Category Archives: Risk

Assessments

Have you ever had a day where you have wished that for one moment time would stop, just long enough to allow you to grab hold of everything that is going on and truely understand what is happening.  I have worked in child protection for many years and rarely do you find time where you can reflect upon one specific family giving them all of your attention.  For this reason I am glad that is protected time, where as a manager and as a Social Worker I can explore people thoughts and expanded on the grey and unknown areas.  Although this is a good social work skill, reflecting and critically challenging your anylsis is so important and not always easy, especially with the first assessment, where you may be rushed or pushed to complete because of the pressure of meeting timescales, evasive families or what ever the reason may be assessment can be lost to the pressure of the timescale and any following assessments that have been referred back in.  However, despite this I have been reminded recently that this is not always the case!

As a manager I have had to learn to keep an eye on these timescales and ensure they dont slip, but also equally ensure that they are completed with the highest quality of standard to ensure the right outcome is reached – Not for me or my manager, but for the child within each family.  Seeing the child, hearing the voice of the child and understanding their position within the family should be easy? After all, there is a multitude of tools, training designed to promote and engage the child to ensure at the mininum that they are given time and space to express their wishes and feelings.

I had recently changed teams, I am starting to like change, I find it keeps my practice fresh and up to date but also more importantly it provides me a challenge! And in doing so I have had to open my eyes to a different way of working a different way of understanding.  Risk still remains and plays a big part of my role in reviewing and approving assessments, but now there is a complex element that needs careful consideration and research.  I have found myself being challenged by some of my new team who do not agree and this has had an affect on me, making me reflect upon my own practice, my own management style and how I present myself within the team, questioning the decisions that I am making.  Concious, that equally they are going through the change process with me, as I challenge and tackle their own practice.

However, no matter what, no matter how precious time is, I still cannot allow the child to be lost within the family and the assessment that I am presented.  Furthermore, challenging the blank carpet statement that prevents and blinds the social worker to really unpicking and discovering where the support within a family is really needed or from creating the plan that supports the child in need or the child in need of protection.

 

 

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!

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?

 

 

 

Lost freedom or too big a risk?

Can you remember when you were younger and the world was your playground? When your friends garden was a different playground in which to explore.  I know that when I was a child I was very lucky to have a whole farm to explore Hay stacks to climb and ditches to jump.  Now as a parent my own children do not have the same space, my own need to develop and survive has taken me away from my own rich heritage to living in a new environment.

Here in a reasonable small town the adventures are more risky, there is more roads and more cars on the road.  There is less green spaces and the trees are no longer strong oaks instead they are conifers.  However, if it is not football it would take a small miracle to encourage my children off their computer and out, let alone find a tree that could become a start of their new adventure.

So it comes with no real surprise that in today’s Independent there is an article stating that ‘over protected’ children need to learn about risk! I would also imagine in the same sense then as a parent that I would also need to learn to let my children take a risk in this new environment.  Something as a social worker I am always wary of, but know that I need to do.

Of course this comes down to the Health and Safety brigade (the ones that do not want to take any risk) who have banned the age old game of ‘Conkers’ in the school play ground, or do not allow outside play in the rain or cold.

But where is the line? what is the risk of allowing children to much freedom? Imagine parks fall of children, over spilling into any area of green space, street corner.  Imagine them being out from the moment they are awake to the time they go to bed.  Is this adventures play time or the beginnings of something else far more sinister.

Do not get me wrong, I completely agree all children should be aloud to grow up learning what is safe, right or wrong and develop an imagination that not only will help them in the classroom but also with their own children and their carers.  This is especially true for the more vulnerable children who may miss out on ‘play’ and socialising with other young people.

However, instead of just our young people learning this, it should also be us as adults, parents and neighbours.  People that rush through life only wanting to get from one place to the next with out being interrupted or prevented in anyway from doing this.  Without the phone call that say’s you need to come quick because something terrible has happened – only to find out that something terrible is your son/daughter playing out!

If we see children out, slow down understand the importance of them being out and playing but also where the line is as adults.  Support your local clubs and youth centres to provide safe activities that replicate my own early childhood experiences rather than letting them close and this positive behaviour become pent up frustration. Lets keep open areas safe for young people to play and met up with each other.

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.

 

 

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

Can I assess who is a child still?

Its an interesting time working with children.  I have recently put myself forward for a research project and as it has to be relevant to my work place and my employers.  I have decided to look at the thorny subject of age assessments.

Probably a bad idea when so much research has already been done around this firstly by Heaven Crawly in 2007 with ‘when is a child not a child?‘ and now more recently by the Children Society with ‘I don’t feel human’,   Yet even with this mistakes are still being made about age assessments and vulnerable young people not receiving the right support or help.

The answer is sadly not easy and with no matter how much good will is made with the assessments that age determination on its own is going to be hard.  Furthermore, there is the objective of the agents bringing the young people into the country.  Especially when considering child sexual exploitation and the advantage of having young girls or boys act older to get past the assessments in order for them to disappear.  There is also the dilemma around the benefits that are provided to young people if they are under the age of 18, meaning the credibility of a few impact on the outcomes for so many, when older young people who may still be vulnerable in themselves have argued to be under 18.

Despite this, looking further still into the assessment process I have had to look at definitions of childhood.  One argument that has been consistent in all research is that young people from poorer economic climates may present as being older looking.  And their demeanour presenting as older because what advantages are there in being a child.

This amuses me because actually the research is right, when completing an assessment of age it is essential to understand what that young person defines as childhood? what have they had to do to grow up and survive? And what are our comparisons in the UK? I guess the bit that makes me chuckle was observing an independent advocate pulling a toy train out for a 17 year old young man to play with.  It is clear that we can not make comparisons so should we force all aspects of what we think is childhood onto someone who has already had to grow up?

But then I wondered is this right, in the UK right now there are more and more young people experiencing poverty, abuse and neglect.  Growing up in poor conditions and failing to engage with education and employment due to their basic need of survival.  And also is the young people making it to the UK the most vulnerable or the ones who have had the money to make the journey originally.  We are now hearing of stories of tragic losses of young people in Afghanistan freezing to death in make shift illegal camps.

But again it is not easy, what is right and wrong? are our perceptions of childhood changing and are we able to understand what childhood is? Which, means spending more time researching these subjects but also more time working on for us in social work that have to undertake these complex tasks is our understanding of assessments.

Alone this is a massive subject with many different theories and data which could provide the wrong cue to through the person or people out who are completing the assessment.  Experience is essential, however can be less helpful in this situation of completing age assessments.  The reason for this is the time allowed to complete the assessment and fully analyse the information given.  One reason for this is the information shared by the young person you are assessing.  When understanding the experiences that a separated child may have experienced in travelling to the UK it is important to understand the difficulties that they may experience and then why they may not trust us as professionals.

For me this subject remains immensely interesting and important at so many levels, firstly to safeguard separated children but also in improving the understanding of social worker with all children that are vulnerable and continuing to improve the assessment process.

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.

Corporate Parenting or Case Number

This week I was struck by an article in community care called “Is corporate parenting one challenge to far?”  In essence the decision making process as workers working directly and indirectly with children and young people should make.  The term corporate parenting does not replace parental responsibility or parental consent.  However, it does mean commonsense and thinking sometimes out of the box and often within a restrictive environment that requires forms to be completed for every activity.
Working in a child focused way often means taking a step back to take a holistic view of everything that is taking place for the young person.  In social work this is especially important when working with young people in order to develop rapport and trust.  And this is not always easy, especially if the young person has already had numerous previous social workers.  It is also important to remember that corporate parenting is not about being a replacement parent.
Having worked both in residential and social work I have seen both extremes of practise.  Finding a commonsense balance is hard with often no immediate indication and reward as to what you have done has worked, or even the right thing to do.  It is not over compensating and ignoring boundaries, such as rewarding negative behaviours with activities, food or financial rewards.  This is more harmful and abusive to the young person, as it does not help with their development and understanding of their environment.  It is also not prescriptive, institutional, distant and cold.
More recently Neil Morrissey in his documentary highlighted the need for good corporate parenting.  In this example, his teacher promoted and nurtured his interest in the arts.  The same should happen in a children’s home or foster home.  I know when my own children start showing signs of getting into trouble and boredom that I need to do something to prevent this.  The sooner I do this the better the outcome for them and me.  So when working or caring with children in care it is important to recognise and prevent these behaviours, to find young peoples interests and nurture and develop these.  The result will lead to better outcomes for the young person and more stable placements.  This does not I believe always need to be spontaneous, instead thoughtful and consistent.  This I believe is the greatest challenge in social work with high case loads and tick box checklists, which can often reduce the quality one to one time with the young person.
So is corporate parenting just an idea? Is it good practise? It is definitely not a way of replacing the family.  It should be thought about in care planning or pathway planning and should be a way to keep the young person in mind, and a useful way to look beyond the plan and nurture it to ensure the young person can see their dreams, wishes and feelings develop.  Evidencing a feeling that they are not just in care but being cared for as the care leaver in the article describes wanting to feel.  Otherwise if we can not do this, children in care will be like battery hens stored in crammed conditions and only released when they no longer need the service, which is not a good idea. 
Is corporate parenting then one challenge to far? Maybe, if profit is the first objective.  But as evidenced by many families with low incomes money does not mean good parenting.  Therefore corporate parenting should not be a challenge instead something that is embraced and supported by every worker, carer, teacher, youth worker, or anybody in contact with children and young people.