Category Archives: crisis

Is there anyway to improve?

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years about how we can improve social work for children’s services, mostly from the very well publicised failings.  Each time there has been significant learning for those in social work, which has lead to some positive changes in practise.  This includes the Children Act 1989 being updated with and supplemented by the Children Act 2004, it has also seen the Guidance that is attached to the Children’s Act being updated, along with the Working Together Document, which is still in the process of being updated and agreed.

But despite this Social Work practise remains misunderstood and that instead of it being a well needed service it is instead seen as a burden to society, draining it of it financial resources.  Instead of the real focus of social work, which today remains focused upon the needs of the most vulnerable people in society and protecting them from abuse.

It remains clear that the biggest issue still remains in defining what a vulnerable child is and at what point intervention is needed.  It is at this point that social work is needed to be understood that there is no quick fix to create a perfect utopia as Andrew Adonis suggests, that you can not rush through social work learning to jump into this puzzle with a commitment of two years a hardy smile and a willingness to challenge!

Walking into the room above is a good example of what social work is about, each reflection tells a different story and each story may be interpreted differently by those who observe it, including the family and the child and it is only at the point of immediate risk of significant harm that a legal order can be applied for to safeguard a child.  So to rush through the learning and the reflection needed to gather each persons perception of what they are seeing to analyse the risk and identify the impact of this to decide whether it is a concern that requires a social work intervention is not something that can be raced through.

The aim is to raise the profile of social work and prevent child abuse and the worse case event of a child dying due to the neglect by the perpetrator of this.  It should also be recognised that this responsibility lies with everyone and every organisation should have a child protection policy, in order to understand it and prevent it from happening!

So today when I was asked the question is there any way to improve? the answer was Yes, talk to Social Workers, understand what the difficulties are in social work and where the learning is needed to develop practise including investing in social work and acknowledging that specialist knowledge is learned over a long period of time not over a fancy title.  So lets expand on what is already happening with the Change programme and the assessed year of practise.

And remember if you walked into the mirrored room would you be able to identify which image was the true reflection of what was happening for that child? because removing a child has serious implications especially when done so for the wrong reason!

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.

 

 

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.

 

Caring

Why did you become a social worker? it is a weird question and each of us have our own reasons as to why we trained, studied and qualified as a social worker.  The reason I am now wondering this is because I was asked or I suppose told that the reason why social workers do this is because they care! Now, this is right, but is it why we trained and worked hard to become social workers?

Being on twitter and reading the feed stream of tweets the answer to this is clear that caring does not get close to describing what social work is or should be doing.  Reading articles in Community Care (now online – Boo!) and in the daily news print highlights some of the issue that as social workers we have to deal with on a daily basis.

Poverty, Unemployment, lack of Education, Drugs, Domestic abuse, Services being cut, Budgets being cut.  This is also without Benefit changes, Mental Health, Physical health issues and other social issues.  As social workers there is a need to challenge these changes, challenge societies views of discrimination, racism, and abuse and neglect.  Sadly this is always going to be a difficult subject, as profit and greed are big motivator for all business, including banks and the current government.

And so to make the changes necessary to promote everyone’s improvement in poverty, housing, employment and their mental health this profit will need to be eaten into.  Something, that know one wants to do as they enjoy their own benefits of being in power and the profit that can be made during this time and afterwards.

Caring is not enough to describe the work that is undertaken, it may fuel the passion and fight.  For the long hours of reading, assessing and visiting to ensure positive outcomes for the clients that they are working with.  Often this work is unpaid, undervalued and not rewarded.  Caring may ensure the report is finished and done well for the person it is about, but it will not always get the service you want or where you want it.

Gangs

Wow, when you hold your case load you will have an emergency and it can make life exciting; managing the crisis and putting in interventions to return everything to calm. When you manage social workers and there is a multiple crises you really learn how to tread water.  


However, this week I have been able to work on something different.  In our little Authority gang culture, is still unheard of (at least not in any news worthy way yet).  Young People who hang about on the street corner or the odd scout troop putting on a gang show! Youth crime happens, young people abscond, hang out, fight and get drunk.


But Gang land activity, risk of Death, Serious Crime, Post Code fighting is all new.  As an experienced worker my only knowledge of this has been through shared experience with other workers and good assessment skills.  


The Young Person had recently been a victim of “mistaken identity” as a result, his injuries left him in hospital and needing his jaw fixed.  The reality of what life is like as Gangs take hold.  Vulnerable Looked After Children placed in unregulated placements become vulnerable to fast money, drugs, and older stronger youths who often themselves lived in these placements recruiting the next residents. To run their drugs, take part in organised crimes and allow their homes to be used to hide out in when needed.


In this case his name was being used in crimes, his address used for a safe house.  The downside his face was kicked in.  His defence “it was a mistake, they did not want me!”  Yet he believes strongly that he is not involved in gang activity.  He hopes to complete college, he hopes to marry his girlfriend and leave behind this activity.


His own emotional well being is low due to early child experiences living in a war torn country, not knowing if his brothers and uncles family is still alive.  


For me, it made me look at what I thought I knew and trusted.  It showed me that even if you thought life was difficult it often is even harder for someone else.  

The young person described his situation as if he was within one big family.  His ‘bruvers’ would look after him.  If he needed help they would be there! A community that looked out for each other, supported each other.  As he describes what is happening and living where he is it raises my anxieties even further.  Yet the pull is so strong, the fear of leaving the fear of reprisal to great the need to belong preventing him from escaping this and starting again! 

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.

Birthday Plans

Have you ever wondered when you become an Adult and when your Childhood finishes.  Is there a date? a time? maybe a place.  I still struggle to work out whether I have succeed in growing up? But for the young people we work with that are in Care, this decision is made for them.  The choice made by law.  For many an age that is counted down from the day the Care Order is granted, and often for the wrong reasons.


This week I have supported one such Young Person as her 18th Birthday draws closer.  A likeable young woman who has been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder.  Who as a child was sexually abused by a family friend, and neglected by her parents.  And as she grew older, developed an attention seeking personality for the emergency services.  


This Young Person frequently self harms through cutting, and tying ligatures or taking an overdose.  All of which would always be done out of hours in order to be seen by the Police or Ambulance service.  A misunderstanding of the Care that they provided, and a care that she feels that she is not receiving and craves from her parents.


With such little time left to her 18th Birthday, and a lack of engagement with the local CAMH’s Service was not leaving a lot of options for this Young Person to receive help and address her concerns, preventing her to live safely.  The reason why this is important is that at 18 she will be in a twilight age to old for Child Services and to young for Adult Services.  


In order to make these last few months in care work, I asked for a multi professional meeting to be arranged with the Young Person to be involved.  The aim of the meeting was to encourage the Young Person to develop her own Pathway Plan.  A plan of how she will successfully Leave Care.  


In arranging this meeting it gave an opportunity for the Young Person to share with her parents her feelings, about what she has been doing.  A chance for them to hear the pain she suffers and why.  An opportunity for this to be done in a safe manner, to offer support to both parents and the young person.  The advantage being that the Professionals could then add the support that they could offer to the young person and her parents.  Similar to a Family Group Conference but with less family and friends.


The meeting was fraught, and there was a lot of anger and tension from both the young person and her parents.  However, I was proud of the Young Person and noticed the confidence that I had seen develop over the months; as she spoke in front of everyone.  I also acknowledged that she remained present through out the whole meeting often listening to difficult comments about herself.  When I reminded her of this I could see a smile on her face and her confidence grow as a result.


For many young people 18 will always be too soon to leave Care, especially when support is needed.  But the level of support required is not enough for Adult Mental Health Services.  And with a shaky agreement to try group work therapy to help address issues and coping mechanism.  There was a positive outcome to this meeting and there is still time to help prepare her for what might be available post 18.  More importantly rebuild and re establish relationships with her family, that the young person holds important to her.


I know for myself at 18 I had left home, and I was looking after myself.  However, this was my choice and I had my family.  Further more my mental health was good.  For this young person it may not be as easy but she has been given the choice, and an opportunity to take the help one last time before she turns 18.  So far it has been 5 days since she has last self harmed……… 

A tough meeting!

Have you ever had a meeting where you think lip service is just not enough for the young person.  Today, I sat in a strategy meeting and thought just that.  The young person is left in a strange new (better) foster placement leaving  behind the staff she has grown to know and trust.  Because her Mother rages a campaign against the Local Authority, for removing her children.  Never understanding the damage she has caused to them through neglect and emotional abuse.


As a result she had manipulated her daughter with false hopes and encouraged her to abscond from her placement.  In doing so, managed to make a complaint against three of the staff she cared about.


Today we looked at what happened, looked at the procedures and made decisions on outcomes.  As everyone around the table  nodded and agreed everything was done appropriately.  I could not help but think back to the days that I worked in Residential Childcare.  Remembering working with young people in crisis.  I could not help thinking that the staff had reacted to quickly to an incident that did not need to happen at that point in time.  


Its a simple rule, when someone is screaming and shouting and extremely agitated they will not be able to listen to what you are trying to talk to them about.  This alleged incident occurred due to the staff on shift reacting to quickly.  The result unimaginable to them at the time.  However, leaving the young girl feeling not only rejected by her Mum but also by her carers.


When it came to my turn I felt strongly about what had happened.  So shared my thoughts, talking through the incident from the child’s view.  I shared my own experiences and techniques that might have been more effective both for the staff and also the young person.  


I could feel the anger from the Residential home manager as I made my recommendations.  I could see the slow nod of agreement from the others around the table and finally my Manager.  Who to her credit agreed that she had been having the same thoughts.


It is a shame that for this young person this change in practise is to late, to prevent there placement breaking down.  For the others in the home, there is a chance that this will not be repeated.