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.
Have you ever noticed that when working in Social Work, that it is very easy for every thought and action to be related to work. When working with young people or whatever field you do work in. It is easy when you are with the individual or family to lose track of time. Or more accurately, find it difficult to leave especially if they are still in crisis .
I currently work in a looked after children’s team, where a lot of the young people aged between 16 and 18 live in unregulated placements. This often means that the Social Workers are the main point of contact for these Young People. Whether it be by telephone, or by taking them shopping, or by providing cooking lesson, or support with an appointment. This is alongside and on top of the Statutory duties.
More often than not this can not be done during the working day, due to the Young Person attending college, or work, or perhaps because the emergency may not happen until later in the day.
For me, as a father this can cause me problems. Especially when I need to be back to collect my children from their after school club. The consequences for me and my children if I am not back on time can be very serious.
With good childcare hard to find, and childcare that fits in with Social Work hours even harder. Even emergencies need to be negotiated, as I juggle work and home life to maintain a balance.
I guess that I am lucky that my wife understands the nature of the work as she too is currently studying to be a Social Worker. But what has scared me is the number of divorce stories I have heard. Where co-workers have worked all the hours and not maintained their relationships. When the to do list never ends, and an attitude of wanting the best outcome for every Young Person, I can see how easy it could be to work every hour possible.
But perhaps it is important to remember that to maintain a good balance, is not easy unless you have good support network at work and at home. That it is easy to tip the scales in order to help the young person in crisis. Once this is done, finding balance again may not be easy.