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!
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 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………
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.