Category Archives: Social Workers

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.

 

 

Time for a change!

Its that time of the year when everyone is talking about change and after all it is the New Year the time when most people try to make a positive change whether it to be diet, drink less or give up smoking!  However, this time for me its my job after five years working in one local authority I am looking to make a change and continue to broaden my skills and knowledge.

I have to confess though that this is a very scary time for me – where I currently work I know the services, I know all of the people and have good multi agency relationships that help me achieve good outcomes for the young people I work with.  I have a good team of social workers who make hard days good days, I have seen and encouraged them to develop in their practise and take on their own new challenges.

Sometimes I do wonder why if it is so good would I want to change? the answer is simple and despite the fear of any change, I enjoy social work.  Meeting new people and learning never taking any situation for granted.  I know that there will be those that disagree with social work and will probably be banging their drums about Social Services being the new ‘SS’ just wanting to remove children because of the power that we hold.

But for me change brings a new challenge, fresh practise and new people to meet and a chance for me to bring my own practise to them, whilst learning a new approach.  It also means that I can be challenged by my peers and the people I work with without the bias of everyone knowing me and allowing my practise to be questioned without any possible bias.  Whilst I always practise openly there is nothing like the fear of not having a job that keeps you working hard.

So this year is going to be a big year for me in Social Work and I am really looking forward to the opportunities it is going to bring to me.  I am also looking forward to what I can bring to social work this year, as always I can see that there will be many changes in the practise and legislation.  I also hope that social work will be recognised this year both in the media and by other professionals to be supported in the fight against child cruelty and neglect and helping vulnerable families bring about change without the need of protection plans and high end heavy intervention by social workers.

What do you want to achieve this year in your social work practise?

 

feeling valued

 

Have you ever wondered if you were considering leaving social work what the reason would be? A common theme is the high case load and the pressure spent on completing paperwork rather than the quality time needed with the young people.  Community Care have completed their own research that evidences the strain every social worker is under here.

After all if you do not have the time to do the work needed with families what is the point? Well there is always a point when preventing significant harm, but a short term fix is not a long term solution and having worked with many young people who remain in confused about the reasons they are in care or deeply affected by the abuse they have suffered.  I can understand why and how this can disillusion a lot of good social workers.

But what I do see a lot of is social workers leaving because of change! The change programme that is being designed to bring radical change to social work and allow social work to be redesigned and allow face to face work again.

And it is not that this is a good idea, but instead the short sighted attempts by the Government and the pressures placed on Local Authority’s to make these changes without the funding and systems to do this safely.

Where a basic investment in the staff is low priority, where consultation takes place staff are shouted down and ignored so that senior managers can achieve the savings needed.  It is these changes or lack of that I am seeing on a daily basis, causing greater pressure and a feeling of disillusion.

It is this detail that will have the greater impact on social workers and whether they will be able to continue their work.  The systems that are employed can assist or more often than not disadvantage the social work process.  Which could mean a big difference for young people and their families.

I guess for me I will continue to speak up about the process and how change takes place, and so should everyone else in the appropriate manner.  Hopefully then the change that does happen will be considered and thought out rather than forced upon.

To survive?

A quick survival guide to social work, don’t you just love the idea that you could open a book and then it will tell you the answers that you need to be able to get through the complexities of social work practise on any given day.

Okay I am a little skeptical that such a book could provide the answers, it would be nice if it could though.  But this then leads to the argument why would you need a survival guide? Yes social work is fast paced, with lots of pressure, arguments and disagreements and that’s just with the management trying to implement their children and young people’s plan.  Let alone the difficulties in engaging families that have either not agreed they need your intervention or support.

Social Work for the past eight years has tried desperate to move from being a vocation to a regulated professional body.  With this has come the degree course as standard entry now into social work and until July [2012] the General Social Care Council to regulate our registrations and poor performance.  Furthermore we have even finally got The College of Social Work to promote, support and advise on practise.

All of which leads to a point well made in my copy of the PSW [Professional Social Work] by Peter Unwin, Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Worcester.  Who says

I am concerned by a recent tendency for social work to be pitched as a profession in which one might be able to ‘survive’ (May 2012)

A comment about recent articles and journals about social workers promoting an image of surviving.  When in which I completely agree with should be promoting social workers to thrive.  To take control of their practise and be more proactive in bringing change to the social work profession.

This view point has a major impact in every way that social work is seen.  In the Courts where social work analysis needs to be respected to enable the right decisions to be made to the media where relationships can be developed and lost within the communities we have to work.

Social Work is hard, and yes there is a very real risk of secondary post traumatic stress disorder from dealing with the numbers of sexual and physical abuse cases we deal with.  And for the daily mail readers this is not just a tap on the back of the hand! And as a manager I see this as part of my role to ensure good supervision is given and as a leader I encourage positive social work development.

Day to day practise may involve fire fighting, case loads are growing the levels of need are also growing.  But so is Social Work Knowledge, and so is the passion of the workers involved to make positive changes.  And Why Groups such as Social Work/Social Care and Media and the Guardian Social Care Professional Network  are having a positive influence on the use of sharing positive story’s of social work and social work development through the use of media.

I have never brought a survival guide to anything in Social Work and never will, and for social work students to see that they also do not need to do this either.  Some of you may realise you do not want to practise at the end of your course but those who do and are lucky enough to find work.  Do not just survive ‘Practise’ social work, be part of a developing profession and challenge other institutions views of what Social Work used to be and is today!

Interviews!

Today has been a weird end of a weird week, and did anybody notice how fast the week went? But it is important for me to reflect on what could be important for me.  Having been in post for two years I have been having itchy feet for some time, looking for a new experience and sometimes they just jump up out at you.

However, what has made me reflect is a colleague who has recently qualified in her social work degree.  Who has now had four interviews and been unsuccessful with each one.  Each time the feed back has been about a different topic relating to the interview process.

This will be devastating for her, and for anyone who has invested three years into studying. Sacrificing free time to read, learn and write up endless practise logs.  Each time the telephone call ends up with I am sorry sapping your energy and resolve.

Importantly the message is preparation, planning and listening.  Three key skills required for any application and interview process.  Preparation = What is the post I am applying for want? What are the skills? experiences? and look at the job specification and try and answer as much of the topics as you can [honestly] to ensure you meet the criteria to be shortlisted for the interview.

Planning = Reading (I know sorry, this will never stop!) What is the legislation that you will need to know for the role? what are the local services [do your own research] Think of some good examples of practise that can be used to answer a multitude of possible questions.  Make sure you get to the interview on time! and have time if possible to have a look around if possible, be friendly and approachable.

Finally if you do get shortlisted for an interview Listen.  Listen = Respect, good assessment skills, What is the question I am being asked to answer? Usually they are not meant to be complicated! Understand how you want to practise? what are your values? Social Work is a fast changing organisation and you will have your opportunity to be part of that change.

When you are in your interview it will be important to understand theory but it is time to show that you know how to use it in a practical way.  You have just passed a three year degree course, it is time to sell your practise that you observed and undertook on placement.  For some of us practitioners that have been around for a long time creative thinking and application of practise of Social Work students who have not had statutory experience is a good sign of how you would adapt and apply your practise.

Importantly and most difficult is trying to relax! in saying this I have to work hard to show I am enthusiastic about wanting the job as I am to laid back.  In fact just try to enjoy the interview have some banter [appropriately] and observe the behaviours of the people interviewing you and take your cues from them.

Moreover, don’t give up hope of finding the right job.  You will find it and you never know when it will jump up out at you.  But when it does learn from your experience and I wish you all the best.

Down with the Titanic

Have you ever heard your practise described as that of the Titanic? Maybe you are thinking, that’s not so bad! After all, at the time the titanic was advanced ship of its time, fitted with Luxury and built for speed.  I know that is being extremely positive and normally you might expect a more negative meaning.  And I think you are probably right, as the comments that followed alluded to Social Workers being unwilling to change their views about progress.  I guess with this type of logic it is right for the ship to sink!

Confused? so am I what social worker would not want change! less cases more functional and positive time with children and their families, better outcomes, less paper work, less hurdles to provide an essential service.  Sound crazy to say “hey, I like the red tape, the pointless tick box exercises!”

Okay there are still ( a minority now) of social workers who are still trying to work out how to switch the computer on, but even they would like change if only so they could have an easier system to work.

It is not often that I get offended, but if I have to miss my lunch to give my views and get insulted in the process you will get an honest answer even if you do not like it.  Social Care has waited a long time to see what changes will come from the Munro Review and as the Government stalls this with further evidence required from extending the trials.  We are now trying to step out into the brave new world formulating a design that would work for us.

Like the sinking ship Titanic there is no life boats (the budget was cut!) Its time to accept that there has to be a rethink of how the service is delivered.  Fine, great you want our views.  Okay you started off with an insult –  that’s cleared up now we will move on.

It should feel better to know that potentially I could be involved in something special.  I added my comments and expressed a view that change is okay but why settle for just that……… We should be in the forefront of developing services and supporting young people, we should not be creating services that for many Local Authority’s have been around for many years and nor should we be creating obstacles for either the young person or the workers to go through to get a service.

Well also like the Titanic we have set out on a Journey and I hope that we will reach our destination.

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.

 

Workshop

 

It is easy to forget something when the majority of your week is a blur of chaos and tension. however, this week I did find an interesting e-mail asking whether I would be interested in running a workshop on ‘Equality and Diversity’ for a group of social work students.

I have to admit that I had to open the e-mail fully to check who the message was for, after all its not every day I receive these messages.

However, my excitement was my managers panic, and how often will you be gone for this? “don’t panic it is only one workshop”. Not that it should make any difference! But I guess that I should be flattered that I will be missed.

Why would I get so excited by this? I guess for me it will be doing something that I enjoy – which is talking about social work in practise, whilst also supporting Social Work Students in their learning.

As a social work manager reading a lot of care plans, pathway plans and assessments I often find myself questioning whether the young people have any diversity needs; and is therefore always a subject that I find myself having with my social workers that I supervise.

But as I gently challenge the social workers to reflect upon each young person and what makes these young people different from their peers. I can see how this then leads on to improve the quality of the assessment or even to a better understanding of the young persons needs. I have also seen an improvement in the outcomes for the young people we work with. Mostly this has been evidenced with fewer placement breakdowns over the past six months.

So I am excited about being able to talk with students alongside an academic to promote good analysis and reflection around an important subject that is relevant to everyone.

 

photo credit to: estuary.co.uk

 

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

Plan, win lose or bust!

Is it possible to write a five year plan for your future? Once it might have been potentially easy to write.  However, at present in Social Work, I wonder whether this is still the case. Or whether it is possible for anybody to still maintain a long term carer in Social Work? Budgets have been cut, services have been cut.  Not just in one area but in every area, Health, Education and with Charities and voluntary sectors to.

It is worrying with the current lack of investment in Social Work, especially as the work is with vulnerable client groups that desperately need support and help.  It is worrying that confidential information is still being taken out of the office, instead of the information being scanned on to a system where it can be read from an encrypted laptop.  Where bin men are given Ipad’s to help with their bin routes, instead of pre programmed Satellite navigation systems or maybe Bin Men that are not under pressure to collect all of the rubbish in half the time with half the staff!

Despite this and equipped with just a note book and pen (that is counted in and out of the office, and every page checked to see if it has been used) I would not want to change my job.  Case loads are growing, teams are getting smaller, which is good in a way because so is the office space! Guidance is growing and changing quicker than you can blink.

So it is not surprising that Social Workers are going off sick, battling with the work load is a constant struggle.  Managing cases that you can not give enough time to, whilst still completing the vast amounts of paperwork required to access funding needed to support the clients.  The real skill is to come back still focused and willing to do the job, knowing that the job will change again and again.  Knowing that the staff you rely on may not be there due to cut backs or promotions.  Knowing that when you are off that your work carries on and this has to be carried by the team, further creating pressure on individual workers.

So my five year plan is to carry on with my learning and training, to keep up with the changes that are taking place.  Hoping that I can balance work and my home life and that the pressures of work do not come home because of decisions that have needed to be made.