Tag Archives: pressure

Changes

For the past year I have been on a journey through Social Work, finding myself unhappy with myself and the work that I was doing. Like many Social Workers the long hours, stress and missing out on valuable family time put increased pressure on not only me but my family that could not carry on.

However, as I looked for change so did Social Work and I started to wonder whether the two would meet. Questioning my confidence to practice and manage, worrying whether quickly my circumstances would change and what this would mean for my family? I found that this added pressure just made everything worse; losing the passion and the enjoyment I once had in Social Work.

Time quickly builds up momentum and I would hear daily how frustrated and under pressure my Social Workers were. Despite Social Work moving towards better outcomes and more direct work, I found myself working in an environment where the emphasis was still to get the ‘square peg into the round hole’ that looking into the whole picture was not encouraged to focus and comply with the guidance rather than what works best for each individual families.

I found that my voice had become lost, that my arguments were laughed at and finally I found myself targeted for standing up to this. For the first time in my carer I was being questioned about my risk assessment skills! A low blow and one that I never recovered from. My manager informed me that it is not the plan that protects the children but the people involved in the plan. A great idea, but what it lacked was the understanding that you need to be able to identify the right resources and people first in order to create the plan. This type of ‘battery hen’ Social Work made me angry and you could see that the pressure was having an impact upon not just me but the Social Workers.

This type of Social Work Practice requires and demands that each social worker works above and beyond what is already expected. It demands 100% compliance, no mistakes, no learning only action. ‘Get it into Court!’ I would often hear, despite the lack of Social Work Intervention, despite the lack of understanding of what it was like for the children or young person in that family!

I have learnt that I do not enjoy change or that I like to admit defeat and that I can not do something or make a change. Sadly this year that I have learnt that I can change, I can admit I can not do something and that if I can not make a change or difference then I need to move on. It has grated on me, especially with the recent resurgence in the media about Social Work change and rebuilding the confidence in Society of the competence of Social Work Practice. Why? because where Social Work is allowed to work it can make a change, it can make a big difference. For many Social Workers there learning can be lost from University when they join a work place that focus on their compliance completely losing sight of their Social Work Practice rather than trying to work on both issues together.

It has taken a while but I have not given up, I have found my focus again! So please do not give up, Social Work does make a difference and we are important in doing this.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Storm

It seems that nearly every day the storm that is front line child protection rages harder and harder.  There appears to be no shelter from the relentless barrage of telephone calls, referrals, crisis and  twists within family life.  Everyday adult decisions impacting upon the most innocent and unprotected in our society, a comment that most may question, a point that makes me the most frustrated in my role as a social worker.  Yes, Children’s legislation is well recorded and there is a lot,  especially around child protection and children who are looked after.  Yet, sometimes I have been left wondering whether in all of the storm to safeguard children do we really still see the child? In a world where everyone wants whats best, but what does this mean? is it what is best for them or for the child?

There are some people who would like us to believe that the child protection system is broken, that children are not being safeguarded instead they are wrongfully removed to be forced into adoption.  However, as much as the child protection system is blamed for its failings there continues to be a very real need for a system to be in place. In a society where adult needs continue to be placed in front of vulnerable children’s; child deaths will continue and continue and continue.  Each time the system is blamed, failing are examined giving further fuel to both sides of the argument. But what worries me more is the attitude in scapegoating parents from blame that instead it is not their fault or societies.   Instead attempts are made to accuse social workers of colluding with solicitors to remove innocent children from their parents.  Stories fuelled by high profile MP’s and articles published in The Daily Telegraph, which lead to confusion and mistrust within society; creating tension and situations that may result in social care intervention where it might not have been needed.

It is clear that the government has no intention of changing its views on spending cuts, it is also clear that its hard-line policies on benefits will also not change.  I am sure that this storm will continue being fuelled in every direction by adult fears about their own feelings around children.  And like others working within the eye of the storm the daily interventions become harder and harder.  Battered and wind-swept once children are safeguarded the storm continues with no chance to finish the paper work, no chance to return the phone call before the next big wave comes in.  This is where the system is broken leaving many social workers leaving, buckling under the weight of the storm and not being sheltered by the Local Authority that they work for or by the government that creates the legislation in which they work to.

It is easy to be mislead into thinking that the aim of social work is simply to remove children, that this automatically solves all of the problems in the world.  However, wouldn’t it be great if it did! but it does not solve the problems and is not the aim of social workers.  So for those that campaign against social work please understand that social work and child protection is not this easy.  That the threshold for removal is far higher than you think and as a social worker there have been far more positive interventions than there has been removals.  That the numbers of cases that are being dealt with on a daily basis are being managed and managed well.

 

 

‘Just one more room’

How many people people enjoy the space and sense of freedom they have within the home they live in? To have their personal possessions displayed and gathered around them.  I know I do. The first picture drawn at school, the first school photo, or the clay model of a tree made at school. The holiday pictures, books, DVD’s or magazines that provide leisure and escape from the outside world.  That when life is getting harder and you are feeling withdrawn, so much so that when you shut your front door and you see your first treasure, a smile can return to your face.  I know that I really enjoy being able to do this and that I enjoy the space within my home to do this.  But is this true for everyone?  Once our doors are shut, do we continue to think about what is happening in the outside world? Is the news entertainment now a true reflection of how society is feeling and being provided with information.

As a children’s social worker, I am worried about and have always been concerned about children being able to be children.  Having the space to be free to learn and grow. To feel the love of their parents and family and friends To be able to take risks that come with growing and learning.  Moreover, I am concerned about the recent changes to housing benefit and the impact of the bedroom tax on the most vulnerable families. Being forced into smaller homes, forced to choose between space and struggling or smaller homes and struggling – not a fair choice really.

For many children and their parents the stability of the home is essential for their emotional well being, for a sense of belonging.  It is not even a sense of owning a home but living without fear of losing that home.

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But with the introduction of the new benefit changes and the impact that this will have for many of the families that we work with, what will be the real impact? How will social care departments be able to manage the increased demands and pressures upon vulnerable families struggling with poverty, domestic violence, behavioural problems, mental health, social stigma’s and anti social behaviours.

For the social worker not only will theory and a firm knowledge of child development be an essential part of the social work training, time for systemic practise is paramount.  This will enable good enough assessments, reflecting the holistic picture of the child needs, whilst developing a plan from the first visit with services that will be over subscribed and under pressure to meet the growing needs.  But also the social worker will need a growing need to understand housing law and benefit changes.  The growing risk of housing arrears and the shortage of affordable small homes means that many families will be forced to use all of their universal benefit to pay for their rent.

So no longer do we just have to worry about children being able to make and take risks, but also now careful consideration has to be given to their parents who will be taking risks as to whether they put food on the table or pay the rent.  A gamble that is not often advised on television or the radio for sports fans, but one that is now expected of many families.

Despite the governments plan to try and save on public spending, to encourage more parents back into working, I fear that instead it places more children at risk, by removing space, freedom, escape and safety out of the reach of many children and their parents.

Frazzled

Have you ever had a day where you have tried to get into the office early to get a head start on the work you have to do.  Even if it is ten minutes to read through the mountains of e-mails that seem to be sent from the time you leave the office until the following morning when you get back in.  The pressure and expectations placed on us as Social Workers is for perfect work to be completed all of the time.  I understand why, because if the plan is not perfect, you will have to redo the work over again.  And in a day where every minute is precious, every visit a report and every telephone call creating two new jobs.  This causes delay in completing actions for the Young People Social Workers are working with.
Some mornings like this morning, even those ten minutes of catch up time don’t happen.  As soon as the computer has loaded up (and with the added security this is not a fast process), the first call came in, our local Missing Persons Officer who has been on leave wanted to ensure I was aware of the high risk case who had self harmed and “What was I going to do about it?”
It was a clue as to how the day was going to follow; I was pleased to find out that this was old information.  I was even more pleased to find out that the worst thing that had happened this weekend had been a bad case of sun burn I could live with this.  However, I was quickly finding out that both the Community Mental Health team and another Community Team for Adult Services were unable to attend a Management meeting to look at the transfer of this case from Children Services to Adult Services.  A smooth transfer would be preferable to ensure the continued well being of this Young Person, but instead with three weeks until her 18th birthday I fear this is going to be a fight for a service right up until her birthday.
There is an advantage with getting as many professionals around a table to formulate the plan.  Looking at what needs to be achieved and what the Young Persons wants to achieve from their life with the people who are able to help and support this plan is essential.
I was pleased however, that I was not the only one.  My Manager Slips in that on top of the ever growing number of placement break downs, Young People who have been missing (and considering the unusual hot weather, could have been higher).  That again there has been a new challenge one for an age assessment.
In a time where Public Service cuts, and pressures on Social Work teams to ensure savings made do not impact too much on the front line services our argument for another Social Worker continues.  Days like this can leave me feeling frazzled and the pressure to absorb cases from other frontline teams means that other Social Workers also feeling frazzled.  Every spare minute quickly becomes precious and fewer and far between and often at the sacrifice of something else.