Tag Archives: Practise
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.
Like for many people this year has been a journey for me. I began so confident in the route that I had chosen to take because I knew where I wanted to be. However, like many journeys you do not always end up where you think you will. Worryingly this year I ended up becoming lost on my route losing the passion and strength required to be the best social worker I could be. I guess if I am honest change never sits well with me anyway, yet this time last year I was excited by the thought of change and where it could take me. Once again it is Christmas and I am again faced with the thought of making another change and for the first time this year I am feeling positive about myself and again excited about social work and where I might end up.
“is this a fact or are you just saying this confidently” is a phrase I have heard a lot this year and sometimes my answer has been I do not know. However, working in a new environment has helped develop my practise, supervision and reflection. I have learnt for some social workers that this has been difficult to understand wanting and needing guidance on every step of case progression. But I have learnt that although I can do this, it is not the social worker I want to be. It has reinforced in my heart the type of social work I enjoy practising and delivering and when given the chance to do this I have seen how positive an impact this has had on my social workers.
The current theme maybe that social workers are not able to achieve goals because of an over optimism in the ability of parents to make changes. Yet outcomes remain a key focus of social work practise and change is part of this. Mr Gove may feel better social work education is needed, but having experienced this year I would argue that education on its own will not be the solution to improving social work. Instead recognising that social work learning never stops and that by maintaining links with the University’s in order to manage continuing professional development along with good workplace one to one supervision and peer supervision.
So again I am faced with change and the fear of failing but instead this time I am going to stick to what I enjoy. I am going to continue to challenge practise and develop my social workers practise, because what I want to achieve is a positive outcome for children and their families. recognising that there will be many paths I can take but I take strength from this year and what I have learnt and will use this to keep me focused on my new social work journey. Remembering not to take the change for granted but again to start enjoying social work wherever I may be.
‘The one and only one’
For many years social work assessments have been the main focus for debate and questions within the media and social work practise. First we do the Initial assessment, then if we need more information we complete a more fuller core assessment. The time scales for these assessments were set in guidance regardless of the need or risk.
A good assessment will lead to good interventions and positive outcomes, with key decisions being made on the basis and quality of the assessment; but a bad assessment will lead to poor interventions and outcomes for the children. Historically, social work assessments have focused on what has worked well with families and have been rigid in the time scales for completion, with the needs and risks in individual situations being assessed in detail before judgements can be made about what interventions and services would be appropriate.
Therefore there has been some interest from children social workers with regard to how social work assessments in the new ‘Working Together document 2013′ would bring the changes that Munro had explored and described in her papers about child protection. In essence the new ‘Single Assessment’ as recommended by Munro has been developed and given the go ahead by the Government to be implemented by each Local Authority as they see fit, after being trialled and developed in eight local authorities. The single assessment combines and replaces the Initial Assessment and Core Assessment, and has the flexibility of the time scales to be set by the social work manager assessing the case. Bringing with it a new theory and practise, in order to manage and complete the essential social work assessment, whilst retaining the Assessment Framework Triangle and remaining child centred. The aim being that the plan is developed and identified right from the very first visit whilst along side this the social worker completes the assessment.
‘Assessment is the foundation for all effective intervention: as such it needs to be grounded in evidence from research and theories’ (Baldwin and Walker)
The single assessment brings with it a new way of social work practise, for social workers to be not only ‘Emotionally Intelligent’ but also have ‘Creative thinking’
‘A sense of being able to look at familiar situations in a new light. This is important way of avoiding getting bogged down in routine, standard ways of working that have limited effectiveness’ (Thompson and Thompson).
For me as a social worker I have seen that this has brought a positive change in social work practise, there is now a definitive sense that social work practise is looking at its knowledge base to evidence its work, training is being developed and focused on ensuring assessment skills and theories are relevant to the current pressures and demands being placed on social care departments at the moment. Quality in social work practise is being sort and demanded from social workers not for the image of social work, but for positive outcomes for families and children and because we are being starved of funding to support all but the most needy.
However, Community Care looked at what has changed two years on from the final Munro report? and whether social workers do feel that there has been any big change since Munro’s recommendations. We finally have the a slimmed down Working together document, but despite this the paperwork remains incredibly high and case loads remain high.
Despite this ‘Can there only be one?’ is the single assessment a better way forward removing delay between the assessment and the date from when the support can begin, requiring good management over sight to ensure that delay does not happen on the assessment. It allows the social worker to look at outcomes rather than assessment looking at the services the child may need. Furthermore it allows the social worker to develop a better understanding of what the risks are and what the strengths are within the families. Rather than looking at what has worked with other families it allows the social worker to be creative to develop an evolving plan and evolving assessment that changes with each new piece of information to reach the outcome established at the beginning of the assessment.
I think the answer is that there can never be one assessment, but a continuous assessment that allows an understanding that we can never look at a snap shot and that the plan should adapt with every new piece of information.
Its been three years since I have worked as a social worker in a child protection team, let alone a child protection team where change is the current theme. However, it worrys me that ‘Burn out’ or ‘Stress’ despite being well looked into in social work practise, still affects many social workers. It therefore seems appropriate that this week that in my email box this article appears from the Gaurdian ‘Social workers must look after themselves and recognise their limits’ For many social workers ‘Burn Out’ can come come from their own passion and desiree of wanting to make positive change and to do good for the families they work with; managing this from working long hours to try and keep up with the pressures and demands of the paper work and number of visits.
The pressure of ensuring all information is recorded and the pressure of ensuring visits are completed within timescales and the right assessments and plans are created, whilst ensuring training is completed and somewhere at the back of all of this the need for a personal life. Something many social workers give up to ensure that they can keep up with their case work.
Child Protection remains the key focus for all children’s social workers, working to safeguard children whether they are at home or in care. There has been many reviews of Child Protection to help inform and develop practise from the Laming Inquiry, the Munro review and Lord Carlise review of the Edlington case. All looking at specific issue of social work practise. Particaly the Munro Review, which looked to introduce a radical change in social work practise in order to reclaim social work and also cut the red tape that had created many pressures for social workers and prevented good social work interventions for both social workers and the vulnerable families they work with.
Significantly the new Working Together document is published this year, giving guidance to some of these changes or rather allowing changes to be made. However, for many families these changes may not bring hope or help for many of the hardships and difficulties that they face.
However, on the inside of social work practise the changes have brought closer working, greater reflective practise and a sharing of experience, knowledge and resources (of what is left).
Sadly however, cuts to mental health services, charity’s and now benefits are causing greater demands on dwindling resources and sending many families to social care for social work support.
So where case loads should be dropping to support these changes they continue to rise, and so does the pressures upon social workers to met their satutory requirements. Working long hours, and often dealing with distraught vulnerable and angry families out of hours resulting in more pressure from lone working.
Despite all changes in practise the best prevention of burning out remains good experience developed safely with good learning opportunites and practise development; managed with good supervision and ensuring that there is a break and rest from the work. Most importantly dont bottle the stresses up, share your concerns as soon as you feel the anxities developing and use other colleauges to help with reflecting on the work you have done and still need to do. Social Work is a stressful job and will always be stressful especially when you are still learning the different process and systems, so take advantage of training and your supervision to learn.
Today I was kindly reminded why social work is not a straight forward job, that it requires going above and beyond – maybe even more than creative with the acknowledged lack of a budget. That poor grammar mixed with the wrong use of a word brings shame upon social work (good job I get my work checked before it is sent to court then). But sadly I think the message I was given was lost upon the method of delivery, its punch line seeping in self importance and with the owner of the comment more concerned with their own power and attempt to be little me. It is these behaviours that bring power and meaning to those arguments to the people that do not support social work or social care.
It is easy to forget that everyone has their own life story, or their own challenges to overcome to qualify in social work. That the experience needed is not gained with the certificate on graduation; instead it does however give you an opportunity to practise working with vulnerable people.
So therefore when sitting in someones living room discussing challenging safeguarding concerns with someone who may or may not agree with the concerns and you are discussing with them how you are going to support them or safeguard the child’s needs. Stop, think and consider your approach use your knowledge and your learning, challenge and be direct, make your point and get it across but do not do it at the expense of the parents or of social work.
If you are a social work student reading this, do not get the wrong impression social work is a profession that can adapt and does adapt quickly. Social Workers do work hard and longer than they should, Social Workers do make an effort and there is no time for luxury. So yes I do agree that in social work, that social workers should have the right tools to complete their tasks, I do think that the right working environment is needed and essential, and I do believe that confidentially for the people we work with is essential.
So thank you for reminding me why the focus must remain on the vulnerable children we work with and why research being completed by University’s and other social work academics is so important to informing our practise.
Time for a change!
Its that time of the year when everyone is talking about change and after all it is the New Year the time when most people try to make a positive change whether it to be diet, drink less or give up smoking! However, this time for me its my job after five years working in one local authority I am looking to make a change and continue to broaden my skills and knowledge.
I have to confess though that this is a very scary time for me – where I currently work I know the services, I know all of the people and have good multi agency relationships that help me achieve good outcomes for the young people I work with. I have a good team of social workers who make hard days good days, I have seen and encouraged them to develop in their practise and take on their own new challenges.
Sometimes I do wonder why if it is so good would I want to change? the answer is simple and despite the fear of any change, I enjoy social work. Meeting new people and learning never taking any situation for granted. I know that there will be those that disagree with social work and will probably be banging their drums about Social Services being the new ‘SS’ just wanting to remove children because of the power that we hold.
But for me change brings a new challenge, fresh practise and new people to meet and a chance for me to bring my own practise to them, whilst learning a new approach. It also means that I can be challenged by my peers and the people I work with without the bias of everyone knowing me and allowing my practise to be questioned without any possible bias. Whilst I always practise openly there is nothing like the fear of not having a job that keeps you working hard.
So this year is going to be a big year for me in Social Work and I am really looking forward to the opportunities it is going to bring to me. I am also looking forward to what I can bring to social work this year, as always I can see that there will be many changes in the practise and legislation. I also hope that social work will be recognised this year both in the media and by other professionals to be supported in the fight against child cruelty and neglect and helping vulnerable families bring about change without the need of protection plans and high end heavy intervention by social workers.
What do you want to achieve this year in your social work practise?
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!
Safeguarding v Safeguarding
Ding Ding round one! A common theme I always here is that working with looked after children is not the same as working in child protection – or its not ‘Safeguarding’ young people. It is almost the same as “My team is better than your team” attitude, and one that makes me angry as it shows a real lack of understanding of what Safeguarding is and what child protection is. With five years experience of both I feel that I have a good understanding of what this means for both a child at home and a child in care.
So I was surprised to here back this week that I did not have enough ‘Safeguarding’ experience. A comment that I almost choked upon, and had to quickly test whether the person making the comment understood what they had just said. It was clear that they did not as they quickly tried to further evidence their statement with no real further understanding of social work. A typical problem for many recruitment teams for Local Authority’s.
So what is ‘Safeguarding’ and what is ‘Child Protection’ a definition can be found on the department of Education’s website here: But just to be clear
Safeguarding is defined as
Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is defined as:
- protecting children from maltreatment
- preventing impairment of children’s health or development
- ensuring children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care.
and Child Protection is defined as:
Child protection is a part of safeguarding and promoting welfare. It refers to the activity that is undertaken to protect specific children who are suffering, or are likely to suffer, significant harm.
It is clear to see why some families would become upset with social workers who are working closely within child protection if they themselves can not understand what the safeguarding work is and the child protection work they are doing. After all the aim is not to remove the child, but rather ensure families can remain together.
Furthermore with the rise in investment of early intervention this is even more important in preventing vulnerable families to fall through the still newly protective services designed to prevent social work intervention and child protection plans where they might not be needed.
It does then worry me, how this can be actioned if the aim of the work can not be understood or for social workers to be able to develop a skill set need to work with vulnerable harder to reach families and young people that require safeguarding and child protection interventions.
Moreover, I can see how newly qualified social workers continue to struggle to find work when social work management are set on finding the ‘right’ type of social workers using the new language of systemic practice and systems thinking that basic language such as ‘safeguarding’ is forgotten.
I hope that this is a blimp and not a return to a school playground scenario of one side chanting my team is better than yours, with the chorus being repeated from the other side. I know that I will be challenging this view and hope that for those working in child protection or with looked after children that they remember
Effective child protection is essential as part of wider work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. However, all agencies and individuals should aim to proactively safeguard and promote the welfare of children so that the need for action to protect children from harm is reduced. (department of Education)