Tag Archives: stress

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.

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.

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.

Burning out!

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Its been three years since I have worked as a social worker in a child protection team, let alone a child protection team where change is the current theme.  However, it worrys me that ‘Burn out’ or ‘Stress’ despite being well looked into in social work practise, still affects many social workers.  It therefore seems appropriate that this week that in my email box this article appears from the Gaurdian ‘Social workers must look after themselves and recognise their limits’  For many social workers ‘Burn Out’ can come come from their own passion and desiree of wanting to make positive change and to do good for the families they work with; managing this from working long hours to try and keep up with the pressures and demands of the paper work and number of visits.

 

stressThe pressure of ensuring all information is recorded and the pressure of ensuring visits are completed within timescales and the right assessments and plans are created, whilst ensuring training is completed and somewhere at the back of all of this the need for a personal life.  Something many social workers give up to ensure that they can keep up with their case work.

Child Protection remains the key focus for all children’s social workers, working to safeguard children whether they are at home or in care.  There has been many reviews of Child Protection to help inform and develop practise from the Laming Inquiry, the Munro review and Lord Carlise review of the Edlington case.  All looking at specific issue of social work practise.  Particaly the Munro Review, which looked  to introduce a radical change in social work practise in order to reclaim social work and also cut the red tape that had created many pressures for social workers and prevented good social work interventions for both social workers and the vulnerable families they work with.

Significantly the new Working Together document is published this year, giving guidance to some of these changes or rather allowing changes to be made.  BigChangesAheadHowever, for many families these changes may not bring hope or help for many of the hardships and difficulties that they face.

However, on the inside of social work practise the changes have brought closer working, greater reflective practise and a sharing of experience, knowledge and resources (of what is left).

Sadly however, cuts to mental health services, charity’s and now benefits are causing greater demands on dwindling resources and sending many families to social care for social work support.

So where case loads should be dropping to support these changes they continue to rise, and so does the pressures upon social workers to met their satutory requirements.  Working long hours, and often dealing with distraught vulnerable and angry families out of hours resulting in more pressure from lone working.

Despite all changes in practise the best prevention of burning out remains good experience developed safely with good learning opportunites and practise development; managed with good supervision and ensuring that there is a break and rest from the work.  Most importantly dont bottle the stresses up, share your concerns as soon as you feel the anxities developing and use other colleauges to help with reflecting on the work you have done and still need to do.  Social Work is a stressful job and will always be stressful especially when you are still learning the different process and systems, so take advantage of training and your supervision to learn.

Interviews!

Today has been a weird end of a weird week, and did anybody notice how fast the week went? But it is important for me to reflect on what could be important for me.  Having been in post for two years I have been having itchy feet for some time, looking for a new experience and sometimes they just jump up out at you.

However, what has made me reflect is a colleague who has recently qualified in her social work degree.  Who has now had four interviews and been unsuccessful with each one.  Each time the feed back has been about a different topic relating to the interview process.

This will be devastating for her, and for anyone who has invested three years into studying. Sacrificing free time to read, learn and write up endless practise logs.  Each time the telephone call ends up with I am sorry sapping your energy and resolve.

Importantly the message is preparation, planning and listening.  Three key skills required for any application and interview process.  Preparation = What is the post I am applying for want? What are the skills? experiences? and look at the job specification and try and answer as much of the topics as you can [honestly] to ensure you meet the criteria to be shortlisted for the interview.

Planning = Reading (I know sorry, this will never stop!) What is the legislation that you will need to know for the role? what are the local services [do your own research] Think of some good examples of practise that can be used to answer a multitude of possible questions.  Make sure you get to the interview on time! and have time if possible to have a look around if possible, be friendly and approachable.

Finally if you do get shortlisted for an interview Listen.  Listen = Respect, good assessment skills, What is the question I am being asked to answer? Usually they are not meant to be complicated! Understand how you want to practise? what are your values? Social Work is a fast changing organisation and you will have your opportunity to be part of that change.

When you are in your interview it will be important to understand theory but it is time to show that you know how to use it in a practical way.  You have just passed a three year degree course, it is time to sell your practise that you observed and undertook on placement.  For some of us practitioners that have been around for a long time creative thinking and application of practise of Social Work students who have not had statutory experience is a good sign of how you would adapt and apply your practise.

Importantly and most difficult is trying to relax! in saying this I have to work hard to show I am enthusiastic about wanting the job as I am to laid back.  In fact just try to enjoy the interview have some banter [appropriately] and observe the behaviours of the people interviewing you and take your cues from them.

Moreover, don’t give up hope of finding the right job.  You will find it and you never know when it will jump up out at you.  But when it does learn from your experience and I wish you all the best.

Gathering the data

Time is really running short now with just under four weeks left to gather my data and analysis what I have found in a meaningful way to write up in just 8000 words!

I have not been sitting in a blind panic since I last wrote about my research, and the danger of this project is that it is in addition to my day to day work.  The result is as can be expected that with the end of one financial year that I have had to complete the performance appraisals with the social workers that I supervise.  I have had to manage long term absence and balance the needs of the young people.  Which meant putting more pressure on the social workers who were in the office, and in turn give more support to ensure that they did not have their own meltdown’s and go off sick.

All in all a difficult time of the year with the social workers I supervise walking around in a mild panic about how I will review their year.  And along in my own head, I have all the thoughts about my own research that I jot down and stash away.

However, when planning my data gathering I was allowed to be convinced that recording the interview will allow me to capture more information and be more focused and approachable during the interview.  Great! that is exactly what I want more participation and therefore more honest answers to the questions I was going to ask.

What was I doing? this is a small piece of research for my post qualifying award in social work. Some people will know that when I sat down on saturday to type up the recordings that this was a painfully slow process.  What was one hour recording took up the better part of the whole day to stop – start play, pause and record.  Never mind the fear that I had that I might hit the delete button and lose the lot! Do not get me wrong it was so tempting and the delete button was the biggest button on my rather useful iPhone that I used to record the interview with.

Also the child in me was so tempted just to hit the big red button! 

And after six hours I was very tempted!

However, some sound advice was given to me – and the logic was like waking up fresh.  What was I looking for and what was the purpose? The recordings did not just give me an accurate understanding of the interview but a real chance to listen to what was being said.  Something, that I might have missed if I had just been reading the words.

Although verbal communication is a small part of how we communicate, the way the answer were delivered gave an added extra meaning that could have been lost if I had written it down.

So what was I looking for? what were the patterns and themes that were being discussed and shared with me.  After playing the interviews through several times these started to jump out of the sounds and in to defined groups.

So with my recordings made easier, I was given the next bit of advice, remember to keep a few sentences for quotes to be used in the research project.  Simple advice that may appear obvious, unless you have just spent a long time breaking your back painfully making accurate transcripts of your interview.  I would recommend if you choose to do this to ensure you have plenty of coffee and a comfortable chair.

I still have one interview to gain and then I will be able to start meaningfully writing up my research project.  What I have learnt so far has been incredible about the amount of preparation needed and why your methodology is so important.

I will continue and hope that others will want to do this.  Do not be put off and the learning from exploring a subject you enjoy enhances your social work practise and also provides a better service for the people you are working with.

Am I ready to move on?

Working in a looked after children’s team working with young people preparing to leave care, I was not surprised to read in my daily Community Care e-mail this article on Care Leavers. Although it does not surprise me, it does worry me and whether maybe the research that was put into this is now out of date? As the link at bottom of this articles states the Care Regs changed in April 2011. However, if you are not signed up to CCinform the full guidance is here.

In short the new care regulations promotes 16 year olds remaining in care rather than being left to look after themselves in their own flat. The main reason for this is for the exact reason describe in the Community Care article. Of course if they can return home or can live with friends then this is also encouraged and will provide young people an opportunity to understand independent living.

However, it does not matter whether you are 16, 18 or 24 years of age, if you are not ready to live alone or do not have the skills independent living is is always going to be a challenge. Furthermore, once you have left care there is very little protection for you. If you make a mistake in your rent payments or a vulnerable young person and can not manage your tenancy then you lose your right to hold another tenancy.

Although the leaving care service does provide a transition for young people leaving care, their role is not statutory. As young adults they can make the decision not to engage with their workers and for many young people leaving care they do not want to continue to think they are still being “looked after”.

It is also worrying the cost of placements for young people planning on leaving care. Making it impossible sometimes to find sustainable housing for them. This is another area in which vulnerable people are being affected on a daily basis by the cuts being made else where. The lack of suitable accommodation and support provide in what is available can impact on all other areas. The good placements where support is at the right level are often to expensive and may not transition into a placement that will provide an independent placement post 18.

There are also many challenges for young people especially those who have been placed out of county for many years and no longer wish to return to their Local Authority where they might have housing priority. For many young people to be able to feel confident in moving on, the need for a positive support network maybe essential. And often this can not be a professional network that finishes work at 5.30pm.

For some young people their teenage years are often spent in turmoil and chaos, despite the all of support and guidance offered. Reigning in their own emotions is not achievable, and often the only way to feel secure is to be around a lot of other people. So when moving on plans are discussed in review meetings, or reviews of the pathway plan or on visits this causes the trauma to be triggered again. Making any move on plans harder to make.

Sadly no Local Authority is the same in the services that might be offered, but whilst pressure for budgets to be cut on all services again leave young people being forced to cope often alone due to what each Local Authority might be offering. Cuts on budgets also means higher case loads, lower support packages and placements being ended to ensure a service can be offered to everyone.

And despite the perception of social workers this can impact on the way that you feel about the work, the pressure and strains this can have whilst social workers fight to ensure young people can manage. Many often putting in long hours to try and achieve sometimes the smallest tasks for the young people.

 

feeling drained

Its one of those weeks again when despite everything you do, you still find it hard to feel like you have achieved anything meaningful. At the moment it feels like having sole responsibility of painting Golden Gate Bridge on your own. Knowing once you have finished, that you will have to start again.

I wonder whether I have made the right carer choice sometimes? I know I like social work, and spend a lot of time doing my own reading and learning. I understand good practise and enjoy spending time with other social workers sharing what I have learnt. Furthermore I really enjoying seeing their faces or hearing the stories when they return to the office after my advice has helped them.

Still, despite all of this social work is trapped within a small bubble a small percentage of the population. That already is disadvantaged by poverty, lack of education encouragement and low job prospects. Moreover, the services required are often rare and where available costly.

Which, often means that each management decision sort is a battle that after time becomes draining, consequently having a massive impact on not only the social workers, young people but now me!

Don’t worry I am not looking for sympathy! because each day is a new day and a new battle. Each one leads to a better outcome for the young people as rules for engagement are learnt. However, as a social worker it is important to understand the needs of the young people. Without this understanding, without those important conversation being held with the carers, with the schools or the managers then social work can be a difficult task in protecting essential funding for the young people.

picture credit: sanfranshuttletours.com