Tag Archives: social work

Assessments

Have you ever had a day where you have wished that for one moment time would stop, just long enough to allow you to grab hold of everything that is going on and truely understand what is happening.  I have worked in child protection for many years and rarely do you find time where you can reflect upon one specific family giving them all of your attention.  For this reason I am glad that is protected time, where as a manager and as a Social Worker I can explore people thoughts and expanded on the grey and unknown areas.  Although this is a good social work skill, reflecting and critically challenging your anylsis is so important and not always easy, especially with the first assessment, where you may be rushed or pushed to complete because of the pressure of meeting timescales, evasive families or what ever the reason may be assessment can be lost to the pressure of the timescale and any following assessments that have been referred back in.  However, despite this I have been reminded recently that this is not always the case!

As a manager I have had to learn to keep an eye on these timescales and ensure they dont slip, but also equally ensure that they are completed with the highest quality of standard to ensure the right outcome is reached – Not for me or my manager, but for the child within each family.  Seeing the child, hearing the voice of the child and understanding their position within the family should be easy? After all, there is a multitude of tools, training designed to promote and engage the child to ensure at the mininum that they are given time and space to express their wishes and feelings.

I had recently changed teams, I am starting to like change, I find it keeps my practice fresh and up to date but also more importantly it provides me a challenge! And in doing so I have had to open my eyes to a different way of working a different way of understanding.  Risk still remains and plays a big part of my role in reviewing and approving assessments, but now there is a complex element that needs careful consideration and research.  I have found myself being challenged by some of my new team who do not agree and this has had an affect on me, making me reflect upon my own practice, my own management style and how I present myself within the team, questioning the decisions that I am making.  Concious, that equally they are going through the change process with me, as I challenge and tackle their own practice.

However, no matter what, no matter how precious time is, I still cannot allow the child to be lost within the family and the assessment that I am presented.  Furthermore, challenging the blank carpet statement that prevents and blinds the social worker to really unpicking and discovering where the support within a family is really needed or from creating the plan that supports the child in need or the child in need of protection.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Rise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This time next year we will be Millionaires!

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‘This time next year we will be Millionaires Rodney’ (Only Fools and Horses). It’s a nice thought and one I often dreamt about. The joy of never having to worry about ‘How are we going to pay the bills?’ Or ‘Can I afford that top?’ Is one that brings joy to me.  If only! However, increasingly there is growing concern that private companies are starting to increase in their profit from the care of vulnerable children. A big business where children with complex needs are being placed into ‘safe’ accommodation, which is not being run by the Local Authority.  More concerning is that some of this provision when inspected by Ofsted is not achieving the inspection outcome of Excellent that should be required in order to provide this care.

The question that has been asked is ‘Is it right to profit from the care of vulnerable children?’. The sensible answer is that we know that if a business is to be successful, it has to be profitable. But is this a sensible answer to care? I am sure David Cameron and his Tory colleagues would love to break down the perceived damaged and broken care system in order to profit from their private interests in private Health and Social Care issues. So I am glad that this is now being challenged.

It is important that when children have been found a place to live that they are invested in, achieve the permanence that we all enjoy. That at the first fall, they are not rejected because the behaviour will cost too much money.  That time, boundaries and care is going to be provided to break down the perceived image that children in care are worthless and all criminals. Or that deep down breaking the image that they are bad and naughty and that’s why they are in care.

However, I have been able to visit a variety of residential homes that have been developed out of ‘City funding’ and the care and detail to the care that is provided has been outstanding.  Starting with the ethos of the home and its workers to the commitment going above and beyond what is expected.  On the down side I have also seen homes where proft has come at the expense of the young person and one I could not leave any child in.  The difference is massive, as is the impact upon the young person and their outcomes in life and why this question is so important.

It is not just Residential homes of course that make money from caring for children – Fostering agencies also profit as exposed by Children as Core Assetts.  Although Children as Core Assetts goes further implying that Children are stolen in order to help certain individuals profit.  I am sure a story that the Daily Telegraph and Christopher Booker would love to write!

The real argument though should be the investment in an experienced workforce.  Where workers leave consistently and frequently adding further pressure on caseloads and on the assessment process.  Meaning support needed for families can not always be provided by and managed in the most appropriate way.   The aim of ensuring children can remain within their family setting should be the main goal, reducing the need for external placements that drain the resources of local authorities further.

Business, profit and social work are terms that do not sit comfortably together more so when it comes to the care of the most vulnerable people in our society.  However, where individaul effort and thought can use the resources available to make a much needed difference in a young persons life, I can not argue with this concept.  However, I can and will when it has the reverse impact on such vulnerable lives. Profit should not come before safegurding and profit should not come before a safe and warm living environment where the physical and emotional needs of a child can be met.

I guess that means this time next year I wont be a millionaire then!

Journey

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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.

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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.

Only one argument!

Sometimes in this job you have a week that is like no other you have experienced before and for me this is an important subtle reminder that you can never make any assumptions in social work.  It is also a gentle reminder that life is precious and should be treated with respect, and maybe I am growing softer with age – as this week I feel like I have been left with a hole in my heart.

Cases of domestic violence still remain very common in the work that we do, the impact this has on the children is incredibly damaging and in the worse case be life changing.  Especially, if the worse case scenario happens and one of the parents is killed by the other leaving the children without their parents and no understanding why or how this could happen.  Even at the lower end of domestic abuse the impact on the child\ren is still significant with often multiple home moves to avoid violent adults, school changes, emotional harm from hearing or witnessing Domestic abuse, learning behaviour that is not acceptable, physical harm.

Domestic violence is defined as

“Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.”

However, in order to support this Local Authorities hold a ‘MARAC’ (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference). Which is as it sounds a commitment of all the agency’s to create a risk assessment and plan to safeguard the most vulnerable women subjected to domestic violence.  A meeting that lists the horrors committed and left me truly speechless and concerned by the levels of domestic violence that still takes place on a very regular occurrence.

This article shows that the levels of domestic violence is falling and why are we not celebrating this news? because like me it questions whether as a society whether we have a grip of domestic violence, that many of the stereotypes still exists looking at the history of the victim to look at reasons why they may have been attacked or could be blamed for the attack.  Or more importantly because domestic violence is more commonly known that the victims involved keep quiet fearing that they will be punished for their abuse or denying the impact upon themselves.

It is positive to hear that prosecution rates are increasing and maybe because some areas are developing their multi agency approach to include opening special courts to ensure that protection is provided to the victim and alleged perpetrator.  Domestic violence is not just a local problem but a global problem and can affect any family at any time and only needs to happen once for the damage to be final and tragic.

So for me this week helping one family put their lives together after their loss has been a hard challenge, both emotionally as a parent but also making the assessment of risk and keeping the child at the centre of any plans.  Whilst also sensitively working with a family who are grieving at their loss, without wanting to intrude any more than necessary during an emotional time for everyone.

So if you need help and advice about Domestic violence visit the National Domestic Violence Helpline for information and guidance.

For me the issue of Domestic Violence needs to remain at the top of priorities for all professionals and should never be accepted or brushed under the carpet.  Although the numbers of prosecutions are rising so are the numbers of incidents with many never being reported or recorded.  With services being cut and housing issues rising, this further makes this situation difficult for many victims to report their concerns.  As professionals we need to continue to work together in a multi agency approach and listen to concerns raised during our assessments even if at a very low level of concern to protect from this escalating further.

 

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.

‘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.

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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.