Tag Archives: society

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.

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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.

Time for a change!

Its that time of the year when everyone is talking about change and after all it is the New Year the time when most people try to make a positive change whether it to be diet, drink less or give up smoking!  However, this time for me its my job after five years working in one local authority I am looking to make a change and continue to broaden my skills and knowledge.

I have to confess though that this is a very scary time for me – where I currently work I know the services, I know all of the people and have good multi agency relationships that help me achieve good outcomes for the young people I work with.  I have a good team of social workers who make hard days good days, I have seen and encouraged them to develop in their practise and take on their own new challenges.

Sometimes I do wonder why if it is so good would I want to change? the answer is simple and despite the fear of any change, I enjoy social work.  Meeting new people and learning never taking any situation for granted.  I know that there will be those that disagree with social work and will probably be banging their drums about Social Services being the new ‘SS’ just wanting to remove children because of the power that we hold.

But for me change brings a new challenge, fresh practise and new people to meet and a chance for me to bring my own practise to them, whilst learning a new approach.  It also means that I can be challenged by my peers and the people I work with without the bias of everyone knowing me and allowing my practise to be questioned without any possible bias.  Whilst I always practise openly there is nothing like the fear of not having a job that keeps you working hard.

So this year is going to be a big year for me in Social Work and I am really looking forward to the opportunities it is going to bring to me.  I am also looking forward to what I can bring to social work this year, as always I can see that there will be many changes in the practise and legislation.  I also hope that social work will be recognised this year both in the media and by other professionals to be supported in the fight against child cruelty and neglect and helping vulnerable families bring about change without the need of protection plans and high end heavy intervention by social workers.

What do you want to achieve this year in your social work practise?

 

‘Decisions and impact’

grief-and-loss-therapy

Its hard sometimes to remember childhood, I look back and there are still some things that I remember well and others when I hear about them I laugh because I have no recollection of them.  However, for children and children in care the issue is not about remembering but living their childhood.

More importantly that as adults we can make life changing decisions for ourselves and our children, often without thinking about them.  As a parent it is hard when faced with making a decision that is important whilst considering the impact upon your child.  Significantly for some people being able to understand the impact of your decision making upon your child is impaired due to your own childhood experiences or substance misuse or violent relationships.  But perhaps more commonly now is the impact of the austerity cuts where low income families are forced to make decisions that increasingly leave their children at risk.

It has often be presented that social workers have forgotten these challenges and this can easily be understood as the tick box culture has been developed to prevent errors and mistakes.  Instead the talking part of social work has been lost, the time that families need to unpick their understanding of the situation they are in.  Furthermore simple but effective services are cut and removed from these vulnerable families forcing them to either sink or swim.

Lets not forget though that for Children’s services it is the children that are important, and for that any small change for children can have a massive impact upon their development.  A change in school could mean a loss of a friend or supportive teacher, a change of home frequently could cause many difficulty’s relating to attachments and feeling settled and having a sense of belonging.  Lets not forget as social workers or parents that Children need to understand the events that are happening in their life in order to make sense of it.

Mixed messages from parents and or professionals can leave the child in turmoil, feeling confused and unsure often causing these anxieties to be acted out through behaviour.  Behaviour which then can lead to the child or young person being excluded from their school, friends, family and then increasing their risk of vulnerability.

Its easy to forget as adults that it is our responsibility to be responsible for this, not to draw the attention to our needs rather than the needs of the children that are in our care.  To raise awareness of the impact of the serious nature of the cuts made by the government that looks to early intervention to reduce the long term care needs and budget demands on the Local Authority’s.

Instead I fear that the impact will be far worse that where you can see this sign

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and continue to see this sign then there will always be a danger that without a serious investment in to social care and the voluntary agency’s that support vulnerable families and children that this will continue to be a major concern.

Article 3 (Best interests of the child): The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. This particularly applies to budget, policy and law makers. ” 

So Mr Gove in the government that does not focus on the rights of the Child, perhaps it is time that this is the change that is enforced.  Stop looking else where for the blame, start to implement the concepts of basic rights for children in legislation and policy and lets prevent children from experience loss.

Who are the real people?

Ask the real people I am told? there is another side to the story and innocent people have been waiting a long time for someone to stand up to the despicable actions of those (few) but nasty social workers that remove children.

Who are these real people and are social workers not real people? perhaps this might be why there is a problem with social work training! For a different view of child abuse, how about one where people strongly believe that those who commit child abuse should be castrated (not my view) but one that is certainly held in The Republic of Moldova .   Of course this is an extreme view and may be the polar opposite of those that think children should remain with their parents, even if they are being neglected! But for me this is why social work is so important, because it does not sit in any camp and for many people this is scary and a threat.  After all how can each family be treated differently and no same outcome achieved twice?people

I blogged about this on ‘Is there anyway to improve?’ and how there are many different perceptions of one snap shot of life.  There is also multiple ways that each scenario could end up, and with out everyone wanting to end child neglect it does not really matter which camp you support the outcome will be the same! Children will suffer.

As a social worker, working with children it does make me sad and angry that many adults who argue that they have the best interests of the child at heart; are still only arguing for their own personal gain and feelings.  When something goes wrong or a mistake is made the children are used for the reason to make a change rather than being the focus.  It is however the adult issue, which remains the subject of the media interest.  The media that can not even give respect to the children it believes that it is campaigning for including the Sun in this piece that could not even name Peter Connerly and instead referred to him as ‘Baby P’.  The shame of this article makes me sick because it focuses more on the adult writer rather than the tragic story of neglect suffered by Peter Connerly.  Or even worse the story of the Rotherham foster carers who want an apology for the children removed from them! After all lets not focus on giving the children  a chance to have their future determined through their family proceedings with out any other factors influencing the final outcome.

The real issue of this story is poor communication and the right to privacy for these young Children. Not very exciting and one that you would not often see in the media, however move the victim from the children to the foster carers, add a local election, race and we have a far more interesting story in which to beat the local council and the reputation of all social workers with.

Who are the real people? If you ask me it does not matter who the real people are – It is the children that matter to me, breaking the cycle of neglect and poor parenting YES poor parenting not poor people but poor parenting.  Which is why I am interested in early intervention and understanding how each family works and what support is needed to keep children safe.  Because I know that being in care is not always the best options but sadly sometimes it is the only option.

Perhaps Mr Gove rather than making wild statements instead you should invest in Social Care and education rather than criticising the service you are pulling apart!

 

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!

 

 

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!

Is there anyway to improve?

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years about how we can improve social work for children’s services, mostly from the very well publicised failings.  Each time there has been significant learning for those in social work, which has lead to some positive changes in practise.  This includes the Children Act 1989 being updated with and supplemented by the Children Act 2004, it has also seen the Guidance that is attached to the Children’s Act being updated, along with the Working Together Document, which is still in the process of being updated and agreed.

But despite this Social Work practise remains misunderstood and that instead of it being a well needed service it is instead seen as a burden to society, draining it of it financial resources.  Instead of the real focus of social work, which today remains focused upon the needs of the most vulnerable people in society and protecting them from abuse.

It remains clear that the biggest issue still remains in defining what a vulnerable child is and at what point intervention is needed.  It is at this point that social work is needed to be understood that there is no quick fix to create a perfect utopia as Andrew Adonis suggests, that you can not rush through social work learning to jump into this puzzle with a commitment of two years a hardy smile and a willingness to challenge!

Walking into the room above is a good example of what social work is about, each reflection tells a different story and each story may be interpreted differently by those who observe it, including the family and the child and it is only at the point of immediate risk of significant harm that a legal order can be applied for to safeguard a child.  So to rush through the learning and the reflection needed to gather each persons perception of what they are seeing to analyse the risk and identify the impact of this to decide whether it is a concern that requires a social work intervention is not something that can be raced through.

The aim is to raise the profile of social work and prevent child abuse and the worse case event of a child dying due to the neglect by the perpetrator of this.  It should also be recognised that this responsibility lies with everyone and every organisation should have a child protection policy, in order to understand it and prevent it from happening!

So today when I was asked the question is there any way to improve? the answer was Yes, talk to Social Workers, understand what the difficulties are in social work and where the learning is needed to develop practise including investing in social work and acknowledging that specialist knowledge is learned over a long period of time not over a fancy title.  So lets expand on what is already happening with the Change programme and the assessed year of practise.

And remember if you walked into the mirrored room would you be able to identify which image was the true reflection of what was happening for that child? because removing a child has serious implications especially when done so for the wrong reason!

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.

What is my experience?

Its not often I stop to think what it is in social work that I am good in doing! it is easier to say that I make mistakes and learn from these.  However, it still remains clear that despite the many hours of training and then the many hours of direct work with families that social workers are still rarely seen as experts.

I can see why, after all how easy is it to say that I am an expert in child protection? or I can predict the age of a separated child! But I do have a long history of working with children, furthermore I understand risk and my ability to reflect perhaps stops me from thinking that actually I might be expert.

After all, the last place anyone wants to be is in court highlighting what has happened well and what has happened not so well and what the immediate significant harm is.  Instead it would be far better to be an expert in keeping families together but this would never get to court to be proven would it?

But what this really means is how can I adapt as a social worker to change within a changing service? What do I still bring to the table as a skilled practitioner and how can I support other social workers and the families that they still work with.

As privatisation and the talk of early intervention becomes an almost daily discussion in the media, the need of social workers to really understand the work that they do becomes more important.  To continue to broaden your experience to be able to adapt to meet the needs of young people and their families becomes more key in understanding what you are experienced in completing.

I am pleased to say that I have been lucky in the opportunities that I have had and will continue to fight for.  But for those starting out in social work, do not ignore the work you do on a daily basis and the extra you need to do to learn from it and develop the expertise we may all need one day.