Category Archives: Young People

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.

 

 

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Crash and Burn

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.

Forgotten Children.

It is easy to see how teenagers, especially those who are 16+ can be forgotten that they are still only children.  This is especially significant as half the children in care are in their adolescents, we can break this down further with most of these children having grown up within the care system and those that have come into care as adolescents.  However, both groups will have something in common and this is their emancipation from being in care.

As practitioners we have known even before the Children Act 1989 that our understanding of this age group needs to be improved in order to better meet the needs of the most complex and difficult age group to work with.  It is this rush to emancipation that can cause the biggest confusion to those working with Teenagers, balancing the needs to develop and learn as an individual towards independence but remembering that they are children and still learning.

As a manager of an adolescent team I have been reflecting upon this all week, often I am given reports regarding ‘incidents’ of challenging behaviour and from this discuss with the worker what the issues are, if any.  It is these reports that I am often left wondering whether we have forgotten that these young people are still only children?

Moreover, I think this reflects who we are in society that we find criticism easier than compliments, so much so that many of us struggle to accept a compliment now.  For teenagers who are striving towards the goal of independence and adulthood who are still learning about themselves and who they are (where they have come from and going to) It is important to seek approval and recognition.

So, after many placement breakdowns, rejection and loss, after many meetings and different ‘professionals’ visiting you and transporting you to different placements rather than homes, it becomes easy to understand why many young people can behave the way they do.  Or is it?

Time can quickly pass, and before you know it you are faced with a six-foot teenager that has grown up with uncertainty and rejection.  A young person who has not know stability or love or learnt to trust either their own family or the people who are there to care for them.

A message that I heard this week from an incredibly perceptive young man loud and clear, which if it had been a punch would have winded me.

‘I know what I should do! I just do not like been told what will happen if I do not do it! Why can I not be told what the positive will be, if I do do it?’

Understanding human behaviour is often complex and yet also simple sometimes, and this young man had a good understanding of this.  Therefore understanding adolescent behaviour is achievable if you can remember that after the bravado, the posturing and behaviours that these young people are still children.  That it is becoming more obvious that it is easy to forget that teenagers are children and that although they might not want to be treated like a child that our language and behaviours must balance  and reflect that we understand where they are in their development.

So like children firm boundaries are needed, but also to develop and stimulate their learning a strong positive emotional warmth is needed.  And we all know when this is genuine or the person trying to emulate it is not really interested and therefor even the most genuine person will have a hard job to convince this to a looked after young person of this, but the difference between those that understand adolescent behaviour and those that do not is those that do not give up trying.

It continues to worry me that with a lot of thought and consideration being given to early intervention and the reclaiming social work models that an understanding and time needed to work with adolescent young people will be lost to teams designed for prevention of these young people entering into care rather than the careful analysis and understanding that is needed.  It also worries me that even though extra funding was found for CAMHS that this vital support is not getting to the right people.

It also concerns me that the focus remains looking at behaviour and whether young people can be safeguard from their behaviour.  Instead of looking at what positive actions we can take to prevent their behaviour from turning from healthy learning to defiance and rejection.  To use the words of the young person I visited this week again

‘my friends think they understand me because they have watched Tracey Beaker! but they can not know how alone I feel and being in care is not just about having a different activity each night of the week!’

This is an important message for residential care providers, foster carers and social workers lets not forget that teenagers are still children, that understanding our own impact and words have upon the young person is essential to prevent the most severe behaviours and the impact of a placement breakdown can have upon the young person.

I know that when I receive information about ‘incidents’ that i work closely with all involved to understand what has happened and ensuring that the outcomes reflect proportionately what has happened.  And often this involves unpopular decision sometimes for the placement, whose first though is to sanction the behaviour, which can be needed still.  However, for me it is preventing it from happening again which is important and often the hardest lesson to learn.

So let’s not forget the Children and help them become adults and achieve their emancipation of being in care and prevent their own experiences becoming learnt behaviour.

High Runaway Numbers!

Its nice to hear that finally the Government has realised that there is an issue with young people that are in care who go missing.  With the Children Service blog from the Community Care website reporting that some young people require 30 failed  placements before residential care is chosen.

Going missing is a key indicator that a child might be in great danger. When children go missing, they are at very serious risk of physical abuse, sexual exploitation and sometimes so desperate they will rob or steal to survive.  (APPG Inquiry into children missing from care, 2012)

A worrying factor for already vulnerable young people who have been placed into care, who are in desperate need of care, support and a sense of belonging and a placement that can help develop resilience and self esteem.

Having worked in Residential Care for nearly ten years, it was very rare that I would have to deal with young people that went missing for any significant period of time.  But, this was based on the work that team completed with the young people representing the investment in the young people we were making.

As a Social Worker working with adolescent looked after children, and some of whom that are placed in Residential Care, I can understand some of the difficulties that some young people experience with multiple placement moves and also some of the issues the staff have working with them may experience.

So what is the definition of a missing child?

For the purpose of this Procedure a child (i.e. a young person under the age of 18 years) is to be considered ‘missing’ if their whereabouts are unknown, whatever the circumstances of their disappearance. They will be considered missing until they are located and their well-being or otherwise is established. (LSCB, 2002)

However, more commonly the young person may have an ‘unauthorised absence which is defined as

This category is critical to the clarification of roles of the Police and Children’s Social Services. Some children absent themselves from home or care for a short period and then return, often their whereabouts are known or may be quickly established through contact with family or friends or are unknown but the children are not considered at risk. Sometimes children stay out longer than agreed as a boundary testing activity which is well within the range of normal teenage behaviour. These children have taken ‘unauthorised absence’, and would not usually come within the definition of ‘missing’ for this Procedure. If a child’s whereabouts are known then they cannot be ‘missing’. Unauthorised absences must be carefully monitored as the child may subsequently go missing. (LSCB, 2002)

 Of course the concern is not so much with the second group but more with the first.  I wonder why it is only now, after the incident that occurred in Rochdale that this has only just become a bigger issue.  Probably because even though the recorded figure from the Police is 10,000 children going missing over the past year this still only represents a very small percentage of the population, and until now not a priority for a Government trying to save money.

Furthermore, in order to save money the government has tried to reduce costs and has indirectly removed departments, and passed on the need to make savings to Local Authority’s that have all impacted on the service that can be provided by all agency’s.  Moreover, meaning that training for Residential workers has suffered and that Local Authority owned children homes have been sold off.  Meaning that more placements are sort further away due to the cost of buildings and staffing cost many of these have appeared in the north of the country, where this may not be such an issue.

What would be interesting to know is whether the 10,000 young people that are going missing are doing so just because they are placed out of county or because of other more deep rooted issues.  But to acknowledge this would then mean that further training for all residential workers is not only important but essential.

I would then also support the need for better regulations of the workers and also as discussed in the report a change to the inspection ratings for Children homes that have a lot of young people who repeated go missing from, meaning that Social Workers could better decide where to match the young people they have with placements.

More significantly I also find Tim Loughton’s comment upsetting and ignorant of what his party has done towards Social Work with vulnerable young people and children in care.  He argues that….

“It is completely unacceptable that existing rules are simply being ignored and frankly, some local authorities and children’s homes are letting down children by failing to act as a proper ‘parent’,” he said. “It is wrong for local agencies not to have a grip on how many children are going missing from care nor for proper alarms to be raised and action taken when teenagers run away multiple times. It is shocking to hear that any professional could think that teenagers at risk of being physically or sexually abused are making lifestyle choices of their own volition, rather than being the victims of crime.” (Gaurdian,2012)

 I find it shocking because I do not know any social worker who would use this language when describing a young person who is in the care of the Local Authority they work in, or a social worker who would not work late to collect the young person up often from an unknown address to ensure that they are safe, giving time that they might not be able to claim back due to the amount of work undertaken by social workers.

I also find that it further reinforces the need to have teams that understand the needs of looked after children.  That have the time to track down young people who may be missing, to have the time to explore how and why this might happen, to return them to their placements and discuss and work through the issues with the placement provider.  It would also be important to be able to have the time to have a multi agency meeting where every agency attends where every one contributes to the plan and provides the support to the young person on their return.

So rather than the government criticise every other agency for the failure to looked after children, instead it should criticise its failure to properly invest in young people.  To provide better training, registration and inspections.  By over burdening professionals and removing resources and trying to provide a better service through privatisation and by growth in the independent sector.

Furthermore for more research to be completed into why young people go missing and try to identify a provision that can start to meet the needs of the most disaffected young people who have suffered severe neglect and physical and sexual abuse at home before being placed into care.  It will be a long time before we see the effects of early intervention having a meaningful outcome on reducing the numbers of young people coming in to care, so in the meantime funding should still be provided for the most needy and vulnerable and as the Government now understands is essential and has a serious outcome for the young person if they are not found or further abuse is not prevented.

   

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.

 

 

Mission Work Experience

When you were younger or if you are young did you ever have a dream? That when you left school you would enter into the job of your dreams! My Granddad was in the airforce as part of his national service and my fondest childhood memories involved going to many an air show looking at and watching planes fly through the air.  Of Course, sadly my dream of becoming a pilot never came to be, but the help my school gave me in my work experience placement did help me in identifying my skills and a practical placement that kept me on track to becoming a Social Worker today!

However, a few weeks ago I was speaking with my cousin and I asked her about her work experience placement.  “I have not got one, I have to find my own!” I was shocked, the value of these work experience placements is far greater than the paperwork needed to complete them! And today the difficulties are further described in an article by the BBC.

The report from the Education and Employers Taskforce and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and with a foreword by Mr Lightman, says work experience makes a big difference to the career paths of young people. BBC

The significance of using personal social networks to create work experience placements further creates social disadvantage.  Furthermore, without encouragement could prevent many young people for pushing themselves to challenge the system and lift themselves out of their current situation.  Also with 1.8 million children living in Workless families what is their opportunity to find work?

I know from my own personal circumstances that without the insight work experience gave me that I would not be where I am today.  Moreover, the cut backs have crippled and removed in many places the carers support that Connexions offered.  Compulsory education is being extended to 18 years of age and part of this could be an apprenticeship, but what is the meaningful outcome of this if there is more blocks than supports to young people trying to find work.

The challenge is to prevent young people from becoming NEET (Not in Education Employment or Training).  The impact upon the young persons self esteem in having a Job is significant in the rest of their lives and their ability to contribute to society.

Perhaps their needs to be a rethink of the process involved with work experience to make it easier for schools and employers to take young people on.  It most definitely should not be a ‘Work Fair’ scheme but a meaningful learning process that encourages further learning and young people being able to obtain better outcomes for themselves!

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.

Difficult and Challenging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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