Tag Archives: Risk

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.

‘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.

‘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.

1-Jay-Shafer-tiny-home_flickr_nicolas-boullosa

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.

Settling in

Wow, what a week – it does make me chuckle as a social worker when making a change in my own life that I get anxious and nervous about it.  When every day I speak with people and support them through making their own changes.

Looking back though day 1 was the hardest I was truly the new boy on the block.  I did enjoy the tricks and the jokes of my new team with ‘the last manager brought us coffee and cakes every day!’ mmm really?

However, you quickly learn that despite a new building, problems with parking and different computer systems that it is the same job.  The same dilemmas and same issues popping up, and soon I found myself easing in and offering my thoughts, when I should have just been observing.

Despite all of this I have been made to feel welcome my first three weeks planned out to the hour.  An induction to help me hit the ground running and learning everything from legal to placements and everything in between.

And despite the social work haters out there, the discussion is about safeguarding not removing – unless a child needs to be removed to safeguard them.  It was good to see and hear of the services working together to keep children within their own families.

I am glad I have made the changes and it looks like I will have a challenge in my new role and I am looking forward to that

 

 

Urgent Review!

Just in case you were not sure, an urgent radical reform of social work is required for child protection practise, an understatement by a mile!  I am of course referring to the recommendations made by Lord Carlile of Berriew following his analysis of Child Protection in Doncaster .  However, amongst the obvious comments and arguments made after this very serious review of a very violent attack, made by two looked after children in 2009, a very real point has been made.

‘Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said the report shows Whitehall intervention isn’t working.

‘Government intervention is not working!’, the drive to make austerity savings and reduce red tape has blinded the government on the interventions that it believes that it is not so effectively making.  Removing ring fenced budgets, cutting budgets and can anyone remember the ‘Big Society?’ have all blurred any effective policy that the government has tried to install, after the Munro Review and now Lord Carlile’s review.

Again I can not help but worry about the comments that Mr Gove has made about social work and its interventions, about a service doomed to the dreaded ‘tick box’ bureaucracy created by ICS – which is ironically a great system to store all the information you need, but just badly! A system that came about as a part of the Laming Review and Every Child Matters – unless we do not have any money then, Mr Gove wants Social Care to find its own solution and to point the finger when it goes wrong.  Of course I can not blame all of this all on the current government after all it was Labour that responded to Lord Laming’s response to Victoria Climbe .  Just to point out that in this document there is a call to drive change in child protection in a positive quick approach and to improve assessments by being able to get information fast – Sounds familiar! (Munro review, Khyra Ishaq)

After all maybe a review of how the Government looks at its own social care policies is needed, I would not want to raise the Jimmy Savile subject and his relationship with the Department of Health that appointed him into a position to carry out this level of abuse!

But to come back to the recommendations from Doncaster and the Urgent and radical reform of child protection practise! Cough how urgent? I recently went for a job interview and part of the knowledge that I had to demonstrate was about the ‘Change Programme’ from Every Child Matters that was written in yes 2004! called ‘Every Child Matters: Change for Children’ which talks about a multi agency front door team that can gather information quickly using a triage system to assess the level of support and when it is needed.

So how seriously does the Government take child protection change, how serious is it at driving through change? Social Work has learnt from its mistakes and Eileen Munro’s review of Child Protection is good evidence of this and I wonder whether Mr Gove has read it? or supports it because the Child’s journey through child protection is very important as is the core principle of the ‘Children Act 1989’ which is where possible to keep families together!

I just wonder!

 

 

Lost freedom or too big a risk?

Can you remember when you were younger and the world was your playground? When your friends garden was a different playground in which to explore.  I know that when I was a child I was very lucky to have a whole farm to explore Hay stacks to climb and ditches to jump.  Now as a parent my own children do not have the same space, my own need to develop and survive has taken me away from my own rich heritage to living in a new environment.

Here in a reasonable small town the adventures are more risky, there is more roads and more cars on the road.  There is less green spaces and the trees are no longer strong oaks instead they are conifers.  However, if it is not football it would take a small miracle to encourage my children off their computer and out, let alone find a tree that could become a start of their new adventure.

So it comes with no real surprise that in today’s Independent there is an article stating that ‘over protected’ children need to learn about risk! I would also imagine in the same sense then as a parent that I would also need to learn to let my children take a risk in this new environment.  Something as a social worker I am always wary of, but know that I need to do.

Of course this comes down to the Health and Safety brigade (the ones that do not want to take any risk) who have banned the age old game of ‘Conkers’ in the school play ground, or do not allow outside play in the rain or cold.

But where is the line? what is the risk of allowing children to much freedom? Imagine parks fall of children, over spilling into any area of green space, street corner.  Imagine them being out from the moment they are awake to the time they go to bed.  Is this adventures play time or the beginnings of something else far more sinister.

Do not get me wrong, I completely agree all children should be aloud to grow up learning what is safe, right or wrong and develop an imagination that not only will help them in the classroom but also with their own children and their carers.  This is especially true for the more vulnerable children who may miss out on ‘play’ and socialising with other young people.

However, instead of just our young people learning this, it should also be us as adults, parents and neighbours.  People that rush through life only wanting to get from one place to the next with out being interrupted or prevented in anyway from doing this.  Without the phone call that say’s you need to come quick because something terrible has happened – only to find out that something terrible is your son/daughter playing out!

If we see children out, slow down understand the importance of them being out and playing but also where the line is as adults.  Support your local clubs and youth centres to provide safe activities that replicate my own early childhood experiences rather than letting them close and this positive behaviour become pent up frustration. Lets keep open areas safe for young people to play and met up with each other.

Understanding Teens

Have you ever wondered what happened to being able to understand teenagers? We have all gone through this stage unless you are reading this and you still are a teenager.  In which case help!! who are you and how can social workers meet your needs?

Is it really that bad? can social workers really not understand teenagers of today? is the assessment of need that is started at 15 and a half a poor assessment of adolescent needs? As a social worker who has worked with adolescent young people for over ten years it does worry me that such bold statements have been made, especially in the ‘Rochdale‘ incident.

However, does this not go deeper than just social workers not understanding teenagers and Residential homes that can not keep teenagers safe? Yes it does, this can not be about another story where social workers can not keep children safe! if this statement was true then what is the point.

However, better matching of young people who are going to be placed and living together is needed rather than a ‘take as many as we can to raise our profit’ attitude is definitely needed then maybe this could be a start.

But what is it that teenagers want, and why is it that they remain one of the most vulnerable groups in society? is perhaps a more meaningful question.  The issue of young girls and boys being groomed by stronger and more unsavoury characters is not just confined to children living in residential care, in fact if Local Authority’s are struggling to keep them safe when they are already in residential care how are they also keeping the teenagers living at home safe.  Where moody grunts, doors slamming and late nights may all be part of what could be classified as human development and teenagers learning about themselves.

The teenage years are the most important years after your ‘early years’ for social, physical and emotional development.  This is particularly significant for children in care that have suffered early childhood neglect and abuse.  Where early messages of hate, distrust and self worth have already been preprogrammed into the identity of the young person.  Where emotional warmth and knowledge of who you are become confused between torn and inconsistent messages from families and social care.  Where older younger people start to develop their own relationships and start to make and take risks of their own.

All acceptable human development so far, but why then is it that more and more young girls and boys rush for relationships that are or may be abusive.  Moreover, why is it so hard for workers to have these conversations in a meaningful way challenging already learnt behaviour and making positive challenges to these types of attachments.

Perhaps the biggest question is why are local authority’s are not trying harder to engage these vulnerable young people.  Maybe this is to harsh as I know that especially where I work that there is already a lot of support offered to young people.  However, what is lacking is the time and ability for social workers and residential workers to identify and promote participation and answer questions that young people have about their own families, themselves and life.  Rather than ticking boxes, and offering meaningless services as a way of approaching this subject.

But what is clear is that social workers should be checking out placements before they are being made, ensuring their levels of visits are maintained and that the level of engagement with the young person is being maintained between the home, family and social worker and the reviews of the looked after children’s plan should be perhaps more frequent where the placements are made outside of the local authority.

 

 

Corporate Parenting or Case Number

This week I was struck by an article in community care called “Is corporate parenting one challenge to far?”  In essence the decision making process as workers working directly and indirectly with children and young people should make.  The term corporate parenting does not replace parental responsibility or parental consent.  However, it does mean commonsense and thinking sometimes out of the box and often within a restrictive environment that requires forms to be completed for every activity.
Working in a child focused way often means taking a step back to take a holistic view of everything that is taking place for the young person.  In social work this is especially important when working with young people in order to develop rapport and trust.  And this is not always easy, especially if the young person has already had numerous previous social workers.  It is also important to remember that corporate parenting is not about being a replacement parent.
Having worked both in residential and social work I have seen both extremes of practise.  Finding a commonsense balance is hard with often no immediate indication and reward as to what you have done has worked, or even the right thing to do.  It is not over compensating and ignoring boundaries, such as rewarding negative behaviours with activities, food or financial rewards.  This is more harmful and abusive to the young person, as it does not help with their development and understanding of their environment.  It is also not prescriptive, institutional, distant and cold.
More recently Neil Morrissey in his documentary highlighted the need for good corporate parenting.  In this example, his teacher promoted and nurtured his interest in the arts.  The same should happen in a children’s home or foster home.  I know when my own children start showing signs of getting into trouble and boredom that I need to do something to prevent this.  The sooner I do this the better the outcome for them and me.  So when working or caring with children in care it is important to recognise and prevent these behaviours, to find young peoples interests and nurture and develop these.  The result will lead to better outcomes for the young person and more stable placements.  This does not I believe always need to be spontaneous, instead thoughtful and consistent.  This I believe is the greatest challenge in social work with high case loads and tick box checklists, which can often reduce the quality one to one time with the young person.
So is corporate parenting just an idea? Is it good practise? It is definitely not a way of replacing the family.  It should be thought about in care planning or pathway planning and should be a way to keep the young person in mind, and a useful way to look beyond the plan and nurture it to ensure the young person can see their dreams, wishes and feelings develop.  Evidencing a feeling that they are not just in care but being cared for as the care leaver in the article describes wanting to feel.  Otherwise if we can not do this, children in care will be like battery hens stored in crammed conditions and only released when they no longer need the service, which is not a good idea. 
Is corporate parenting then one challenge to far? Maybe, if profit is the first objective.  But as evidenced by many families with low incomes money does not mean good parenting.  Therefore corporate parenting should not be a challenge instead something that is embraced and supported by every worker, carer, teacher, youth worker, or anybody in contact with children and young people.