Tag Archives: assessments

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.

 

 

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.

‘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.

1-Jay-Shafer-tiny-home_flickr_nicolas-boullosa

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.

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.

 

Who is making the change?

Have you ever wondered if there is another job that can change as fast as social work without any changes having any immediate direct impact upon the people it should be helping.  As a social worker who has spent many hours of reading every week to keep my own knowledge up to date, it does worry me that with all of the changes that have recomended through Munro, that the one task that remains key to any succesful intervention remains pressurised to be completed – the social work assessment.

Early intervention continues to provide a positive prevantative barrier for many families and young people becoming involved with social care.  However, further reinforces the importance of the qualified social work assessment when it is needed.  It therefore remains a challenge for social workers to continue with their learning and research, when in order to save money by the LA higher case loads and interventions are being placed upon remaining social workers whilst at the same resources are being moved to help with early intervention.

For me this is essential as it remains critical that postive outcomes are found for the vulnerable young people that we work with.  As services are cut and funding is cut it is often left to the interventions made by the social workers to ensure that current placements do not break down.  That joint working has taken on a new meaning with the priority being to ensure that the outcomes are the right ones for the young person.

Something that this year has been rewarded with positive GCSE results and fewer placement break downs and importantly great understanding of the needs of looked after children.

However, are these changes being driven through by the government with their policy changes or by the social workers encouraging the young people to achieve their goals? As the changes suggested in the Munro review and the government policies have yet to take true effect it appears that with increased participation and what appears to be despite all odds a will by the young people to improve their situation and reach their dreams.

Gathering the data

Time is really running short now with just under four weeks left to gather my data and analysis what I have found in a meaningful way to write up in just 8000 words!

I have not been sitting in a blind panic since I last wrote about my research, and the danger of this project is that it is in addition to my day to day work.  The result is as can be expected that with the end of one financial year that I have had to complete the performance appraisals with the social workers that I supervise.  I have had to manage long term absence and balance the needs of the young people.  Which meant putting more pressure on the social workers who were in the office, and in turn give more support to ensure that they did not have their own meltdown’s and go off sick.

All in all a difficult time of the year with the social workers I supervise walking around in a mild panic about how I will review their year.  And along in my own head, I have all the thoughts about my own research that I jot down and stash away.

However, when planning my data gathering I was allowed to be convinced that recording the interview will allow me to capture more information and be more focused and approachable during the interview.  Great! that is exactly what I want more participation and therefore more honest answers to the questions I was going to ask.

What was I doing? this is a small piece of research for my post qualifying award in social work. Some people will know that when I sat down on saturday to type up the recordings that this was a painfully slow process.  What was one hour recording took up the better part of the whole day to stop – start play, pause and record.  Never mind the fear that I had that I might hit the delete button and lose the lot! Do not get me wrong it was so tempting and the delete button was the biggest button on my rather useful iPhone that I used to record the interview with.

Also the child in me was so tempted just to hit the big red button! 

And after six hours I was very tempted!

However, some sound advice was given to me – and the logic was like waking up fresh.  What was I looking for and what was the purpose? The recordings did not just give me an accurate understanding of the interview but a real chance to listen to what was being said.  Something, that I might have missed if I had just been reading the words.

Although verbal communication is a small part of how we communicate, the way the answer were delivered gave an added extra meaning that could have been lost if I had written it down.

So what was I looking for? what were the patterns and themes that were being discussed and shared with me.  After playing the interviews through several times these started to jump out of the sounds and in to defined groups.

So with my recordings made easier, I was given the next bit of advice, remember to keep a few sentences for quotes to be used in the research project.  Simple advice that may appear obvious, unless you have just spent a long time breaking your back painfully making accurate transcripts of your interview.  I would recommend if you choose to do this to ensure you have plenty of coffee and a comfortable chair.

I still have one interview to gain and then I will be able to start meaningfully writing up my research project.  What I have learnt so far has been incredible about the amount of preparation needed and why your methodology is so important.

I will continue and hope that others will want to do this.  Do not be put off and the learning from exploring a subject you enjoy enhances your social work practise and also provides a better service for the people you are working with.

Children are the future!

One of the great joys of Social Work is that you can never be right, well at least that’s how it appears or portrayed by the media.  And in a blog post by Abe Laurens in the ‘not so big society’ titled ‘Shine a light’ illustrates rather well how the media portrays one image whilst the research points in a different direction.

However, children are the future of our world so it is therefore important to safeguard their well-being; and prevent harm that will affect them for the rest of their lives.  And by harm we are talking about significant harm.

But what did catch my eye this week was a Blog posted on the Community Care Children’s service blog post about neglect! and what is good enough parenting? A term so heavily used in Care Proceedings and Child Protection.  Action for Children in their recent report found on the blog or here that:

  • ” Two-thirds (67%) feel that the law on parenting is confusing.
  • Nearly three-quarters (72%) agree that there is no common understanding of what ‘good enough’ parenting is.
  • Only 16% agree that the law should not intervene in how people choose to raise their children.
  • Most parents (59%) believe that the state has a duty to intervene.
  • When asked what would help parents to meet their responsibilities, two-thirds (66%) call for a clear law which can be understood by all.
  • Support services were identified as the key way to help parents if things go wrong (73%). Action for Children 2012″

The main reason for this is because

“In April next year the law on neglect will be 80 years old – Action for Children does not want to see that anniversary come and go without government commitment that it will be changed so that more children are protected.”

For those of you who are a parent, or planning to be a parent there is always a worry about whether you are making the right decisions for your children.  The worry and guilt if you say ‘No’ and whether your children will forgive you for saying ‘No’.  Of course they do! and from this develops their trust and love in you, but at three in the morning when they are crying because they are unwell or missed school due to a lot of sickness you can start to question your own decisions.

However, do I need a law to tell me this? No I probably wouldn’t although I have the luxury of 15 years of training, reading and direct childcare experience and two great children that test me and reward me with their love (I hope).

More to the point does the law need to change? Do parents know what is expected of them? and do parents understand what neglect is? Of course we do and rather than have a new law we do require an understanding of neglect through positive media images of the work that social workers, teachers, health professionals, and volunteers do on a daily basis to prevent families breaking down.

Child development theories have been clear about the stages that babies, toddlers Children and young people move through.  This is regularly measured and monitored by health professionals starting with the Midwife, then the Health Visitor and then School Nurse and General Practitioner.  Inevitably with the cut backs in Public services the observations made by these professionals will affect the number of families that can be identified at an early stage.

Furthermore the law is clear about Children’s attendance at school and also there is clear law around substance misuse and Domestic Violence.

However, what is lacking in English Law is the consideration for all legislation to include relevant consideration to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child .  We do have the Children Act 1989 and also the Children Act 2004, which with all of the guidance and the Working together documents highlights what Child Neglect is.

The real message is that neglect does not just occur in poorer families, and neglect can be identified through knowledge and observations from Professionals and then assessed by Social Workers.  The concern is that there will be no law passed by next April, instead the real concern is that Neglect is a priority of the Government that could be lost with the cuts that they are trying to make.

It remains important that the assessments made by Social Workers are respected and checked by their managers as a Safeguard to rogue assessments.  That, neglect remains on the agenda of everyone but allowing families to live their lives.  The law is already in place to protect children, research is available about neglect and more research is currently being undertaken.

Social Work is not about herding children into care, it is about protection and support and Neglect or good enough parenting will be different from family to family and hard to legislate and enforce.

Assessments?

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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