Tag Archives: young people

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.

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Lost freedom or too big a risk?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Teens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

Children are the future!

One of the great joys of Social Work is that you can never be right, well at least that’s how it appears or portrayed by the media.  And in a blog post by Abe Laurens in the ‘not so big society’ titled ‘Shine a light’ illustrates rather well how the media portrays one image whilst the research points in a different direction.

However, children are the future of our world so it is therefore important to safeguard their well-being; and prevent harm that will affect them for the rest of their lives.  And by harm we are talking about significant harm.

But what did catch my eye this week was a Blog posted on the Community Care Children’s service blog post about neglect! and what is good enough parenting? A term so heavily used in Care Proceedings and Child Protection.  Action for Children in their recent report found on the blog or here that:

  • ” Two-thirds (67%) feel that the law on parenting is confusing.
  • Nearly three-quarters (72%) agree that there is no common understanding of what ‘good enough’ parenting is.
  • Only 16% agree that the law should not intervene in how people choose to raise their children.
  • Most parents (59%) believe that the state has a duty to intervene.
  • When asked what would help parents to meet their responsibilities, two-thirds (66%) call for a clear law which can be understood by all.
  • Support services were identified as the key way to help parents if things go wrong (73%). Action for Children 2012″

The main reason for this is because

“In April next year the law on neglect will be 80 years old – Action for Children does not want to see that anniversary come and go without government commitment that it will be changed so that more children are protected.”

For those of you who are a parent, or planning to be a parent there is always a worry about whether you are making the right decisions for your children.  The worry and guilt if you say ‘No’ and whether your children will forgive you for saying ‘No’.  Of course they do! and from this develops their trust and love in you, but at three in the morning when they are crying because they are unwell or missed school due to a lot of sickness you can start to question your own decisions.

However, do I need a law to tell me this? No I probably wouldn’t although I have the luxury of 15 years of training, reading and direct childcare experience and two great children that test me and reward me with their love (I hope).

More to the point does the law need to change? Do parents know what is expected of them? and do parents understand what neglect is? Of course we do and rather than have a new law we do require an understanding of neglect through positive media images of the work that social workers, teachers, health professionals, and volunteers do on a daily basis to prevent families breaking down.

Child development theories have been clear about the stages that babies, toddlers Children and young people move through.  This is regularly measured and monitored by health professionals starting with the Midwife, then the Health Visitor and then School Nurse and General Practitioner.  Inevitably with the cut backs in Public services the observations made by these professionals will affect the number of families that can be identified at an early stage.

Furthermore the law is clear about Children’s attendance at school and also there is clear law around substance misuse and Domestic Violence.

However, what is lacking in English Law is the consideration for all legislation to include relevant consideration to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child .  We do have the Children Act 1989 and also the Children Act 2004, which with all of the guidance and the Working together documents highlights what Child Neglect is.

The real message is that neglect does not just occur in poorer families, and neglect can be identified through knowledge and observations from Professionals and then assessed by Social Workers.  The concern is that there will be no law passed by next April, instead the real concern is that Neglect is a priority of the Government that could be lost with the cuts that they are trying to make.

It remains important that the assessments made by Social Workers are respected and checked by their managers as a Safeguard to rogue assessments.  That, neglect remains on the agenda of everyone but allowing families to live their lives.  The law is already in place to protect children, research is available about neglect and more research is currently being undertaken.

Social Work is not about herding children into care, it is about protection and support and Neglect or good enough parenting will be different from family to family and hard to legislate and enforce.

Down with the Titanic

Have you ever heard your practise described as that of the Titanic? Maybe you are thinking, that’s not so bad! After all, at the time the titanic was advanced ship of its time, fitted with Luxury and built for speed.  I know that is being extremely positive and normally you might expect a more negative meaning.  And I think you are probably right, as the comments that followed alluded to Social Workers being unwilling to change their views about progress.  I guess with this type of logic it is right for the ship to sink!

Confused? so am I what social worker would not want change! less cases more functional and positive time with children and their families, better outcomes, less paper work, less hurdles to provide an essential service.  Sound crazy to say “hey, I like the red tape, the pointless tick box exercises!”

Okay there are still ( a minority now) of social workers who are still trying to work out how to switch the computer on, but even they would like change if only so they could have an easier system to work.

It is not often that I get offended, but if I have to miss my lunch to give my views and get insulted in the process you will get an honest answer even if you do not like it.  Social Care has waited a long time to see what changes will come from the Munro Review and as the Government stalls this with further evidence required from extending the trials.  We are now trying to step out into the brave new world formulating a design that would work for us.

Like the sinking ship Titanic there is no life boats (the budget was cut!) Its time to accept that there has to be a rethink of how the service is delivered.  Fine, great you want our views.  Okay you started off with an insult –  that’s cleared up now we will move on.

It should feel better to know that potentially I could be involved in something special.  I added my comments and expressed a view that change is okay but why settle for just that……… We should be in the forefront of developing services and supporting young people, we should not be creating services that for many Local Authority’s have been around for many years and nor should we be creating obstacles for either the young person or the workers to go through to get a service.

Well also like the Titanic we have set out on a Journey and I hope that we will reach our destination.

Difficult and Challenging

A critical time for all young people is in their late teens, understanding who you are is often a complicated task on its own.  For some not knowing where you have come from or if you are a separated child from another country this process becomes even harder.  Over many years of practise that there is no easy or quick fix to help young people work out this process.  Indeed for some the early years neglect and abuse establishes a chaotic behaviour that is misunderstood and occasionally poorly managed.

It is understandable then why the Government would want Local Authorities to focus on early years intervention.  Despite the major floor in its plan in cutting budgets to all services, which inevitably will reduce the referrals and early identification when essentially they are needed.  Furthermore, many parents may have already experienced disorganised parenting themselves and fail to identify the need to change their own parenting style.

The damage to the young person is often devastating and will impact on their ability to form new relationships and attachments.  For me this is key in my role supporting social workers writing assessments of need and pathway plans.  With the current pressures on budgets to move young people out of often expensive out of county residential placements into semi supported living, it is essential to get this right.

This step down is needed and for many young people turning 18 years of age it is a shock to know that suddenly to find it removed.  And for many years young people who have been angry that they have been in care and have been told by their families that they can return suddenly find out that their family is not there for them.

What many young people need is for their social workers to be able to spend more quality time unpicking these key issues.  Social work is not about ticking boxes and assessing need without following through with the assessment made.  For many local authorities they will want to reduce placement costs and one way to positively due this is by allowing positive social work to happen.  Either through creative thinking or longer term projects addressing need.  Running support groups and challenging myths.

This week I heard that a young person had taken their own life because of their placement.  I disagree that it was the placement that resulted in the young person sadly taking their life.  Instead, it was likely the early childhood trauma that had not been able to be addressed in order for the young person to feel safe and develop a resilience in their life.

And for young people in care that sense of feeling alone in the Universe is something that I will never experience, so need to be mindful of and ensure my social workers understand.  For many others who are fortunate enough to be able to enter into care at an early stage they will be able to develop the resilience needed to help them through their adolescents and into adulthood.

I guess the message is that Social Work is essential in supporting young people and reducing staff will increase placement costs as placements breakdown.  Increasing staffing budgets will reduce placement costs as placements are maintained and better outcomes are achieved by 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

Big trouble from little feet

It is easy to be blissfully unaware of danger and trouble when you do not know it exists.  We trust that everyone understands common or basic rules about living in a growing multi cultural society.  But sometimes events happen that take us by surprise, even more than we thought it was possible.

Living outside of London I have thankfully been away from the majority of the trouble and relatively unaffected, although it is still a worry as I have my brother living there with his partner.  It was not until the rumours started and gossip spread that it became closer to home for me.  First of all it was the not knowing and then came the relief when I heard it was a rumour.  Sadly then came the doubt when I heard from people I trusted and loved that they had come close to the danger in areas that were being reported as clear and no trouble taking place.  Then came a feeling of disbelief and a feeling of being let down that I had not been able to receive the information to be aware of the danger.

With the recent riots there has been a lot of speculation about the causes? is it bad parenting? is it the poverty level? is the effects of government cuts? My favourite is Grand Theft Auto this game has been described as a cause for anti social behaviour?.

Working with young people it has been a hard week listening to people’s views and often very strong views about what should happen.  It is easy to understand why some people have these strong views.  And I share their anger and disbelief as it is always needless that people should lose their lives to mindless violence.  It is also horrible when part of history is destroyed and lost forever, or people’s businesses that have been created and developed over many years.

But it is important to remember that this trouble does not represent all young people or our next generation and that all young people should not be viewed in this way.  To do so will further create a divide between generations creating further fear and animosity making it harder for hard to reach young people to be engaged and accepted within society.

What it does need is greater joined up working now with the Police, Social Services and Youth Offending Teams and Charities to engage these young people and provide projects, opportunities one to one work to prevent gang activities and dependence.  And more importantly develop a resistance to No, I don’t want to be involved in your behaviours.

This will require support and funding and Big Society will be a start but it will not provide the specialist skills and knowledge required to help these young people.

Secure places

Have you ever felt out of control, had the feeling of not being able to control what you might do next? of course we all have moments when we feel like this.  However, somewhere inside our body and or mind kicks into overdrive and it passes.  Maybe with the help of someone else or maybe because we have removed ourselves from the situation.


For many young people who live in care do not always find this possible.  Many will not come into care until they are already experienced severe neglect or harmful behaviours.  The effect of which means that the young person could experience placement breakdowns, poor school attendance and attainment.  The young person may struggle with making positive new attachments.  What does this mean? It means that the carer will have to work hard to develop trust, and a positive relationship that can begin to address the basic parenting needed to provide the skills and resilience to help the young person.


It is very important to remember that this is not true of all children in care for those that have experienced a positive start their chances are more positive.


I believe that this is why our early years is so important, it does not prevent harm as the young person grows up, it does not make us invincible.  But what it does do is help with settling into a new placement, it does increase your chances of continuing in education, it does help with being able to talk with adults and make friends all important to help with good outcomes.


The series Kids behind bars has shown the challenges that some of these young people have experienced and what may happen.  It shows how young people with chaotic lifestyles arrive at secure and struggle initially with the strict boundaries and then with the intense personalised programme thrive when care is provided rigidly but also adapted for the right level.


This week I have worked hard with one young person helping them understand how their behaviour is leading them to a secure placement.  It has been hard for me knowing that this is not always a positive outcome.  Every time the young person goes to a secure unit that the chances that the good work that happened before may not always be repeated increasing the risk of a dependence on this life style.  The danger is a reliance and dependence on this life style that promotes repeat offending into adulthood.


Having watched the programme, worked in residential and my own experiences of working with young people that have been in secure there is good work being done with young people in secure homes.  However, this work needs to be followed through afterwards by the social worker, and youth offending worker if there is one.  Where this is not being done and the right procedures not followed the Howard league provides support and advice for people that have been in Prison or secure unit.