Category Archives: family support

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.

 

Did I understand you?

Have you ever wondered how easy is it to communicate what you want to say? When you are anxious or nervous, angry, sad or just confused! for me I can find it very difficult and often find myself tripping over the words that I want to say.

However, as a Social Worker we learn that communication is a powerful tool that needs to be used carefully in order to make positive changes.  Some people would argue however, more could be done to support families in order to help them communicate with their social worker. 

Communication is therefore defined as: ‘the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium’: (Oxford dictionary).

As a Social Worker working with young people I find myself very conscious about how I communicate and often consider how I can create an environment that promotes communication.   Each person I meet is different, and the way that they want to talk to me is different.  Some prefer a soft caring approach, other young people need and prefer a firmer approach to help them feel safe.

But what is lost is that the spoken word is only a small amount of information that is being communicated at any time.  It is very easy to argue that someone is not listening.  However, it is not as easy to argue that someone is not listening when you are saying one thing whilst carrying out different actions.

There is no magic wand that can change this, our non verbal communication is often done by our subconscious.  And the most damaging especially when the Social Worker meets someone for the first time and the wrong signals are sent to each other, which means an honest exchange of information is going to be harder to achieve.

In order to safeguard children is is therefore important to understand for  families to understand it is okay to be challenged, as long as the points they are being challenged on are answered honestly.  It is also therefore okay for this to be reciprocated and families challenge decisions made in an appropriate way, either through the complaints procedure or Judicial Review depending on the decision being made.

It is in my opinion that certainly when working with young people that support is being provided to enable good communication, through their pathway planning, looked after children’s reviews, advocates or solicitors.  I would also like to see more children and young people being encouraged to take part in Participation events, working with Children’s Trusts to develop the services in their area to meet their needs.

I would also like to see the stigma being removed from people who need to have the support of Social Services and maybe their is a time for a change in title.  However, the role of the social worker is very important and families should not live in fear that Social Care may knock on their door.  Instead communities should work hand in hand with social care to promote a more positive supportive relationship, focusing on early intervention rather than removal.












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.

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.

Winds of Change

Its been a funny week this week, my Manager who had been on leave, has returned to work.  And with this appears to have a new eagerness to make sudden changes in the teams practises! it seems at any cost.  It appears as a result of this, the team had made a concious decision to be working from home all this week.


Perhaps this eagerness is due to the important changes in Children’s Social Care; as new Guidances comes into force on the 1st of April 2011.  With these changes comes a new framework for Care planning.

Department of Education

This diagram shows how all of the sections of the legal framework fits together, in order to keep the theme of the Child at the centre.  And maybe it is me, but this is not a new concept? and all services should link together to provide answers to met the individual Child’s needs.


It felt like we were almost preparing for this change for the first time by inviting in an external trainer to explain the changes to Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 3: Planning Transitions to Adulthood for Care Leavers.  However, this soon changed as after the lunch it seemed like everyone had starting to flag with the dry delivery, and copious amounts of handouts that would need to be read!


This Guidance sets out the contents of the “Pathway Plan” and explains how and with whom this plan should be created with.  However, this is not as easy as it always may seem.  For many Young People, and including myself at 16, leaving home and starting on your own seems daunting.  At least I was able to have a choice as to when I moved out! 


The Guidance is supposed to aim to give Care Leavers the same level of support that their peers would receive when leaving home from a reasonable parent.  “Reasonable” being the key term for tailoring a plan that meets the individual needs of the Young Person in preparing and support to Leave Care.


There is two new exciting additions to this Guidance that I like.  The first being a move away from the attitude of ending the Looked After Status of Young People (Under Section 20, CA 1989) who have returned home.  For me this is a positive step to ensuring that risk can be balanced with Support and success.  The support of course, is based on the Assessment of Need and is individual to each Young Person. But will ensure that there can be a successful return home managed and ensuring this does not break down by cutting all support altogether.  This could also be true for Young People 16+ who decide to move into unregulated placements, or found a friend they can share with.

The second change is a big step to supporting any Young Person who has left Care, to carry on with Higher Education up to the age of 25.  This is a good move to support Young People who may still be in Crisis and vulnerable as they leave care, who might have wanted to carry on learning but has not been able to.  I know from my own experiences contemplating Higher Education at 21 was too much and I was not in  Crisis!  The support however, will be assessed by the Local Authority and could vary from individual to the area they live in.
Since I know longer case hold and have responsibility to ensure that the Pathway plans meet the level required, I find it more and more important that the time is taken to ensure the plans are made well.  It is clear where the Social Workers really know the Young Person as the plan is clear and shows the views of the Young Person.

But as the 1st of April approaches, these changes become more real and important to not only the Local Authority’s but also to the Young Person.  Who should be at the centre of the planning and kept up to date with any changes.  I know I will be making sure the Pathway Plans that I sign off meet up to the new Regulations. 

I hope that by next week my Manager would have had time to reflect on her drive for change, read the paperwork and be ready to support our team with the changes required.


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 Nice Surprise

Have you ever wondered why you chose to work in  Social Work? the long hours, mountains of paperwork and constant criticism from Family’s, the Media, Managers and just about anyone else who can speak.  It’s also not often that you can see the effect of any change that you may have instigated.  And more often then not you see family’s come back to your attention.  The reality being that these family’s need our help and support beyond what is offered.


Despite this Social Work is still about working with people, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins and strangers.   Social Work is about bringing down barriers, and empowering the people we work with to engage with Society.  Developing with them a plan they know so that they will not need a high level of intervention.  Social Work is also about Safeguarding, and protecting the vulnerable and supporting them to remain within their family, or home.


As a Children’s Social Worker it is not about removing Children to place just for adoption just because we can.  Unlike what is printed in the Telegraph claiming that Social Workers are Child Snatchers and adoptions are forced.  I think it is important to remember that there is a Court process that is followed and that the Judges have to balance the basic principles of the Children Act 1989 and the Welfare of the Child.  Plus CAFCASS offer their own independent view.


Often our most challenging cases are our most rewarding.  And this week I bumped into a Foster Carer, who was caring for a baby boy I removed 18 months ago.  The mother was a drug user unable to break the cycle of her substance misuse.   A few months earlier I had removed her two year old daughter, and I can still remember her face as she sobbed realising she could not put her daughters needs before her own need for a hit.


Her family all offered support giving her false hope at the Child Protection conference, but in reality they offered her none.  Having spent hours trying to try arrange support within the family I felt frustrated when they walked away.  Seeing the rejection in the young mothers face and attitude to the safeguarding process.  I then discovered that the mother was pregnant again.  A one night stand with her drug dealer.   The baby boy was born three months early, and with withdrawal symptoms and required oxygen for the first three months after discharge from hospital.


I can still remember coming into work and answering the phone at 9am to hear the Foster Carer tell me what had happened during the evening.  The oxygen alarms had gone off, meaning the baby had stopped breathing and only had minutes to live.  A quick 999 call and basic first aid was the only thing keeping the baby boy alive.  Showing how serious this case was, and the level of risk involved returning the baby boy home.  


Despite this I wanted the Mum to be involved to maintain their relationship and attachment.  I called the Mum and made the arrangements for her to get to the hospital.  What touched me the most was remembering the Foster Carer telling me that, the young Mum had introduced her to the nurses as her own Mum.  Craving the care and emotional support herself that she asked the Foster Carer to support her with this.


I had worked hard for her daughter to return to her care, but the pressure from the dealers had her hooked back onto the drugs completely.  The lack of support from her family and the new baby made the escape she received from the drugs more attractive.  And the drug rehabilitation programme broke down completely and she disappeared from the area leaving her Daughter and Son behind.


So when I bumped into the Foster Carer this week, I was sad to hear that the Mum had refused contact since.  But pleased to see the baby was still alive and reaching its developmental milestones and going to meet his new family.  His older sister living with her Dad and half siblings.  


So although Social Work is hard and the rewards are small, it is important to remember that there is satisfaction at times.  When there is happy endings for the children we work with.