Peas in a Pod

Like many other social workers I have waited patiently to see what changes may come from the numerous serious case reviews that have been in the press over the past five years.  The Munro Review challenged the heart of current social work practise and challenged the Government and local Authoritys to make those changes so deseparetly needed.

However for a long period of time there was almost a stale mate in whether these changes could be made.  Can social workers go about their profession with the experience and competence needed to deliever a service that will safeguard children.

Slowly, and very slowly even social workers wanted a change in their practise.  Long hours, poor computer systems, poor supervision with limited budgets and change being evidenced slowly was a not an inspiring career to be in, with many social workers looking for career changes.

Sadly though all of the talking and wanting change the only real change that came was that of the image of social work further damaged from the media pushing for change and the number of children being failed by ALL services.

So it is easy to see why it is not the process that need to change but the quality of social work instead, and promoting a positive image of social work.   Supervision has always been the forum in which social work practise has been able to be discussed between a manager and the social worker; where the fears and theory’s can be tested, either formally or informally.  This has been developed in to a reflective practise supervision allowing one persons knowledge to be shared into a teams knowledge.  Ensuring that the issues within family’s are known by all workers giving the family a larger pool of social workers to talk with.  It also means that the experience and knowledge of all social workers can be shared helping develop the experience of all of the workers within the Pod/team.

But despite all the changes, and the change of thinking within social work there is no escape from the long hours, the pressure of ensuring safeguards are in place, the fear of ‘have I done enough?’ never goes.  The dream of having a low case load so that more direct work can be completed with the family remains a dream.

There are no escapes from the hardships in which the communities we live and work in continue to become worrying with housing, low incomes unemployment bringing more domestic abuse, more substance misuse.

Group or Pod Supervision enables workers to hear and learn about families that live within these communities and enables pictures to be gained of the impact each family may have upon each other.  Enabling the social workers to explore through their practise how they can make effective changes by understanding the communities in which they work in.

Having made a change to this type of supervision I have enjoyed the change in supervision style and enjoyed exploring the wider support network that may be already available to the families.  Although this has been a small change in practise and one of many that has been required, I have seen a positive change in how a team can support each other.  Visits becoming more focused and consistent within the team, families become more relaxed with the workers that visit.

Although social work practise does still require further changes, these should not be done in isolation of our partner agency’s to ensure that safeguarding does remain the responsibility of all agency’s not just social work.

Only one argument!

Sometimes in this job you have a week that is like no other you have experienced before and for me this is an important subtle reminder that you can never make any assumptions in social work.  It is also a gentle reminder that life is precious and should be treated with respect, and maybe I am growing softer with age – as this week I feel like I have been left with a hole in my heart.

Cases of domestic violence still remain very common in the work that we do, the impact this has on the children is incredibly damaging and in the worse case be life changing.  Especially, if the worse case scenario happens and one of the parents is killed by the other leaving the children without their parents and no understanding why or how this could happen.  Even at the lower end of domestic abuse the impact on the child\ren is still significant with often multiple home moves to avoid violent adults, school changes, emotional harm from hearing or witnessing Domestic abuse, learning behaviour that is not acceptable, physical harm.

Domestic violence is defined as

“Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.”

However, in order to support this Local Authorities hold a ‘MARAC’ (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference). Which is as it sounds a commitment of all the agency’s to create a risk assessment and plan to safeguard the most vulnerable women subjected to domestic violence.  A meeting that lists the horrors committed and left me truly speechless and concerned by the levels of domestic violence that still takes place on a very regular occurrence.

This article shows that the levels of domestic violence is falling and why are we not celebrating this news? because like me it questions whether as a society whether we have a grip of domestic violence, that many of the stereotypes still exists looking at the history of the victim to look at reasons why they may have been attacked or could be blamed for the attack.  Or more importantly because domestic violence is more commonly known that the victims involved keep quiet fearing that they will be punished for their abuse or denying the impact upon themselves.

It is positive to hear that prosecution rates are increasing and maybe because some areas are developing their multi agency approach to include opening special courts to ensure that protection is provided to the victim and alleged perpetrator.  Domestic violence is not just a local problem but a global problem and can affect any family at any time and only needs to happen once for the damage to be final and tragic.

So for me this week helping one family put their lives together after their loss has been a hard challenge, both emotionally as a parent but also making the assessment of risk and keeping the child at the centre of any plans.  Whilst also sensitively working with a family who are grieving at their loss, without wanting to intrude any more than necessary during an emotional time for everyone.

So if you need help and advice about Domestic violence visit the National Domestic Violence Helpline for information and guidance.

For me the issue of Domestic Violence needs to remain at the top of priorities for all professionals and should never be accepted or brushed under the carpet.  Although the numbers of prosecutions are rising so are the numbers of incidents with many never being reported or recorded.  With services being cut and housing issues rising, this further makes this situation difficult for many victims to report their concerns.  As professionals we need to continue to work together in a multi agency approach and listen to concerns raised during our assessments even if at a very low level of concern to protect from this escalating further.

 

Why do we struggle to understand?

Have you ever wondered who you are? Struggled to understand where you fit in life? Have you ever taken time out to try and understand who you are and how you fit into the world around you?! Knowing who we are is so important to our social identity and sense of belonging. In my own search to discover who I am, I have certainly had to search long and hard and still I find that I am continuing to wonder who I am and what makes me feel like I belong.

However, as we continue to discover and learn about the impact of social identity, so do the young people we work with. Except, in their search to discover their own identities, they are also faced with their parents/carers, who are not only confused but also struggling to understand their children as they change through adolescents and create and find these new identities.

So why is it then, that when it comes to understanding young people is it so difficult? Why is it as adults that we struggle to relate with the needs of young people to create an image they feel comfortable with? By failing to understand this need and managing it safely, young people continue to be vulnerable to those people who can recognise this and take advantage of how vulnerable young people are at this time – through sexual exploitation, gangs and criminal behaviour and substance misuse.

However, social work continues to engage the most needy of young people in exploring and understanding their behaviour and what makes this risky. With budgets cut and destroyed, a need for early intervention becomes so important. Therefore, understanding Identity becomes a key part of the process in ensuring that this is done effectively – especially where risk factors are increased with parental substance misuse, domestic violence,neglect and physical and sexual abuse. Significantly, with the cost of child care rising many parents are forced to take risks which impact upon their children’s development and, significantly, their identity.

For many young people, this means having to grow up too fast – wanting to achieve a sense of belonging, whilst also being willing to seek it anywhere. Yet often, adults – especially professionals – fail to explore how vulnerable children fit and feel within their families, leaving them at risk of breakdown and confusion and often, being unskilled in managing these feelings of loss can result in escaping through seeking out other young people with similar beliefs.

Therefore as social workers it is very important to understand identity, and beyond the obvious basic concepts of identity, i.e. ‘White British, Speaks English, does not practise any religion.’ This statement is certainly a missed opportunity in helping any vulnerable young person and preventing them from experiencing abuse, sexual exploitation or substance misuse or joining in gang and criminal activities.

‘The one and only one’

For many years social work assessments have been the main focus for debate and questions within the media and social work practise.  First we do the Initial assessment, then if we need more information we complete a more fuller core assessment.  The time scales for these assessments were set in guidance regardless of the need or risk.

A good assessment will lead to good interventions and positive outcomes, with key decisions being made on the basis and quality of the assessment; but a bad assessment will lead to poor interventions and outcomes for the children.  Historically, social work assessments have focused on what has worked well with families and have been rigid in the time scales for completion, with the needs and risks in individual situations being assessed in detail before judgements can be made about what interventions and services would be appropriate.

Therefore there has been some interest from children social workers with regard to how social work assessments in the new ‘Working Together document 2013′  would bring the changes that Munro had explored and described in her papers about child protection.   In essence the new ‘Single Assessment’  as recommended  by Munro has been developed and given the go ahead by the Government to be implemented by each Local Authority as they see fit, after being trialled and developed in eight local authorities.  The single assessment combines and replaces the Initial Assessment and Core Assessment, and has the flexibility of the time scales to be set by the social work manager assessing the case.  Bringing with it a new theory and practise, in order to manage and complete the essential social work assessment, whilst retaining the Assessment Framework Triangle and remaining child centred.  The aim being that the plan is developed and identified right from the very first visit whilst along side this the social worker completes the assessment.

‘Assessment is the foundation for all effective intervention: as such it needs to be grounded in evidence from research and theories’ (Baldwin and Walker)

The single assessment brings with it a new way of social work practise, for social workers to be not only ‘Emotionally Intelligent’ but also have ‘Creative thinking’

A sense of being able to look at familiar situations in a new light.  This is important way of avoiding getting bogged down in routine, standard ways of working that have limited effectiveness’ (Thompson and Thompson).

For me as a social worker I have seen that this has brought a positive change in social work practise, there is now a definitive sense that social work practise is looking at its knowledge base to evidence its work, training is being developed and focused on ensuring assessment skills and theories are relevant to the current pressures and demands being placed on social care departments at the moment.  Quality in social work practise is being sort and demanded from social workers not for the image of social work, but for positive outcomes for families and children and because we are being starved of funding to support all but the most needy.

However, Community Care looked at what has changed two years on from the final Munro report? and whether social workers do feel that there has been any big change since Munro’s recommendations.   We finally have the a slimmed down Working together document, but despite this the paperwork remains incredibly high and case loads remain high.

Despite this ‘Can there only be one?’ is the single assessment a better way forward removing delay between the assessment and the date from when the support can begin, requiring good management over sight to ensure that delay does not happen on the assessment.  It allows the social worker to look at outcomes rather than assessment looking at the services the child may need.  Furthermore it allows the social worker to develop a better understanding of what the risks are and what the strengths are within the families.  Rather than looking at what has worked with other families it allows the social worker to be creative to develop an evolving plan and evolving assessment that changes with each new piece of information to reach the outcome established at the beginning of the assessment.

I think the answer is that there can never be one assessment, but a continuous assessment that allows an understanding that we can never look at a snap shot and that the plan should adapt with every new piece of information.

‘Just one more room’

How many people people enjoy the space and sense of freedom they have within the home they live in? To have their personal possessions displayed and gathered around them.  I know I do. The first picture drawn at school, the first school photo, or the clay model of a tree made at school. The holiday pictures, books, DVD’s or magazines that provide leisure and escape from the outside world.  That when life is getting harder and you are feeling withdrawn, so much so that when you shut your front door and you see your first treasure, a smile can return to your face.  I know that I really enjoy being able to do this and that I enjoy the space within my home to do this.  But is this true for everyone?  Once our doors are shut, do we continue to think about what is happening in the outside world? Is the news entertainment now a true reflection of how society is feeling and being provided with information.

As a children’s social worker, I am worried about and have always been concerned about children being able to be children.  Having the space to be free to learn and grow. To feel the love of their parents and family and friends To be able to take risks that come with growing and learning.  Moreover, I am concerned about the recent changes to housing benefit and the impact of the bedroom tax on the most vulnerable families. Being forced into smaller homes, forced to choose between space and struggling or smaller homes and struggling – not a fair choice really.

For many children and their parents the stability of the home is essential for their emotional well being, for a sense of belonging.  It is not even a sense of owning a home but living without fear of losing that home.

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But with the introduction of the new benefit changes and the impact that this will have for many of the families that we work with, what will be the real impact? How will social care departments be able to manage the increased demands and pressures upon vulnerable families struggling with poverty, domestic violence, behavioural problems, mental health, social stigma’s and anti social behaviours.

For the social worker not only will theory and a firm knowledge of child development be an essential part of the social work training, time for systemic practise is paramount.  This will enable good enough assessments, reflecting the holistic picture of the child needs, whilst developing a plan from the first visit with services that will be over subscribed and under pressure to meet the growing needs.  But also the social worker will need a growing need to understand housing law and benefit changes.  The growing risk of housing arrears and the shortage of affordable small homes means that many families will be forced to use all of their universal benefit to pay for their rent.

So no longer do we just have to worry about children being able to make and take risks, but also now careful consideration has to be given to their parents who will be taking risks as to whether they put food on the table or pay the rent.  A gamble that is not often advised on television or the radio for sports fans, but one that is now expected of many families.

Despite the governments plan to try and save on public spending, to encourage more parents back into working, I fear that instead it places more children at risk, by removing space, freedom, escape and safety out of the reach of many children and their parents.

Burning out!

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Its been three years since I have worked as a social worker in a child protection team, let alone a child protection team where change is the current theme.  However, it worrys me that ‘Burn out’ or ‘Stress’ despite being well looked into in social work practise, still affects many social workers.  It therefore seems appropriate that this week that in my email box this article appears from the Gaurdian ‘Social workers must look after themselves and recognise their limits’  For many social workers ‘Burn Out’ can come come from their own passion and desiree of wanting to make positive change and to do good for the families they work with; managing this from working long hours to try and keep up with the pressures and demands of the paper work and number of visits.

 

stressThe pressure of ensuring all information is recorded and the pressure of ensuring visits are completed within timescales and the right assessments and plans are created, whilst ensuring training is completed and somewhere at the back of all of this the need for a personal life.  Something many social workers give up to ensure that they can keep up with their case work.

Child Protection remains the key focus for all children’s social workers, working to safeguard children whether they are at home or in care.  There has been many reviews of Child Protection to help inform and develop practise from the Laming Inquiry, the Munro review and Lord Carlise review of the Edlington case.  All looking at specific issue of social work practise.  Particaly the Munro Review, which looked  to introduce a radical change in social work practise in order to reclaim social work and also cut the red tape that had created many pressures for social workers and prevented good social work interventions for both social workers and the vulnerable families they work with.

Significantly the new Working Together document is published this year, giving guidance to some of these changes or rather allowing changes to be made.  BigChangesAheadHowever, for many families these changes may not bring hope or help for many of the hardships and difficulties that they face.

However, on the inside of social work practise the changes have brought closer working, greater reflective practise and a sharing of experience, knowledge and resources (of what is left).

Sadly however, cuts to mental health services, charity’s and now benefits are causing greater demands on dwindling resources and sending many families to social care for social work support.

So where case loads should be dropping to support these changes they continue to rise, and so does the pressures upon social workers to met their satutory requirements.  Working long hours, and often dealing with distraught vulnerable and angry families out of hours resulting in more pressure from lone working.

Despite all changes in practise the best prevention of burning out remains good experience developed safely with good learning opportunites and practise development; managed with good supervision and ensuring that there is a break and rest from the work.  Most importantly dont bottle the stresses up, share your concerns as soon as you feel the anxities developing and use other colleauges to help with reflecting on the work you have done and still need to do.  Social Work is a stressful job and will always be stressful especially when you are still learning the different process and systems, so take advantage of training and your supervision to learn.

Practise

Today I was kindly reminded why social work is not a straight forward job, that it requires going above and beyond – maybe even more than creative with the acknowledged lack of a budget.  That poor grammar mixed with the wrong use of a word brings shame upon social work (good job I get my work checked before it is sent to court then).  But sadly I think the message I was given was lost upon the method of delivery, its punch line seeping in self importance and with the owner of the comment more concerned with their own power and attempt to be little me.  It is these behaviours that bring power and meaning to those arguments to the people that do not support social work or social care.

It is easy to forget that everyone has their own life story, or their own challenges to overcome to qualify in social work.  That the experience needed is not gained with the certificate on graduation; instead it does however give you an opportunity to practise working with vulnerable people.

So therefore when sitting in someones living room discussing challenging safeguarding concerns with someone who may or may not agree with the concerns and you are discussing with them how you are going to support them or safeguard the child’s needs.  Stop, think and consider your approach use your knowledge and your learning, challenge and be direct, make your point and get it across but do not do it at the expense of the parents or of social work.

If you are a social work student reading this, do not get the wrong impression social work is a profession that can adapt and does adapt quickly.  Social Workers do work hard and longer than they should, Social Workers do make an effort and there is no time for luxury.  So yes I do agree that in social work, that social workers should have the right tools to complete their tasks, I do think that the right working environment is needed and essential, and I do believe that confidentially for the people we work with is essential.

So thank you for reminding me why the focus must remain on the vulnerable children we work with and why research being completed by University’s and other social work academics is so important to informing our practise.

Settling in

Wow, what a week – it does make me chuckle as a social worker when making a change in my own life that I get anxious and nervous about it.  When every day I speak with people and support them through making their own changes.

Looking back though day 1 was the hardest I was truly the new boy on the block.  I did enjoy the tricks and the jokes of my new team with ‘the last manager brought us coffee and cakes every day!’ mmm really?

However, you quickly learn that despite a new building, problems with parking and different computer systems that it is the same job.  The same dilemmas and same issues popping up, and soon I found myself easing in and offering my thoughts, when I should have just been observing.

Despite all of this I have been made to feel welcome my first three weeks planned out to the hour.  An induction to help me hit the ground running and learning everything from legal to placements and everything in between.

And despite the social work haters out there, the discussion is about safeguarding not removing – unless a child needs to be removed to safeguard them.  It was good to see and hear of the services working together to keep children within their own families.

I am glad I have made the changes and it looks like I will have a challenge in my new role and I am looking forward to that

 

 

A good ending

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So the end has come, my last day in the looked after children’s team has past by.  I have said good bye to the team and my other colleagues that I have worked with for the past six years.  It has come at a good time in my social work career for me to move on.

Just as it is important to ensure endings are positive for young people, ensuring your own endings are good is also equally important.  I have learnt very much over the past six years that a good working relationship within the service helps you achieve better outcomes for the young people you work with.

I have a better understanding of health, education, youth offending and CAMHS from ensuring I worked closely with them, attending team meetings, completing joint visits and that all important social work skill of making a good cup of coffee!

My last day was filled with sadness and joy, and most of it was spent in a daze as everyone else remained focused on their daily routines I seemed to float around the office ensuring i had completed everything I could.  There is always a drama in the office and on my last day as an observer it was good to see that everyone pulls together to ensure that the person having a difficult time is helped and supported.

I also had a choice of having my leaving lunch in the office or going out; and knowing my team if there was lunch in the office they would not stop working.  So we took a rare break and ate out a good opportunity for me to say goodbye and for the team to say hello to our new worker!

I have been very lucky in my time working for my LA, but now I have said goodbye and had a positive ending I am looking forward to moving on and learning something new and helping others to learn in their practise.

New Starts!

Its getting closer, the day that I start my new role – and this is where it does get strange because although it is a new role and a new local authority its not a new job or even a major job change!

Still I will be the new boy on the block, the unknown social worker and as such (hopefully) will be getting an ‘induction’! Looking back at when i started my current post and even my previous post this has always been a non starter; on both occasions the manager was not in to great me and worse still know one was prepared for me to start.  Which for my current post was considerably harder as the team looked to me to be their manager from 9am the morning I started.  I can remember feeling very anxious about this as I knew one other worker had gone for the post I was in and she was still within the team! a popular staff member who was very experienced and very awkward for a while.

However, social work is not easy, and having to learn the role by doing is a painful experience but one you never forget – I am not advocating that this is the right approach and can remember on both occasions questioning why I had made the move!

Suddenly though I receive an e-mail Dear SimplySW prior to you commencing your role please can you complete two compulsory e-learning course! we have booked you on a meet the Chief Exc morning! and once you start we expect you to complete the rest of the e-learning course.  Hang on a minute! this can not be right? this almost sounds prepared and thought about, logical and welcoming even maybe supportive!

Well I will soon find out, and already looking forward to making this change.