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The Fun Fair

Have you ever wondered how working in social work is like riding on the ‘Merry-go-Round’.  Every day, week and month you get back on the ride appearing to go around in circles.  Restricted by the legislation and budgets from veering off the path, the goal to complete your work.

Its easy to see how as Social Workers you can quickly become dizzy, confused and disorientated.  When you get on the ‘merry go round’ you understand how it works, it gently goes around in a circle with the ride you are on also going up and down.  But, what you do not expect is that the ride does not stop, that due to the time that you are required to use the computer systems that the ride can speed up.

Despite social work being like a ‘Merry-go-Round’ it is not fun! as your journey takes you around and around it makes it essential that your social work skills are used effectively.  Your perception requires you to be able to observe changes and improvements or regression in behaviours and child safety.  My favourite description of observational skills is looking at a piece of cheese.

Everybody will observe a situation and although everyone maybe looking at the same situation they may observe it from a different angle, and therefore see a different story.  When riding on the social work ‘merry go round’ it is possible that every time we complete a visit we may also see different sides of the same piece of cheese.  Which, due to the nature of social work requires real analytical skill to decipher in the spin whether you are seeing change in the family and if this is leading to a positive outcome for them. Or is it the same cheese from a different angle masking the problem.

But, Social Work is more than just going around in circles with the families we work with.  With Carer development and personal learning a good social worker will experience all of the rides in the fun fair.  A journey that is never boring, and always a challenge.  That when you get home all of the adrenaline, (pressure or stress) needs to be released to avoid the burn out.  Finding the balance is not as easy as it seems.  Knowing that young children and babies may be living in situations that cause sleepless nights, or arguing in your own head whether the right decision has been made.  

But don’t forget that as fund fairs pack up and move around in social work we like to do the same.  Instead of moving though the nature of the fun fair changes, the rides become smaller.  And the entrance fee rises, the conditions change as to who can ride on the rides.

Lets all promote positive social work and positive interventions, that social work is not a fun fair that can be forced closed or shrunk.  That like fun fairs, social work may not be liked but when done well, it can have a big impact on the community and all of the people living in it.  


Life has a funny way of having patterns, last year my second blog was about assessments.  And again this year I am left thinking about the effect of assessments especially when they have been done badly.  

An assessment is being described “as the beginning of helping another person or family” and an “to aid the planning of future work together” (Taylor and Devine, 1993)  The “Assessment is the process of systematically gathering and analysing information about the client, family and context.” (Taylor and Devine, 1993)

So there is a clear focus of what assessments are and what the function of the assessment should be.  However, is it always this easy! the method of intervention is key, and the workers ability to gather and analyse the information is essential.  

The need to complete an accurate assessment is essential in order to safeguard and protect children.  Part of the assessment is about the context of the family, what am I observing? and what does this mean?  It is here where a worker needs to be confident and able to probe into the history of the parents to fully understand their parenting and own childhood.

And this is where I am glad that the issue of time-scales are being removed, because in some families the trust to disclose this information can take longer to earn.  Or there is a risk that the wrong conclusion could be reached.

This week I have met a family in crisis, left ripped apart from an assessment that had assessed them as abusive, neglectful and controlling.  The benefit of completing this assessment has not helped either the family or the young person.  The young person has now experience a double rejection and has no contact with their family.  

The danger is in the method of gathering information, when factual information is misunderstood.  Or leading questions have developed a picture you have created and closed questions have not adequately challenged the information you have been given.

For this family the trust in social care is destroyed, the relationship with their child is lost.  For those that complete assessments remember your aim and consider the models and tools that you are going to use to gather your information.  Remember to allow the family to tell their story and challenge inconsistency’s and probe.

There is no silly questions, and I remind the family that I do not live their life and I want to understand so need to know everything no matter how big or small.  It is also important to have a good team around you to be able to bounce thoughts off and check for gaps in the information you have to answer your questions.

I hope this time next year, I will not be looking back again on this subject.  However, I fear that unless more time can be found and given to complete better quality assessments I may be.

Happy New Year 2012

Happy New Year to everyone! Its an exciting time for me writing this blog as I only started writing “How not to do Social Work” this time 12 months ago.  The excitement is still there, not know whether anyone is going to read it or is interested.

2011 was a busy year for me and others with so much happening in the world of Social Care and Social Work.  2012 appears to be continuing with the same theme and is going to be equally as interesting and will no doubt demonstrate equally difficult challenges.  I know where I work these challenges are not just in the terms of resources that are available, but also in the form of a major restructure and with changes in the terms of our employment conditions.

It is proving ever more difficult to practise as a Social Worker when working for a Local Authority that is having to make changes to fit the Government’s plans.  It is clear that Social Work still remains misunderstood and therefore can be adapted like any other department.  The priority still remains the pot holes in the roads, and with the cold weather coming it will be difficult times and tough decision making for some councils.

It is a worry for many people whether they will still have a job in a few months time, and for many people I work with it is the same.  I hear it being said over and over again in the office “We will be okay because we are Social Workers!” Guess what, I don’t think anybody is okay in an environment that is as tough as this one.  When Social Workers leave their posts they are not being replaced, and if they are it is to newly qualified workers who require more support and time, to ensure that they are protected until they are comfortable and able to manage.

However, no matter how hard it is it does not reflect how hard it is for the people we work with. That is the challenge, no matter what the politics are of the job is to find and fight for the right service for the young people.  To raise their outcomes and encourage them to take the dwindling opportunity’s that are available to them.

I look forward to these challenges and supporting people to make a difference, I know I will continue with my learning and continue to raise the profile of Social Work in a positive way.

Happy New Year

is it working?

Have you ever wondered or noticed how young people’s behaviour can sometimes replicates those around them.  I only ask because as a social worker you are often asked about outcomes for young people and what are we trying to do to raise these outcomes.

But it is not just the people around the young people that affects their behaviour.  It is the Police as demonstrated in the August Riots, and more importantly the Government.  I am sure the Government are trying hard to reassure our anxieties and demonstrate that what they are doing is the right thing.  And maybe if you are in a lucky position where you have money, savings and your own property or several properties you maybe pleased with what the current Government are doing.

However, if you are a young person just starting out, and more worryingly you are a young person in care.  This message may not be interpreted the same, It may not even be the message you want to hear.  As services are scaled down, cut and the amount of time of important workers such as Social Workers, Counsellors, Advocates, Youth Workers, Connexion Workers that is spent with you is squeezed down.

What does this mean? it means that for some young people they will not be getting enough support, it means that they will be anxious about what is going to happen to them.  It means that their behaviours replicate this feeling.  And what does this mean for everyone else? it means that the level of engagement is often raised by professionals due to placements ending, or the young person becoming involved in Youth Offending or Substance Misuse.

At present it does not seem that this will be possible, and will continue in this cycle until more investment either in resources or in workers who can provide support and opportunity for young people who maybe in crisis or the anxiety cycle.  I do see this lack of investment as short sighted, as the longer that this is ignored the greater the cost on the individual and society.

It is also worrying as more and more people become affected by the current drastic cuts and changes to protect the few.  Will those who are left be able to follow through with the “Big Society” dream? we know that those that need a tax break will continue to do their charitable bit.  But will the rest of the society be able to pick up the gap left by connexions, Children’s centres or Youth clubs.  Will they be able to go out on to the streets and engage disaffected young people and is this safe? does it leave vulnerable people to be lead astray and exploited.

Christmas looked after spirit

Its not long to Christmas to now, even in the office the decorations have gone up under strict health and safety guidance! I have even forced myself and the kids to listen to xmas albums on our iPod every morning during breakfast, to try and find some of that xmas spirit.  i mean this time last year it was completely different with the snow well and truly established on every inch of ground.  Making it feel like a Movie Christmas!

Big news we were also blessed with an extra hour this year for our Christmas Party! I guess know one had sent the memo to the Chief Exc saying we were going to take it anyway.  But none the less a kind gesture.  Which, the following day was followed by another  announcement of job losses and people at risk of their job.  So again xmas spirit is slashed knowing that for some people this year Christmas will be done on the tightest of budgets so that every penny.

I try to avoid sending Christmas Cards to colleagues at work, purely because I know so many people within the LA, which means to send one would mean to send hundreds.  So instead I like the idea of donating money to Charity for every card received.

It is a difficult time of the year, and whilst other workers maybe be calming down for a xmas break.  I am finding that working with young people in care that the work is…………… , Well lets be honest in general all work in social work is just getting busier!

I also find and think at this time of the year it is hard, as the young people we work with either spend time away from home or alone.  Some through choice and others because they have no family.  At least this year xmas parties have been put on for those at risk of being alone during this holiday period through the participation teams.  For some young people they may want contact with their family but continue to be let down by their family.  Others may want contact but due to the risks presented by them it may not be safe.

I wonder with all of the cuts being made whether this will be offered next year, or whether there will be money to provide Christmas Presents to children living alone in supported living placements.  In a way I am glad that I have not seen the Coca Cola advert this year with the sound of the Holidays are coming being repeated over and over again.

Long week

Is it possible to keep positive in social work at present after the amount of cuts that have already been made and the level of cuts that have not yet come?  For me the answer has to be yes, why? in my second student social work placement in the youth service, I was taught that there is no money for projects so there was a clear message that was all about participation of young people.

Participation was providing a service that the young people wanted rather than what you thought they needed.  The result was more young people involved in the group work sessions.  The budget was zero, so resources had to be begged, borrowed or applied for cleverly from different charities and again required the participation of the young people to make the applications.

I think for me this helped me learn to have a more positive attitude and outlook to social work.  My thinking became three dimensional and enabled me to be a more holistic practitioner.

However, this week I have observed within the office that several workers did not share my own positive attitude.  Something that is becoming more obvious within the work place and one that is not welcome.

I guess the recent changes to their working environment, and increased pressures on budgets have changed their views and perceptions.  Social work is already hard enough, so to lose the passion and spirit needed to challenge the system is worrying.  Especially as we have a lot of students working and learning on the same floor.  Even returning newly qualified social workers need to be in a positive learning and environment so that their own practise can develop.

It is also important to stay positive in order to ensure that communication between worker and manager is done effectively.  Without this, a mistake could happen and as a result of this increased confrontation, which is not needed further creating a negative environment to work in.

However, positive change is needed for social work to inspirer workers who are losing their passion, worrying about their jobs and worrying about the service that is being provided.  Votes are easy to get on a promise, lives are hard to influence without positive workers to do it.

The bite is getting tighter!

Could you save money when working with children? Would you be able to decide who can have a therapeutic placement or who would have to leave a foster placement to live alone or in a shared house?

It’s not easy, is it? The impact of this decision could have a lasting impact on a young persons life. It could mean the difference of managing adulthood in work and being happy or living a life in chaos and always needing a service.

For young people in care, I worry that the social work assessments are slowly being replaced by the need to keep budgets balanced. Team Managers are being trained to manage their own budgets, so that the blame for over spends can be placed at individual teams rather than the service.

Pressure is being placed on recording almost day to day why young people are still in their foster placements! Why are they still placed out of county in Residential? With the same information being requested in different formats.

The reason for the information is that the budget only seven months after restarting, is going to be over spent!

If you are in agreement with the budget cuts are you happy knowing that your profit and luxury is at the expense of a young person needing quality therapeutic intervention. Knowing that this young person will grow up struggling needing more support.

Big Society is not going to be able to support the pressure of placements and nor will encouraging more private business because there is still no money to pay for the placements. Social Enterprise will also struggle to find the money to pay for services, placements.

For the young people more uncertainty and confusion and worry will impact upon their integration and development into their adult world and society!

No new Mail!

One useful tool Social Workers have, is knowledge and information. Being able to access information to aid assessments quickly helps to develop and maintain relationships. Whilst also making these assessment more accurate and essential to the families it involves.  

The note book and pen is a useful tool, it allows thoughts to be noted and reflected upon.  Its a tool that can be given to a child to help them express what they want to say.  It does have its weakness that in our changing world of social work that with office space shrinking and storage space non existing.  Keeping notes and finding them again is becoming difficult, with pressure mounting for them to be added to our computer systems, quickly.

I had been quite lucky with a 3G laptop and being able to access our systems where ever I might be.  It enabled me to be able to retain knowledge that with everything else would have been to to much to manage.  It meant that instead of delay I was able to get information and send information without having to go back into the office first.  It not only helped me but the agencies that I was working with, and promoted working relationships.  

This may not sound like modern technology, but for me and my practise this was a useful tool in getting information quicker.  It enabled me to be a more mobile working social worker and saved me time especially if I had to go out of county for a visit or if I had to sit in court all day waiting for an hours direction hearing.  As we waited for this to be trialled within the service, the spirit of the trial was lost.  Instead mobile working became flexible working from home and now the contract has finished so has my mobile working.

Being able to access your e-mails and respond to them is an important part of a social workers job.  But being able to access the child’s electronic file is also important, and would help practitioners to double check information and make decisions and risk assessments faster.  

Computer programmes has been previously developed to enable young people to share their views for Looked After Children’s Reviews.  An idea that recently seems to have disappeared where I am.  However, with smartphones and apps there is a chance for further development in this area of engagement.  Not just with Social Work, buts Schools and maybe CAMHS to.

I have had no information as to why this was stopped or whether any thought had been given to this.  Instead I found one e-mail saying we maybe be allocated Blackberries! this may mean I am losing my hot desk or it may mean I have to learn a new password.  I also hope that Social Work loses its fear of technology and learns how to communicate through this medium to safeguard the vulnerable people we work with.

Smile on my face

There is not many times in my life where I have felt extremely happy or that I feel I have achieved something extra special.  Social Worker is a battle either to keep families together or to get funding to provide the right service to the young people you work with.  More frustrating than not this is often left by senior managers to the last minute.  However, for me this week I have been given a smile on my face as my faith in Social Work is temporarily restored.  I have found out that my wife who has been studying Social Work for the past three years has a job in her service area.

Over the past two and a bit years I have met many Social Work students of varying degrees of competence.  For those that are really good the battle is the same for those who will get there.  Finding work! The Social Work course rightly so, is not easy and it try’s to make you think long and hard about decisions you make.  It does not however make you employable so here is the risk that many student face wanting to take those first steps into statutory Social Work.  So with every assignment completed and every placement completed the worry is there – will there be a job at the end of the course? And for every student reading this I can understand this worry.  For going into Social Work is not just about wanting to work with people, it is more than this.  It is a passion about working and supporting vulnerable people.  Despite the negative press Social Workers are always doing more and more than what is practical and manageable to ensure the people they are working with get a service.

So although this is a small thing thing for me, for my wife and many other student social workers passing the degree in Social Work is not a small thing.  There have been many sacrifices, late nights and tears and finally on the home run despite all the work that is still left.  There is light at the end of the tunnel!

Young, Pregnant and in care!

The hardest realisation you can face is often the one you find out to late about it. For years there has been a stereotype that if you are young and pregnant you will be given your own flat. And having worked with young people for the past two years this has not always been the case. But I am also pleased that until now all young mums that I have worked with have been brilliant at meeting the needs of their babies.

However, there is still a very small percentage where the level of support is needed to be higher. It is always harder to explain this process without instilling fear into the young person! The dangers and risks are high because the parents are also young and vulnerable.

To increase this risk the young Mum has still been living in her own chaos, fighting the system and demanding a flat despite not coping living alone twice before.

I worry that this small percentage of young people will be set up to fail, as services are cut well trained professionals and organisations will not be able to provide guidance and assistance where needed. For young people in care there is already little trust in social care workers as expectations change with high staff turnovers, or funding being with drawn from needed services.

At 17 and a half are you a child or are you a young adult? Will you get a flat? Only when you are ready, only with support. It is right that this is assessed and that a decision should be made as to whether this is the right thing to do.

I hope that no further support is cut for young people especially young mums. And because of this those who are vulnerable will be given more time to show that they can affect change for themselves and their babies.