.  Statutory visits that now consist of questionnaires, and information gathering, in order for the Local Authority to keep an eye and evidence on what it is doing.


I would argue that this is the reason why many of the young people we work with are becoming harder to reach.  Losing confidence in the work we do with them because they can not see the benefit, as every visit is about information and not about them, losing the child focus and does not relate to them directly.


I like the idea that Munro gives of one continuous assessment, as long as it is accepted by everyone as a the basis for any information they receive.  This way systems could be developed that enable better communication, and perhaps even indirectly through different applications that enables the information needed to be gained in a less intrusive fashion allowing social work to be developed with the young person.


Instead at present we have the daily dilemmas of which fire to put out, balanced with the paperwork required.  Thankfully not in triplicate but still the working together document will look like a pamphlet compared to the number of people you have to remember to send all of the different information to.


Meanwhile Sophie is left frustrated and torn between the job she enjoys and the frustration of a system that is far from child friendly at times.  Hoping that the positive visits will out way all of the negative meetings, that the small progress seen are greater than the massive set backs seen on a daily basis.

Fish Bowl working – the cracks begin!

Have you ever wondered what happens when cracks start to appear in the fish bowl you are working in.  Normally you may want to get out as quickly as you can and jump into a new bigger pond.  Well lying on your side gasping for air is not ideal working conditions.  So when the tidal wave of complaints finally reaches the dizzy heights of our senior managers and directors a decision is made to employ an outside company to investigate what has gone wrong.  For many working in the office the answer is easy! There is not enough space to start, let alone every one having the facilities to make it work.


So Monday the new project is kicked off by the director explaining the process in a calm manner.  Using all of his Social Work skills expressing Empathy and Sympathy and understanding at the working conditions we are all currently experiencing.  A future carer in politics is a definite direction to take after this speech.


To test this there was even a haggle from a student Social Worker.  When the floor was asked “Can you hear me?” the answer “No!” fell on a puzzled face as the humour was lost on the director, and the rest of the floor.  After a difficult silence the rest of the message was delivered.  


The message is clear however, we know its not good.  But if you want changes it will cost money and jobs and or services!  Sitting back in my chair I wondered if everyone really heard the subtle threat in the message.


I always feel proud to be a Social Worker and the involvement and influence that you can have in the job we do through staff working groups.  Feeling a little bit passionate about my working environment I sign up for this one.  So I was disappointed to hear that not everyone else had felt the same.  And I was almost lost for words when a colleague had spent five minutes voicing her concerns was offered an opportunity to take part, only to turn around and say ” I am busy!”


So in the week that Community Care and Unison start their own research into working conditions for Social Workers.  Our little fish bowl also does its own, with my own input Championing the working conditions for our team.  


I wait to find out what the recommendations will be and whether changes will be made.  But remain thoughtful as to what the impact this might have on my job and the young people that I work with.