Tag Archives: politics

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.

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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.

‘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.

The God Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anyway to improve?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crash and Burn

Its not often that you see headlines like in the recent Children Service blog on the Community Care website like ‘Are ministers scared of social workers’ and it is interesting to think that this might be true! (I wish) however, it still remains that the real agenda remains with the coalition government to save money for the country’s economy to be stronger! (groan) or into those with money can recover their savings and feel a little bit happier in themselves that social care issues can be thought about again with real meaning – or in reality the pendulum swings back in favour of the Labour party and some focus may be given again to social care issues – Argh!!!!

However, I think rightly so that social work still has a lot to fear from ministers, it is reassuring in some way to understand that the new Children’s Minister Edward Timpson has some experience of family law and social care issues so that any changes that are made will be relevant and not a token gesture towards change.

The reality is the same for every member of the public in that by not meeting with BASW, or the College of Social Work means that they do not need to hear what the real difficulties are, or how bad the neglect, abuse and poverty really is or to the pressure that public sector workers and Charities and other voluntary agency’s are under to support the most vulnerable and in need, in order that more time can be taken to work out how they can balance the needs of safeguarding the vulnerable, with the agenda of the party to create a ‘Big Society’ (puke).

At present it still remains a statutory duty by the Local Authority to safeguard the needs of the vulnerable and in need, however if this responsibility could be fully transferred to Children’s trusts and then in turn to Co-operative teams this could quickly change.  furthermore without further education to society about the role of social care and what child protection is and how it is perceived will impact ultimately on the future of social work.

So I take it with a pinch of salt at the moment whether ministers are scared of social work and what this might be about, or whether we should be scared of what this might mean – could Society function without social workers as I was asked today?

 

 

 

What is my experience?

Its not often I stop to think what it is in social work that I am good in doing! it is easier to say that I make mistakes and learn from these.  However, it still remains clear that despite the many hours of training and then the many hours of direct work with families that social workers are still rarely seen as experts.

I can see why, after all how easy is it to say that I am an expert in child protection? or I can predict the age of a separated child! But I do have a long history of working with children, furthermore I understand risk and my ability to reflect perhaps stops me from thinking that actually I might be expert.

After all, the last place anyone wants to be is in court highlighting what has happened well and what has happened not so well and what the immediate significant harm is.  Instead it would be far better to be an expert in keeping families together but this would never get to court to be proven would it?

But what this really means is how can I adapt as a social worker to change within a changing service? What do I still bring to the table as a skilled practitioner and how can I support other social workers and the families that they still work with.

As privatisation and the talk of early intervention becomes an almost daily discussion in the media, the need of social workers to really understand the work that they do becomes more important.  To continue to broaden your experience to be able to adapt to meet the needs of young people and their families becomes more key in understanding what you are experienced in completing.

I am pleased to say that I have been lucky in the opportunities that I have had and will continue to fight for.  But for those starting out in social work, do not ignore the work you do on a daily basis and the extra you need to do to learn from it and develop the expertise we may all need one day.

 

feeling valued

 

Have you ever wondered if you were considering leaving social work what the reason would be? A common theme is the high case load and the pressure spent on completing paperwork rather than the quality time needed with the young people.  Community Care have completed their own research that evidences the strain every social worker is under here.

After all if you do not have the time to do the work needed with families what is the point? Well there is always a point when preventing significant harm, but a short term fix is not a long term solution and having worked with many young people who remain in confused about the reasons they are in care or deeply affected by the abuse they have suffered.  I can understand why and how this can disillusion a lot of good social workers.

But what I do see a lot of is social workers leaving because of change! The change programme that is being designed to bring radical change to social work and allow social work to be redesigned and allow face to face work again.

And it is not that this is a good idea, but instead the short sighted attempts by the Government and the pressures placed on Local Authority’s to make these changes without the funding and systems to do this safely.

Where a basic investment in the staff is low priority, where consultation takes place staff are shouted down and ignored so that senior managers can achieve the savings needed.  It is these changes or lack of that I am seeing on a daily basis, causing greater pressure and a feeling of disillusion.

It is this detail that will have the greater impact on social workers and whether they will be able to continue their work.  The systems that are employed can assist or more often than not disadvantage the social work process.  Which could mean a big difference for young people and their families.

I guess for me I will continue to speak up about the process and how change takes place, and so should everyone else in the appropriate manner.  Hopefully then the change that does happen will be considered and thought out rather than forced upon.

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.

 

The ten year plan

What every person needs is a ten year plan to work towards, a plan which sets out clearly step by step your actions that need to take place to affect change and also improve outcomes.  Ten years? [wow] what a long time, I can barely set out a plan for five years before something comes along and changes what I want to do, let alone for me to have the financial ability to carry it out.

However, here it is the Governments collectively since 2004 have had a ten year plan, and I guess that the start and finish times are slightly fluid in movement to fit in with whenever the Local Authority’s achieve the change needed to boast about sufficiently.

I was wondering whether the current coalition understood social work in any form.  Did they understand the changes that were recommended by Eileen Munro, although even before Eileen Munro began talking about improving child protection procedures the Government had already decided on what it called the ‘Every child Matters: Change for Children’ plan.

In 2004 the Children Act 2004 was introduced with some key changes in place to improve the outcomes for all children.  This included a necessity of all LA’s to have a Children’s Director, an elected councillor who will have links with the local Safeguarding board.

The change for Children plan put clearly at it heart clear defined outcomes that would be linked to the OFSTED inspections and placing responsibility with all organisations to be responsible for providing improved outcomes for the vulnerable young people they were engaging through Joint area reviews (JAR).

Furthermore it found that the consultation from Every Child Matters that better outcomes will be secured by services working more effectively at the front line to meet the needs of the children.  even in 2004 it was identified that there needed to be a massive culture change in the way the service delivery was provided, with narrowing resources and budgets by pooling what is available and having a joined up front line service children and their families could be sign posted to the right service sooner rather than later.  It would also mean that children would not lose the benefit of the specialism that exist within different teams.

However, it is only today that these teams are being openly talked about although some have been in place longer.  On the BBC website talks about Northamptonshire County Council setting up a Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub or (MASH).

The idea of which is really exciting and means that whether these teams are vital or physical that better communication, assessments and working will lead to a reduction of families needing high end social care involvement and children achieving better outcomes.

It would be interesting though to wonder where the Munro review fitted into this and whether this is the driver to ensure the 10 year plan is achieved and needed? and whether the two plans can work together as many LA’s are still trying to implement massive budget reductions and reorganisations to achieve this, whilst offering the best service to children and young people.