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?

 

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‘Decisions and impact’

grief-and-loss-therapy

Its hard sometimes to remember childhood, I look back and there are still some things that I remember well and others when I hear about them I laugh because I have no recollection of them.  However, for children and children in care the issue is not about remembering but living their childhood.

More importantly that as adults we can make life changing decisions for ourselves and our children, often without thinking about them.  As a parent it is hard when faced with making a decision that is important whilst considering the impact upon your child.  Significantly for some people being able to understand the impact of your decision making upon your child is impaired due to your own childhood experiences or substance misuse or violent relationships.  But perhaps more commonly now is the impact of the austerity cuts where low income families are forced to make decisions that increasingly leave their children at risk.

It has often be presented that social workers have forgotten these challenges and this can easily be understood as the tick box culture has been developed to prevent errors and mistakes.  Instead the talking part of social work has been lost, the time that families need to unpick their understanding of the situation they are in.  Furthermore simple but effective services are cut and removed from these vulnerable families forcing them to either sink or swim.

Lets not forget though that for Children’s services it is the children that are important, and for that any small change for children can have a massive impact upon their development.  A change in school could mean a loss of a friend or supportive teacher, a change of home frequently could cause many difficulty’s relating to attachments and feeling settled and having a sense of belonging.  Lets not forget as social workers or parents that Children need to understand the events that are happening in their life in order to make sense of it.

Mixed messages from parents and or professionals can leave the child in turmoil, feeling confused and unsure often causing these anxieties to be acted out through behaviour.  Behaviour which then can lead to the child or young person being excluded from their school, friends, family and then increasing their risk of vulnerability.

Its easy to forget as adults that it is our responsibility to be responsible for this, not to draw the attention to our needs rather than the needs of the children that are in our care.  To raise awareness of the impact of the serious nature of the cuts made by the government that looks to early intervention to reduce the long term care needs and budget demands on the Local Authority’s.

Instead I fear that the impact will be far worse that where you can see this sign

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and continue to see this sign then there will always be a danger that without a serious investment in to social care and the voluntary agency’s that support vulnerable families and children that this will continue to be a major concern.

Article 3 (Best interests of the child): The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. This particularly applies to budget, policy and law makers. ” 

So Mr Gove in the government that does not focus on the rights of the Child, perhaps it is time that this is the change that is enforced.  Stop looking else where for the blame, start to implement the concepts of basic rights for children in legislation and policy and lets prevent children from experience loss.

Who are the real people?

Ask the real people I am told? there is another side to the story and innocent people have been waiting a long time for someone to stand up to the despicable actions of those (few) but nasty social workers that remove children.

Who are these real people and are social workers not real people? perhaps this might be why there is a problem with social work training! For a different view of child abuse, how about one where people strongly believe that those who commit child abuse should be castrated (not my view) but one that is certainly held in The Republic of Moldova .   Of course this is an extreme view and may be the polar opposite of those that think children should remain with their parents, even if they are being neglected! But for me this is why social work is so important, because it does not sit in any camp and for many people this is scary and a threat.  After all how can each family be treated differently and no same outcome achieved twice?people

I blogged about this on ‘Is there anyway to improve?’ and how there are many different perceptions of one snap shot of life.  There is also multiple ways that each scenario could end up, and with out everyone wanting to end child neglect it does not really matter which camp you support the outcome will be the same! Children will suffer.

As a social worker, working with children it does make me sad and angry that many adults who argue that they have the best interests of the child at heart; are still only arguing for their own personal gain and feelings.  When something goes wrong or a mistake is made the children are used for the reason to make a change rather than being the focus.  It is however the adult issue, which remains the subject of the media interest.  The media that can not even give respect to the children it believes that it is campaigning for including the Sun in this piece that could not even name Peter Connerly and instead referred to him as ‘Baby P’.  The shame of this article makes me sick because it focuses more on the adult writer rather than the tragic story of neglect suffered by Peter Connerly.  Or even worse the story of the Rotherham foster carers who want an apology for the children removed from them! After all lets not focus on giving the children  a chance to have their future determined through their family proceedings with out any other factors influencing the final outcome.

The real issue of this story is poor communication and the right to privacy for these young Children. Not very exciting and one that you would not often see in the media, however move the victim from the children to the foster carers, add a local election, race and we have a far more interesting story in which to beat the local council and the reputation of all social workers with.

Who are the real people? If you ask me it does not matter who the real people are – It is the children that matter to me, breaking the cycle of neglect and poor parenting YES poor parenting not poor people but poor parenting.  Which is why I am interested in early intervention and understanding how each family works and what support is needed to keep children safe.  Because I know that being in care is not always the best options but sadly sometimes it is the only option.

Perhaps Mr Gove rather than making wild statements instead you should invest in Social Care and education rather than criticising the service you are pulling apart!

 

Urgent Review!

Just in case you were not sure, an urgent radical reform of social work is required for child protection practise, an understatement by a mile!  I am of course referring to the recommendations made by Lord Carlile of Berriew following his analysis of Child Protection in Doncaster .  However, amongst the obvious comments and arguments made after this very serious review of a very violent attack, made by two looked after children in 2009, a very real point has been made.

‘Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said the report shows Whitehall intervention isn’t working.

‘Government intervention is not working!’, the drive to make austerity savings and reduce red tape has blinded the government on the interventions that it believes that it is not so effectively making.  Removing ring fenced budgets, cutting budgets and can anyone remember the ‘Big Society?’ have all blurred any effective policy that the government has tried to install, after the Munro Review and now Lord Carlile’s review.

Again I can not help but worry about the comments that Mr Gove has made about social work and its interventions, about a service doomed to the dreaded ‘tick box’ bureaucracy created by ICS – which is ironically a great system to store all the information you need, but just badly! A system that came about as a part of the Laming Review and Every Child Matters – unless we do not have any money then, Mr Gove wants Social Care to find its own solution and to point the finger when it goes wrong.  Of course I can not blame all of this all on the current government after all it was Labour that responded to Lord Laming’s response to Victoria Climbe .  Just to point out that in this document there is a call to drive change in child protection in a positive quick approach and to improve assessments by being able to get information fast – Sounds familiar! (Munro review, Khyra Ishaq)

After all maybe a review of how the Government looks at its own social care policies is needed, I would not want to raise the Jimmy Savile subject and his relationship with the Department of Health that appointed him into a position to carry out this level of abuse!

But to come back to the recommendations from Doncaster and the Urgent and radical reform of child protection practise! Cough how urgent? I recently went for a job interview and part of the knowledge that I had to demonstrate was about the ‘Change Programme’ from Every Child Matters that was written in yes 2004! called ‘Every Child Matters: Change for Children’ which talks about a multi agency front door team that can gather information quickly using a triage system to assess the level of support and when it is needed.

So how seriously does the Government take child protection change, how serious is it at driving through change? Social Work has learnt from its mistakes and Eileen Munro’s review of Child Protection is good evidence of this and I wonder whether Mr Gove has read it? or supports it because the Child’s journey through child protection is very important as is the core principle of the ‘Children Act 1989’ which is where possible to keep families together!

I just wonder!

 

 

The God Syndrome

Dear Mr Gove, thank you for your extremely helpful comments on “Child Protection‘ which has historically been under resourced, disrespected by the Government and other professionals because of its lack of a status as a ‘Profession’, and by the gross failure in the family courts to respect the experience social workers bring in their long term case work with vulnerable families and their children in order to provide long term safeguards.

I have enjoyed reading other people’s views of the direction Mr Gove wants to take social work from this speech, such as ‘Give over Gove‘ on the socialworkerx blog and also Andrew Ellery makes good points about ‘Frontline’ for BASW to highlight the anger of the proposals to train the new super social workers from ‘certain’ University’s, perhaps creating the biggest contradiction in social work history.

An excellent example of this contradiction can always be found in the Daily Telegraph and as recently as the 1st of September 2012 titled ‘Don’t ask your Grandson how his jaw got broken, says Social Workers’ describing how children are ‘ruthlessly taken into care’ and of a young girl who had a ‘tif’ with her parents was then taken into care, by social workers.  But worse than this is the awful term ‘God Syndrome’ which is thrust upon social workers because of this attitude.

  It does therefore saddens me that this image is still being portrayed of social work, that those who are vulnerable still require saving from great harm – and that only social workers can do this, descending into the family home creating chaos and distraction to remove confused children.

Children, do require protecting from serious harm, they can not be left without love, food, warmth, stimulation, so yes they do require protection! and to play down neglect is a serious crime.

However, social work can not continue in the contradiction that it currently exists within, created by the those in power and those who have the power to influence through the use of the media.

So as social work continues to promote reflective practise and research in to the very foundation of its practise, and understanding evidence of the systemic impact of generational impact of neglect and vulnerabilities; which YES is still in its infancy with the social work learning on the degree course and ‘the college of social work‘ and social work continuing professional development.

It does mean Mr Gove, that your comments are damaging and unhelpful, baring in mind how some people can see social work as a whole – it appears that Mr Gove wants this to be reinforced with his view of what social workers should be…

“I want social workers to be more assertive with dysfunctional parents’

Reinforcing the biggest contradiction of social work practise, that as a social worker I would not want to associate with.  But have no fear Mr Gove, as a social worker I have been assertive with parents I have found to be lacking in their care of their children, but the real skill is not to quickly remove the child leaving them scared and confused.  Instead to help develop their resilience and act upon their wishes and should this to be removed to a place of safety – it should be a place of safety that they have identified.  This is a social work skill that can not be taught or even exclusive to certain graduates, but one that is learnt through experience, observation, mentoring, guidance and mistakes.

Young people that are in care should also play an important part in the learning of our practise, they should play an essential part in the recruitment of social workers and other care staff.  But as I discussed in my last post ‘Is there any way to improve?‘ the best way to do this is to speak with social workers!

Is there anyway to improve?

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years about how we can improve social work for children’s services, mostly from the very well publicised failings.  Each time there has been significant learning for those in social work, which has lead to some positive changes in practise.  This includes the Children Act 1989 being updated with and supplemented by the Children Act 2004, it has also seen the Guidance that is attached to the Children’s Act being updated, along with the Working Together Document, which is still in the process of being updated and agreed.

But despite this Social Work practise remains misunderstood and that instead of it being a well needed service it is instead seen as a burden to society, draining it of it financial resources.  Instead of the real focus of social work, which today remains focused upon the needs of the most vulnerable people in society and protecting them from abuse.

It remains clear that the biggest issue still remains in defining what a vulnerable child is and at what point intervention is needed.  It is at this point that social work is needed to be understood that there is no quick fix to create a perfect utopia as Andrew Adonis suggests, that you can not rush through social work learning to jump into this puzzle with a commitment of two years a hardy smile and a willingness to challenge!

Walking into the room above is a good example of what social work is about, each reflection tells a different story and each story may be interpreted differently by those who observe it, including the family and the child and it is only at the point of immediate risk of significant harm that a legal order can be applied for to safeguard a child.  So to rush through the learning and the reflection needed to gather each persons perception of what they are seeing to analyse the risk and identify the impact of this to decide whether it is a concern that requires a social work intervention is not something that can be raced through.

The aim is to raise the profile of social work and prevent child abuse and the worse case event of a child dying due to the neglect by the perpetrator of this.  It should also be recognised that this responsibility lies with everyone and every organisation should have a child protection policy, in order to understand it and prevent it from happening!

So today when I was asked the question is there any way to improve? the answer was Yes, talk to Social Workers, understand what the difficulties are in social work and where the learning is needed to develop practise including investing in social work and acknowledging that specialist knowledge is learned over a long period of time not over a fancy title.  So lets expand on what is already happening with the Change programme and the assessed year of practise.

And remember if you walked into the mirrored room would you be able to identify which image was the true reflection of what was happening for that child? because removing a child has serious implications especially when done so for the wrong reason!

Room to think!

One thing that is always true in social work is the fact that you continue to reflect about almost everything that happens throughout the day.  And this got me to thinking about where is the best place for social workers to be working to do this.  The picture above is a call centre, but is so close to what my office looks like that it worries me, in fact at least these workers have sound boards to prevent the noise going side ways.
The office space that social workers work in has always been a hot topic to discuss and one I first wrote about in ‘fish bowl working‘  but over the past two years a lot has changed and significantly about social work practise and a time has come that the profession of social work has needed to be taken seriously, regulated and more importantly founded in a culture of learning and research that is respected in the courts and by other professionals.
So here we are two years on, with funding that has been cut to all services and an increase by the public of an awareness of the flaws in the current child protection system.  Which could not be ignored and lead to the Munro Review, which is still to be fully implemented.  We have had along side this with children in care teams a trial of Social Work Practises  which has recently had a review that can be found here.
Which leads me to where I again started to reflect about the location that I work, the office above is neither supportive of reflective practise or one where you can think, learn and share good practise.  But perhaps more importantly it is removed from the community and the children and families that we are supposed to be working with.
Maybe I am not the only one but I certainly feel like that I am where the world has gone mad.  In an attempt to achieve the change needed in Child Protection a ‘Systems thinking’ approach is being used to improve outcomes for the children and their families.  Where the key resource is the social worker for them.  BUT we continue to be hidden in our hard to reach, far removed office location where the council is trying to save money by selling off buildings and cramming all services in to one location.
So with positive changes comes another brick wall, which requires good will of other services to lend the use of their buildings when they are empty in order to deliver the service that is essentially needed by the most vulnerable people who may not always want to make the long journey to County Hall, to discuss their worries and fears in a room that is not friendly or supportive.
Please please if we are going to improve social work, lets not stop half way make the changes count and enable better social work practise at every level of reflection, learning and allow it to be open to inspection from the people that most need it because they can drop in and speak to a social worker whenever they wish.

Its all Math

Do you remember saying whilst you were at school ‘what will I ever needs maths for when I leave school?’ I know I did, and although you know that you will always need maths for your every day life, its not until recently that I have seen it in a different perspective.

Your maths teacher who appears to be very wise, would always say ‘show your working out’ – ‘its not the answer I want to see, but how you got to that answer’.  This is so true for social work assessments to, after all we know the long term impact of neglect, sexual abuse, physical abuse and emotional abuse on families and importantly the young person.

But what we do not always do so well is show how we get there or more importantly demonstrate for the families, for the young people and maybe sadly sometimes the courts, Guardians, independent organisations that may review our work they might not know how we get there.  After all I strongly believe that where a good social work assessment is undertaken it does not need to be disregarded by the court for then an ‘expert’ to rewrite to give the same conclusion.

And sadly these assessments are not simple equations they are long multiplication, because there is no one sum that will give you the necessary formula to follow.  It is however the biggest worry that I have in the current economic crisis, that social work is trying to become through different strategies a lean systems thinking machine.  Able to reflect and assess and target each factor affecting every aspect of the vulnerable family and therefore protecting vulnerable children with targeted work with just one formula.

My advise would not to rush to solve the problem, instead look at each part of the equation and ensure that each part of the sum adds up before moving on to solve the next part.  Each agency will use a different code so it is also important that it is translated clearly, with a good analysis of the assessment and should be using research and legislation to support the sum.

I know this is starting to sound like code, but in short with all of the thinking and policy being focused on ‘Think family’ and early intervention, it is especially relevant and important that these good quality assessments are completed, that every action is understood as to what the long term impact will be.  Why – because if family placements were to break down during adolescents the emotional damage will by far greater and harder to engage meaningfully.

So stores of Rochdale will become fewer and fewer because social workers will be exploring each part of the sum rather than skipping to the conclusion or more often than not, taking a prescribed action with out considering the long term impact of not looking at all options.

To Safeguard does not mean making and taking quick child protection actions (always) unless there is an immediate risk of significant harm.

 

What is your tipple?

For many of us the image above will not mean much, you will either take it or leave it, or maybe instead you will prefer a glass of wine or even a spirit.

I have to be honest I have never really given the amount of alcohol that I drink a thought, How much alcohol can you drink before you become drunk or worse still not in control of your actions?  I have so far been lucky that I have not got any tales of woe from over drinking.  However, I have found a handy self assessment tool here and it suggests that I should cut down, have a quick look yourself and see what it recommends for you.

Why am I talking about alcohol? sadly it has been on my mind all week (maybe a sign) because I had attended a conference early this week at the Institute of Child Health in London.  The subject was about Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders a subject I have to be honest about prior to the conference, I was not particularly confident on.  Furthermore, my interest was from a social work perspective and the impact of this on the young people I work with namely those 14 – 18 years old.

However, what I quickly learnt was that it has been a very long time since I have studied my social biology or even any neuro sciences.  What I did gather though, was that the body remains addicted to alcohol in a way that celebrates overcoming this poison.  Furthermore this is passed down from generation to generation.  It is also important to point out that the effect of alcohol has a different impact upon different people.

So from a social work perspective the key points were around the child development and the associated behaviours that come with this.  It is an interesting subject that if assessed correctly by the social worker/midwife could help early diagnosis and also a better treatment for the young person and also a better support plan for the long term permanence plan for the child.

For young people that have to live with this syndrome they could have with it cognitive difficulties, attachment difficulties, ADHD, ASD all with varying degrees.  And for social workers, care workers, foster carers these are all things that we will be very familiar with.  However, the difference is that if you can understand the history and the behaviours and with the right support maybe where placements become strained due to the behaviour then perhaps they may not break down.  Meaning better outcomes for the young person who with the support of their family or carer can achieve with a valid support from the right agencies.

At present there is not a massive known support and diagnosis is only accurate if during pregnancy the Mum shares her alcohol usage.  So for more information on FAS please read here.

 

 

 

 

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?