Category Archives: Cuts

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!

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Crash and Burn

Its not often that you see headlines like in the recent Children Service blog on the Community Care website like ‘Are ministers scared of social workers’ and it is interesting to think that this might be true! (I wish) however, it still remains that the real agenda remains with the coalition government to save money for the country’s economy to be stronger! (groan) or into those with money can recover their savings and feel a little bit happier in themselves that social care issues can be thought about again with real meaning – or in reality the pendulum swings back in favour of the Labour party and some focus may be given again to social care issues – Argh!!!!

However, I think rightly so that social work still has a lot to fear from ministers, it is reassuring in some way to understand that the new Children’s Minister Edward Timpson has some experience of family law and social care issues so that any changes that are made will be relevant and not a token gesture towards change.

The reality is the same for every member of the public in that by not meeting with BASW, or the College of Social Work means that they do not need to hear what the real difficulties are, or how bad the neglect, abuse and poverty really is or to the pressure that public sector workers and Charities and other voluntary agency’s are under to support the most vulnerable and in need, in order that more time can be taken to work out how they can balance the needs of safeguarding the vulnerable, with the agenda of the party to create a ‘Big Society’ (puke).

At present it still remains a statutory duty by the Local Authority to safeguard the needs of the vulnerable and in need, however if this responsibility could be fully transferred to Children’s trusts and then in turn to Co-operative teams this could quickly change.  furthermore without further education to society about the role of social care and what child protection is and how it is perceived will impact ultimately on the future of social work.

So I take it with a pinch of salt at the moment whether ministers are scared of social work and what this might be about, or whether we should be scared of what this might mean – could Society function without social workers as I was asked today?

 

 

 

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.

 

Difficult and Challenging

A critical time for all young people is in their late teens, understanding who you are is often a complicated task on its own.  For some not knowing where you have come from or if you are a separated child from another country this process becomes even harder.  Over many years of practise that there is no easy or quick fix to help young people work out this process.  Indeed for some the early years neglect and abuse establishes a chaotic behaviour that is misunderstood and occasionally poorly managed.

It is understandable then why the Government would want Local Authorities to focus on early years intervention.  Despite the major floor in its plan in cutting budgets to all services, which inevitably will reduce the referrals and early identification when essentially they are needed.  Furthermore, many parents may have already experienced disorganised parenting themselves and fail to identify the need to change their own parenting style.

The damage to the young person is often devastating and will impact on their ability to form new relationships and attachments.  For me this is key in my role supporting social workers writing assessments of need and pathway plans.  With the current pressures on budgets to move young people out of often expensive out of county residential placements into semi supported living, it is essential to get this right.

This step down is needed and for many young people turning 18 years of age it is a shock to know that suddenly to find it removed.  And for many years young people who have been angry that they have been in care and have been told by their families that they can return suddenly find out that their family is not there for them.

What many young people need is for their social workers to be able to spend more quality time unpicking these key issues.  Social work is not about ticking boxes and assessing need without following through with the assessment made.  For many local authorities they will want to reduce placement costs and one way to positively due this is by allowing positive social work to happen.  Either through creative thinking or longer term projects addressing need.  Running support groups and challenging myths.

This week I heard that a young person had taken their own life because of their placement.  I disagree that it was the placement that resulted in the young person sadly taking their life.  Instead, it was likely the early childhood trauma that had not been able to be addressed in order for the young person to feel safe and develop a resilience in their life.

And for young people in care that sense of feeling alone in the Universe is something that I will never experience, so need to be mindful of and ensure my social workers understand.  For many others who are fortunate enough to be able to enter into care at an early stage they will be able to develop the resilience needed to help them through their adolescents and into adulthood.

I guess the message is that Social Work is essential in supporting young people and reducing staff will increase placement costs as placements breakdown.  Increasing staffing budgets will reduce placement costs as placements are maintained and better outcomes are achieved by the young people.

Change and Hope?

If every day was the same life would quickly become boring.  In social work this is one certainty you can guarantee, that every day will bring something new and exciting.  But with this comes a lot of pressure and responsibility that would be expected when working directly with young people.  And also for a Local Authority that will be under pressure to demonstrate it is performing well, which is quite right considering it is using public money to do so.

The other topic you will here regularly is change, designed to ensure efficiency is achieved and the best service can be delivered to the minority that need it the most.  Despite not practising for not as long as others I have already experienced these changes almost constantly since qualifying.  Which, to me already makes these changes pointless.

Furthermore, I can not see how they save money as different parts of the Local Authority are sold off highlighting each mistake like alarm bells as the dwindling pot of money disappears.  Each time experienced knowledgeable workers are retired or made redundant to be replaced with inexperienced colleagues who are increasingly becoming over worked.

Now it is not really hard to see what is happening in the bigger picture with the coalition government in power.  We all understand the ethos, and the need to make money from private enterprise.  So here we are being run into the ground and with 270,000 public sector workers already unemployed, it is certainly going to plan.

This will not be getting any better for the foreseeable future so if we have to make changes let them be positive and beneficial for the people we work with.  Lets stop changing job titles and rising pay with it, lets stop creating position for people that have no direct meaning on the work we do.  Lets stop funding pot hole repairs and use tarmac that won’t erode under heat and cold weather conditions.

Social Work, despite its criticism is not about reacting to problems, it is not about removing children in order to meet adoption targets.  However, it is about safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children and young people.

Early intervention should be early intervention, multi disciplinary teams should not just be professionals but also volunteers to provide family’s with advice and support.  this should also include legal advice for people who are suffering from Domestic abuse in order to achieve change sooner.

Moreover, early intervention should be the responsibility of everyone making more use of the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) for all professionals to understand what is happening for these children and young people.  To invite support sooner for their families and therefore creating more positive home environments.

The coalition government has removed funding for everyone, making it harder for the third sector to survive and provide the essential support it has always done along side the public and private sectors.  Local Authority’s should also invest into the community’s where the support is most needed, rather than moving troublesome families around the housing association need to share essential information to ensure the right needs are being met.

Child protection should also be essential training on all courses that involve working with people.  Whether it be teaching, health, mental health, government the aim to ensure that everyone understand what everyone needs to do to ensure the safety and well being of every child.  So that it does not need a referral to Children’s Social Care.

In order to do this the government will need to start considering the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child with all legislation that it wants to bring in.  Making all children prime consideration at all times and not just after a tragic death.

I live in hope

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.

 

feeling drained

Its one of those weeks again when despite everything you do, you still find it hard to feel like you have achieved anything meaningful. At the moment it feels like having sole responsibility of painting Golden Gate Bridge on your own. Knowing once you have finished, that you will have to start again.

I wonder whether I have made the right carer choice sometimes? I know I like social work, and spend a lot of time doing my own reading and learning. I understand good practise and enjoy spending time with other social workers sharing what I have learnt. Furthermore I really enjoying seeing their faces or hearing the stories when they return to the office after my advice has helped them.

Still, despite all of this social work is trapped within a small bubble a small percentage of the population. That already is disadvantaged by poverty, lack of education encouragement and low job prospects. Moreover, the services required are often rare and where available costly.

Which, often means that each management decision sort is a battle that after time becomes draining, consequently having a massive impact on not only the social workers, young people but now me!

Don’t worry I am not looking for sympathy! because each day is a new day and a new battle. Each one leads to a better outcome for the young people as rules for engagement are learnt. However, as a social worker it is important to understand the needs of the young people. Without this understanding, without those important conversation being held with the carers, with the schools or the managers then social work can be a difficult task in protecting essential funding for the young people.

picture credit: sanfranshuttletours.com

Still working on work

Would I want to be young again, I wonder? It amazes me every year we hear that the GCSE grades are getting better because the exams are becoming easier.  Yet, does this really say what is happening.

In my experience I have been fortunate enough to have never been out of work, homeless or destitute.  But like many young people I do wonder what would happen if I did not have a job, or a skill I could sell to potential employers.  In fact without my social work qualification I think I would be in great danger of struggling to find work in today’s work market.

Working with young people in care has made me more aware of the difficulties that many people especially young people find in looking for work.   Placements, transports, contact, support are all areas that could affect the emotional well-being of the young people to stay employable.

There have been many schemes that try to get people back into work and the latest promotes work experience as a way of giving valuable experience in a work place.  However, this has come with a well publicised criticism and most of which has been fair.

We have yet seen from this government a positive approach to enabling young people to return to work.  I doubt that we will see anything meaningful until confidence is restored in employers to meaningfully recruit and expand their business again.

For young people more support is needed in helping develop their own understanding of the work market.  Time dedicated in developing their own interests and knowledge so that as business shrink into the Web and out of the high streets.  Young people can challenge the business markets and create their own work.  Maybe if more vulnerable young people such as care leavers are encouraged to work with organisations such as the Prince’s trust their mentoring scheme could help develop this.

Or if you are someone who could help young vulnerable people develop confidence and skills needed to find work offer your help to the Prince’s Trust mentoring scheme.

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.