Tag Archives: government

On the Rise.

Like many Social Workers, I have been desperately holding on to the dream that maybe one day the promises of a ‘different way of working’ will come true.  Change, is, and always on the cards within the day-to-day life of Local Authority work.  However, ‘Real’ change does not happen as often.  When Eileen Munro reviewed the child protection system there were plenty of areas that needed improvement.  No one could argue that this was not true.

The level of red tape often meant that social workers were not spending enough time with children and families – this had to be cut and reduced, with more autonomy to be given to each Local Authority.  In order to adapt its policies and procedures, to meet the needs of the child in need within its area.  Consideration was to be given to the journey of the child through what is and remains complex and often slow child protection system, before a permanent placement could be found either within the family or away from the family.

Sadly, like any other great idea it comes at a cost – one where savings need to be made, ring fenced budgets removed and the consequences higher if mistakes or errors occur.  Of course this is really important, Child deaths are completely unacceptable as is any child abuse.

But and there is a but! a big one as well.  Is the continuing rise in cases being held by social workers and the one factor that makes a difference to the quality of work being completed.  A factor that will stop social workers seeing children, completing their assessments, direct work with families and ensuring that their case recordings are completed.  Let alone complete the research they need to keep their learning up to date.

It is easy to see how social workers can ‘burn out’ very quickly as the better you are at understanding complex cases the more you have.  Where new procedures at the front door and early intervention work is supposed to be reducing the number of cases needing statutory assessment and intervention.  The actual number of referrals continue to rise, as does the growing level of cases being held by social workers.

Whilst this Government feels and focuses on the need to better educate or create super social workers, the reality remains,  that this will not resolve the current situation in social work.  Even the strongest of social worker can only manage the daily pressures and struggles for so long before the pressure becomes too much.  Armed with the knowledge however, that the grass is not greener anywhere else, often social workers are faced with hard decisions when the levels of stress have reached capacity.  Meaning often social workers leaving front line social work with their experience and knowledge lost.

So as the number of cases rise so do the numbers of social workers leaving, making it more complex for local authorities to recruit and maintain experienced staff.

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’

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 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.

High Runaway Numbers!

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

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

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

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

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

So what is the definition of a missing child?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

Can we change?

As a social worker it is very hard to not accept change, after all it is what we try and achieve on a daily basis within the communities we work in.  Sometimes the changes are small, others maybe life changing – but all are equally important.

However, more frequently it appears as social workers we are beginning to be asked to define are practise, forced to choose an approach and disregard years of learning and experience in order to support the organisation during this time of austerity.

But if we are to change for the better and if we are to decide on a model of practise to define what Social Work is in today’s society and furthermore what the role Social Workers play within this.   Should we not start from the position that Social Work is a growing profession that should be respected by all professions.  Moreover rather than Social Care being an organisation that deals with the parts of society that we do not want to acknowledge or accept.  That practise and interventions should be a positive sign within families to make positive changes, it remains to easy blame social workers for events, crises that lead to tragic circumstances such as family breakdowns or death.

However, despite these changes that are occurring and to a large extent mostly these are positive changes there is still a contradiction between demand for a service and the ability to practise as taught and developed through safe practises.  Making the most effective tool in the social work tool kit as the social worker themselves, and without the time to spend with the families and young people this becomes ineffective.

Therefore if the Governments are serious about social work changing then serious decisions need to be made in supporting the work that is done with families that are in crisis, with young people that need a genuine targeted, direct meaningful impact from the social worker.  A skill that can not be gained from inside the office behind the computer.  That only by providing the right funding, training and support can social workers provide the right interventions to the right people and develop as a profession.

 

A rise in numbers!

The family courts body received 10,199 new applications between April 2011 and March 2012, a 10.8% rise on the same period last year.” (Community Care).  There is no shock here [sadly] and no surprise either.  I say this because after reading another article on the Children Service’s blog I ordered a copy of the book quoted ‘Lost in Care‘.  Almost immediately it talks about the research undertaken for this book commissioned due to the large numbers of children coming into care (being greater than the previous years).

Although it is arguable that this surge in referrals has been in part, largely due to the death of baby Peter and the fear of this being repeated again.  It is sadly more likely to be due to the massive cuts in budgets for all organisations that work with family’s and children.  Resulting in catastrophic consequences for many families struggling to manage; leaving their children at risk of neglect and further abuse either intentionally or unintentionally.

Rightly so this is where the Government wants Social Care to be focusing its services towards.  Where ‘The Big Society’ should be picking up the gaps in the services that have been cut.  Which, as we are all aware has been an outstanding flop! coupled with the media’s often biased view creating a polarising effect for Social Workers who are trying to engage in early intervention, often finding [rightly] an unwillingness to engage because of fear of losing their child[ren].

Will there ever be an easy answer to solve the dilemma of the rising number of children coming into care? probably not if there continues to be an unwillingness to invest in Social Care – being either in early intervention (parenting classes, more midwives, health visitors and free childcare places) or a more advanced early intervention with CAMHS being able to have the funding to engage with families at an early stage rather than when the young person reaches a threshold so high that any work is unlikely to be meaningful to the family.  Or Social Workers who are trained to an even higher level who can carry out short term crisis work with the whole family before the crisis becomes a normal way of life for family’s leading to the removal of their child[ren].

However, social work continues to work to the principles as set out in the Children Act 1989 and 2004 working with the Children and Young People to prevent children coming into care.  While we wait to see how Social Care will be developed and changed as the Government tries to slimline a service that carry’s a greater expectation than any other organisation to produce results that will never please everyone.

Change and Hope?

If every day was the same life would quickly become boring.  In social work this is one certainty you can guarantee, that every day will bring something new and exciting.  But with this comes a lot of pressure and responsibility that would be expected when working directly with young people.  And also for a Local Authority that will be under pressure to demonstrate it is performing well, which is quite right considering it is using public money to do so.

The other topic you will here regularly is change, designed to ensure efficiency is achieved and the best service can be delivered to the minority that need it the most.  Despite not practising for not as long as others I have already experienced these changes almost constantly since qualifying.  Which, to me already makes these changes pointless.

Furthermore, I can not see how they save money as different parts of the Local Authority are sold off highlighting each mistake like alarm bells as the dwindling pot of money disappears.  Each time experienced knowledgeable workers are retired or made redundant to be replaced with inexperienced colleagues who are increasingly becoming over worked.

Now it is not really hard to see what is happening in the bigger picture with the coalition government in power.  We all understand the ethos, and the need to make money from private enterprise.  So here we are being run into the ground and with 270,000 public sector workers already unemployed, it is certainly going to plan.

This will not be getting any better for the foreseeable future so if we have to make changes let them be positive and beneficial for the people we work with.  Lets stop changing job titles and rising pay with it, lets stop creating position for people that have no direct meaning on the work we do.  Lets stop funding pot hole repairs and use tarmac that won’t erode under heat and cold weather conditions.

Social Work, despite its criticism is not about reacting to problems, it is not about removing children in order to meet adoption targets.  However, it is about safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children and young people.

Early intervention should be early intervention, multi disciplinary teams should not just be professionals but also volunteers to provide family’s with advice and support.  this should also include legal advice for people who are suffering from Domestic abuse in order to achieve change sooner.

Moreover, early intervention should be the responsibility of everyone making more use of the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) for all professionals to understand what is happening for these children and young people.  To invite support sooner for their families and therefore creating more positive home environments.

The coalition government has removed funding for everyone, making it harder for the third sector to survive and provide the essential support it has always done along side the public and private sectors.  Local Authority’s should also invest into the community’s where the support is most needed, rather than moving troublesome families around the housing association need to share essential information to ensure the right needs are being met.

Child protection should also be essential training on all courses that involve working with people.  Whether it be teaching, health, mental health, government the aim to ensure that everyone understand what everyone needs to do to ensure the safety and well being of every child.  So that it does not need a referral to Children’s Social Care.

In order to do this the government will need to start considering the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child with all legislation that it wants to bring in.  Making all children prime consideration at all times and not just after a tragic death.

I live in hope