Tag Archives: cuts

The ‘Social Work’ Matrix

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Have you ever sat in your office reflecting and thought about the amount of work that is required from you? You stop, look up and around you, you see time is flashing past; phone calls coming in from families, professionals, e-mails pinging into your inbox.  I have had these thoughts and it has reminded me of a scene from the film ‘The Matrix’ where, the characters slow themselves down by controlling the computer coding within the matrix, in order to be able to control their surroundings and in one scene – dodge the speed of the bullets.  I can often feel like this in my current role, the matrix code instead being the complex code in the world wide web is the complex amount of legislation, additional guidance, case law, private law and policies and procedures that social work tries to work within.  Instead of bullets it is questions and they are fired in my direction all day.  Many social workers will relate to the feeling they have everyday, of being completely overwhelmed and recognise that there will never be an ideal caseload that will prevent any person from this feeling.

Since the review of Child Protection in the UK by Eileen Munro, there has been no escape of the review and public scrutiny of social services and children services.  There has been no decline in the number of referrals to children services or early years intervention or in the number of children that come into care.  There has however, been dramatic cuts in funding to services, changes in the terms and conditions of employment, training and support to social workers.  Where working over your hours was offered by social workers as a good will gesture in order to improve the outcomes of the children and families they were working with, has now been taken as granted in order to achieve the targets so tightly set.

It can feel suffocating as the timescales crash in, challenging assessment timescales to shrink to fit to court timescales.  Further challenging the skills and assessments of social workers balancing the needs and demands of courts within the needs and wishes and feelings of vulnerable children and families.  Social Work remains a complex serious of interventions based on communication, trust and learning of what it is like for the children to live within their home and family life.  Of course, this involves skilled approach to break the quiet mistrust of the media stereotype image of social workers as child snatchers.

As a manager within this process I have found myself being pulled in all directions (literally sometimes), challenging the workers with their practice, whilst supporting and developing their learning needs and experiences.  Hoping, from role to role within the umbrella of my title; manager, coach, educator, mentor, support.  Carefully managing the day to day crises and enabling the work to be completed.  Sometimes I wish I did understand the matrix code, I would delete the strands that bring suffering to the vulnerable.  And programme more support services, to provide the support and understanding needed.  Removing the stigma of living in a dangerous environment and the feeling that you can not speak up for fear of your children being removed or harmed.  Instead of a multi million pound movie, I will carry on working within the offices, homes, schools, children centres and courts I visit, challenging my practice and experience in order to ensure the decisions that are made safeguard and promote the right outcomes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You, Me and Social Work

It sounds like a film title but sadly it is not.  Instead it describes the constant questioning many social workers ask themselves over and over.  Working in front line child protection will always raise tensions and frustrations, within ourselves and the social workers we work with inevitably leading to clashes of thought, personalities and outcomes.  This is not social work as we might want it to be, although many people may recognise the tensions and dilemmas that are experienced in front line practise.  As social work practise and theory changes the aim is to become more logical and systemic in the analysis, removing the clashes and tensions for a more logical thought process.  Gathering data and information with the aim to process this more efficiently in order to understand what the concerns are.

But have the changes in social work improved the working conditions for social workers? sadly not. The competing challenges of meeting targets mixed in with overcoming societies social and economic difficulties matched with a combined reduction in services and not forgetting the aim of trying to do some direct work we all trained for.  However, the strain of the changes is showing in many way different ways and worryingly it is the capacity to manage the amount of work that is being referred to Social Care for assessment.  Strain and pressure on a fragile service that remains high risk for the vulnerable children that need safeguarding and also a service vulnerable to a Government that would be happy to shut it down.

For me and social work this year, I have had to learn and develop a resilience to these pressures.   Rebuild my strength and resolve to focus on what I believe is good social work practise and promote positive social work intervention.  Often meaning even when I have felt like walking away, I have had to pick myself up and up the social workers I work with.  In order to give them the focus and reflection they need to remain focused on effecting positive change.  Whilst watching others argue and buckle under the same pressures and for some this has been too much and they have felt the need to move on to different pastures.

Social work practise may have changed and for the better, but its time to be honest and admit that the pressure has not.  The expectation that no mistakes will be made with high case loads, lack of resources remain.  Furthermore the expectation that as a social worker you will work long hours often unpaid and unrewarded will be a standard expectation and if you don’t do this you will be challenged and criticised for not meeting the expectations put on you.  So how can you enjoy positive work with families and children when the one thing you need is time is not available.  When even if you find the time and space you need, the ability to reflect and research the information you are given is not there because the pressure the service is under means you have no manager, no supervision, no colleagues to explore ideas with.

This might be what the Government wants, waiting for another major failure to attack and destroy social work.  But for you, me and social work we all need to continue to fight and improve the service we provide through better communication and learning from each other.

‘Decisions and impact’

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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.

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.

   

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.

One cut to many?

Sometimes when the phone is ringing, and two different clients waiting in reception wanting to see you urgently, and your manager is wanting more updates on your out of county placements and the latest pathway plan urgently. The heat in the office is extremely high as Health and Safety will not let you open the window, and the last time you had a drink was five minutes before you left home this morning.

This is just a one minute snap shot that is repeated every five minutes of the working day. What gets you through the day? sometimes I wonder but the support of your team is one good way. But really it is a confident understanding of the procedures and the legislation that we work to. Understanding the remit we work in, enables clear guidance to underpin the knowledge learnt whilst studying to become a social worker.

It can already feel like that if you have not got support from any other agency the expectation is that Social Care will provide it. For some people this is essential for them to manage, however for others leaves families angry because the support they feel they should have has not been provided.

So although I do not like having to read through books and books of guidance, I understand that it is important. So maybe scrapping the guidance is not necessary but instead understanding where it is and how it can be accessed would be a better way of managing the bureaucracy.

The working together document is not just a useful document for Social Workers, it also provides useful guidance for other agencies. Essentially, it provides accountability for social workers and provides a basis for support.

And lets be clear this guidance does cover a large variety of abuse from neglect to sexual and all of the variety’s that this may be forced upon children. So to take it from one document, will ultimately mean that others will have to be written.

It is not the guidance that needs to be cut nor is it the budget that needs to be cut instead it is the time spent fixed to the desks completing funding request forms, forms to pass information up to management, forms in triplicate to make a referral, forms to request other forms.

I guess the one area in which the young person would like to see more of will become a luxury and that would be to see their social worker more often. Rather than just the statutory guidance, which many social workers will find hard to manage with the constant pressure they are under.

So lets not cut the guidance, instead be creative as to how it can be found I do not want to have to trawl through the intranet, or the Safeguarding board website then to the Department of Education or Opsi to find the information I need. Instead, provide the systems that help social workers make their decision accurately, quicker and more effective to enable true safeguarding of vulnerable children. To enable them to remain within the family when they can and to process child protection system’s faster where they are needed.

Am I ready to move on?

Working in a looked after children’s team working with young people preparing to leave care, I was not surprised to read in my daily Community Care e-mail this article on Care Leavers. Although it does not surprise me, it does worry me and whether maybe the research that was put into this is now out of date? As the link at bottom of this articles states the Care Regs changed in April 2011. However, if you are not signed up to CCinform the full guidance is here.

In short the new care regulations promotes 16 year olds remaining in care rather than being left to look after themselves in their own flat. The main reason for this is for the exact reason describe in the Community Care article. Of course if they can return home or can live with friends then this is also encouraged and will provide young people an opportunity to understand independent living.

However, it does not matter whether you are 16, 18 or 24 years of age, if you are not ready to live alone or do not have the skills independent living is is always going to be a challenge. Furthermore, once you have left care there is very little protection for you. If you make a mistake in your rent payments or a vulnerable young person and can not manage your tenancy then you lose your right to hold another tenancy.

Although the leaving care service does provide a transition for young people leaving care, their role is not statutory. As young adults they can make the decision not to engage with their workers and for many young people leaving care they do not want to continue to think they are still being “looked after”.

It is also worrying the cost of placements for young people planning on leaving care. Making it impossible sometimes to find sustainable housing for them. This is another area in which vulnerable people are being affected on a daily basis by the cuts being made else where. The lack of suitable accommodation and support provide in what is available can impact on all other areas. The good placements where support is at the right level are often to expensive and may not transition into a placement that will provide an independent placement post 18.

There are also many challenges for young people especially those who have been placed out of county for many years and no longer wish to return to their Local Authority where they might have housing priority. For many young people to be able to feel confident in moving on, the need for a positive support network maybe essential. And often this can not be a professional network that finishes work at 5.30pm.

For some young people their teenage years are often spent in turmoil and chaos, despite the all of support and guidance offered. Reigning in their own emotions is not achievable, and often the only way to feel secure is to be around a lot of other people. So when moving on plans are discussed in review meetings, or reviews of the pathway plan or on visits this causes the trauma to be triggered again. Making any move on plans harder to make.

Sadly no Local Authority is the same in the services that might be offered, but whilst pressure for budgets to be cut on all services again leave young people being forced to cope often alone due to what each Local Authority might be offering. Cuts on budgets also means higher case loads, lower support packages and placements being ended to ensure a service can be offered to everyone.

And despite the perception of social workers this can impact on the way that you feel about the work, the pressure and strains this can have whilst social workers fight to ensure young people can manage. Many often putting in long hours to try and achieve sometimes the smallest tasks for the young people.

 

Still working on work

Would I want to be young again, I wonder? It amazes me every year we hear that the GCSE grades are getting better because the exams are becoming easier.  Yet, does this really say what is happening.

In my experience I have been fortunate enough to have never been out of work, homeless or destitute.  But like many young people I do wonder what would happen if I did not have a job, or a skill I could sell to potential employers.  In fact without my social work qualification I think I would be in great danger of struggling to find work in today’s work market.

Working with young people in care has made me more aware of the difficulties that many people especially young people find in looking for work.   Placements, transports, contact, support are all areas that could affect the emotional well-being of the young people to stay employable.

There have been many schemes that try to get people back into work and the latest promotes work experience as a way of giving valuable experience in a work place.  However, this has come with a well publicised criticism and most of which has been fair.

We have yet seen from this government a positive approach to enabling young people to return to work.  I doubt that we will see anything meaningful until confidence is restored in employers to meaningfully recruit and expand their business again.

For young people more support is needed in helping develop their own understanding of the work market.  Time dedicated in developing their own interests and knowledge so that as business shrink into the Web and out of the high streets.  Young people can challenge the business markets and create their own work.  Maybe if more vulnerable young people such as care leavers are encouraged to work with organisations such as the Prince’s trust their mentoring scheme could help develop this.

Or if you are someone who could help young vulnerable people develop confidence and skills needed to find work offer your help to the Prince’s Trust mentoring scheme.

Caring

Why did you become a social worker? it is a weird question and each of us have our own reasons as to why we trained, studied and qualified as a social worker.  The reason I am now wondering this is because I was asked or I suppose told that the reason why social workers do this is because they care! Now, this is right, but is it why we trained and worked hard to become social workers?

Being on twitter and reading the feed stream of tweets the answer to this is clear that caring does not get close to describing what social work is or should be doing.  Reading articles in Community Care (now online – Boo!) and in the daily news print highlights some of the issue that as social workers we have to deal with on a daily basis.

Poverty, Unemployment, lack of Education, Drugs, Domestic abuse, Services being cut, Budgets being cut.  This is also without Benefit changes, Mental Health, Physical health issues and other social issues.  As social workers there is a need to challenge these changes, challenge societies views of discrimination, racism, and abuse and neglect.  Sadly this is always going to be a difficult subject, as profit and greed are big motivator for all business, including banks and the current government.

And so to make the changes necessary to promote everyone’s improvement in poverty, housing, employment and their mental health this profit will need to be eaten into.  Something, that know one wants to do as they enjoy their own benefits of being in power and the profit that can be made during this time and afterwards.

Caring is not enough to describe the work that is undertaken, it may fuel the passion and fight.  For the long hours of reading, assessing and visiting to ensure positive outcomes for the clients that they are working with.  Often this work is unpaid, undervalued and not rewarded.  Caring may ensure the report is finished and done well for the person it is about, but it will not always get the service you want or where you want it.

Long week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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