Tag Archives: social workers
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.
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.
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!
The God Syndrome
Dear Mr Gove, thank you for your extremely helpful comments on “Child Protection‘ which has historically been under resourced, disrespected by the Government and other professionals because of its lack of a status as a ‘Profession’, and by the gross failure in the family courts to respect the experience social workers bring in their long term case work with vulnerable families and their children in order to provide long term safeguards.
I have enjoyed reading other people’s views of the direction Mr Gove wants to take social work from this speech, such as ‘Give over Gove‘ on the socialworkerx blog and also Andrew Ellery makes good points about ‘Frontline’ for BASW to highlight the anger of the proposals to train the new super social workers from ‘certain’ University’s, perhaps creating the biggest contradiction in social work history.
An excellent example of this contradiction can always be found in the Daily Telegraph and as recently as the 1st of September 2012 titled ‘Don’t ask your Grandson how his jaw got broken, says Social Workers’ describing how children are ‘ruthlessly taken into care’ and of a young girl who had a ‘tif’ with her parents was then taken into care, by social workers. But worse than this is the awful term ‘God Syndrome’ which is thrust upon social workers because of this attitude.
It does therefore saddens me that this image is still being portrayed of social work, that those who are vulnerable still require saving from great harm – and that only social workers can do this, descending into the family home creating chaos and distraction to remove confused children.
Children, do require protecting from serious harm, they can not be left without love, food, warmth, stimulation, so yes they do require protection! and to play down neglect is a serious crime.
However, social work can not continue in the contradiction that it currently exists within, created by the those in power and those who have the power to influence through the use of the media.
So as social work continues to promote reflective practise and research in to the very foundation of its practise, and understanding evidence of the systemic impact of generational impact of neglect and vulnerabilities; which YES is still in its infancy with the social work learning on the degree course and ‘the college of social work‘ and social work continuing professional development.
It does mean Mr Gove, that your comments are damaging and unhelpful, baring in mind how some people can see social work as a whole – it appears that Mr Gove wants this to be reinforced with his view of what social workers should be…
“I want social workers to be more assertive with dysfunctional parents’
Reinforcing the biggest contradiction of social work practise, that as a social worker I would not want to associate with. But have no fear Mr Gove, as a social worker I have been assertive with parents I have found to be lacking in their care of their children, but the real skill is not to quickly remove the child leaving them scared and confused. Instead to help develop their resilience and act upon their wishes and should this to be removed to a place of safety – it should be a place of safety that they have identified. This is a social work skill that can not be taught or even exclusive to certain graduates, but one that is learnt through experience, observation, mentoring, guidance and mistakes.
Young people that are in care should also play an important part in the learning of our practise, they should play an essential part in the recruitment of social workers and other care staff. But as I discussed in my last post ‘Is there any way to improve?‘ the best way to do this is to speak with social workers!
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.