Monday, 25 November 2013

Ironing out the kinks

Today, I felt like I was drowning. Several skipped lunches and long drives travelling to various locations taking young people across the county, feeling very drained.

17 cases to my name, those of you in other teams might be thinking, 17?! that's nothing!
But the nature of our team means we must work intensively with families seeing each family almost every week, and sometimes this means working with a teenager separately from their parents, which might mean two or more separate visits a week for one family... it's difficult squeezing 17 families in only 5 days of the week.

For those of you interested in what it is I actually do in my role, here is the composition of the bulk of it:

Crisis Management 

Responding to urgent calls and being ready to drop everything whilst staying calm, patient and clear-headed.


An assessment must be done when a referral comes in and is allocated to you.

This may be an Initial Assessment: which must be done within 10 days and involves ascertaining what the immediate needs of the family are as well as the views of other professionals that have been involved.

Or a Core Assessment: This must be done within 35 days and involves a more in-depth analysis of the situation. Often, initials become cores when you're beginning to run out of time... coincidentally.

Case Notes

Writing up all that has been done. Any home visit, phone conversation, email, text message, direct piece of work and assessment must be written up and put on "The System".

Planning and Research

Researching evidence-based practice techniques. Looking at research into what works for a child or family and planning future work.

Direct Work

Actually carrying out direct work with children and teenagers including therapeutic work to help with trauma, behavioural techniques such as rewards charts, risky behavioural work, working on broken relationships within the family, exploring the wishes and feelings of very young children (harder than it might seem) and being spontaneously creative; not being afraid to get mucky with paints, chalks, pens and play dough (not to mention working with children!). Then there's the work with the parents, improving parenting skills, looking at routines, improving mental health work. Or just plane being someone to talk to.


This includes Child in Need meetings and reviews, placement meetings when a child comes into our care, case transfer meetings, multi-agency meetings (the hardest to organise) and case closure meetings.


Finally, attending training sessions on everything you could possibly think of and would be interested in as a social worker but never have the time to book yourself on.

One thing I noticed being in this job is that you tend to focus less on the planning and research and direct work bit, and more on the assessing, case noting and meetings bit. Which makes me think, what are we actually doing for families?

During supervision with my manager I stressed that I felt more and more like I was assessing and writing and making calls but the actual 'doing' part which achieves change for families and gets them out of crisis is becoming increasingly difficult to manage, sad to say. It should be ALL about the direct work and NOT the bureaucracy, but if you look through all that must be done within the role of a social worker, you start to ask the question...How can I get it all done?

That's why I feel so very over-whelmed with it all. At the moment I have a huge backlog of case recordings to do and assessments to write up, and whilst I make sure I visit families regularly (sometimes this means seeing 4 families in 1 day), evidencing what I am doing has fallen behind.

I am very sorry for those of you student social workers getting a sense of hopelessness from reading this. I hope you don't reconsider; despite the stress I wouldn't want to be doing anything else. Bear in mind I am new to this, and I will get better at managing my time.

Tips that might help you:

Having a 'day to a page' diary (for those lovely to-do lists)
Having a good manager (you may not have a choice)
Having a good team and colleges willing to help (bribery helps)
Using all at your disposal to stay organised: folders, dividers, reminders, diaries, outlook, highlighters, staplers, post-it's and those lovely note pads.
DO NOT write notes from a phone call on random bits of paper, YOU WILL forget where they came from and when you need that crucial bit of information it will be perched hopelessly on the concrete floor just outside a family's house, along with your sanity.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The naughty kid

I'm a bit late with blogging this week, a reflection of how busy it's got and me not being bothered to write I guess!

The theme of this week is child development. The cases I have now (16 in total) mostly revolve around broken childhoods and parents struggling to manage the behaviour of their children as a result of their troubled younger years.

When I say behaviour I don't mean shouting and swearing, I mean running away, I mean strangling mum to the point of passing out, I mean punching kicking and violent behaviour towards little siblings, I mean troubled children who try to hang themselves. You might be surprised that I'm talking about children no older than 9.

It's easy to label a child as naughty which is often the case in schools, understandably when having to manage hundreds of kids all at the same time. Social workers however are trained to look at the reasoning behind this behaviour, to look at the child as a product of their environment and experiences in order to understand why they do what they do, so that we can plan how to change this behaviour, and pull the family out of crisis.

This is not to place blame on the parents, what is often the case is that parents or guardians have gone through a damaging time themselves and tried to do the best that they could do at the time given the situation, but that best at the time, may have protected their children physically (or not in some cases) but their minds were slowly and steadily learning behaviours, sometimes in order to protect themselves, because they didn't know any different.

In most of my cases, the reason for this behaviour is as a result of what's called attachment disorder.
For those of you that don't know what this is, my best friend Wikipedia describes it as:

disorders of moodbehavior, and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal attachments to primary care giving figures in early childhood, resulting in problematic social expectations and behaviors. Such a failure would result from unusual early experiences of neglectabuse, abrupt separation from caregivers after about 6 months of age but before about three years of age.

I know I literally copied and pasted it but aren't I helpful.

In my cases, attachment disorder came out from sad to say, dad coming in and out of the child's life, creating a level of anxiety beyond control. It meant that the child was unable to learn how to trust the adults meant to protect them. That's not to say that if kids have been raised by a single parent, step-parent or guardian that they will have attachment disorder, it's not about blood relations or having two parents, it's about allowing the child to learn about trust in a safe way, about allowing them to feel safe.

So my opinion is that a child is better off growing up with one parent who has allowed that safe learning process enabling them to thrive and form a strong positive attachment with that one parent, than experiencing both the nurturing parent and the turbulence of an absent unpredictable parent. But perhaps some may disagree with me on that one.

Kids are like sponges and take in everything, even the slightest little thing they may learn when they were younger becomes part of their thinking. An example I can give from my childhood, my mum absolutely hated the actress Julia Roberts, she said her mouth was too big especially when she laughed (don't ask). So I grew up thinking yea I really don't like Julia Roberts she's annoying, and often said so whenever I watched movies with her, thinking it was my genuine opinion. The epiphany I had was when I watched Erin Brokovich and thought oh my god, she was amazing in that film! it suddenly hit me that I had no problem with Julia Roberts, or her oversized (according to my mother) mouth.

Although that is a slightly odd example, it really does show how much we pick up from our parents, learned behaviours that became ingrained in us from the age of 6 months to 3 years old when our brains are making those connections. It makes me really think if a child can pick up something so insignificant like that, you can imagine how effected they are by more damaging behaviours.

Not to scare anyone thinking about becoming parents, but what a responsibility!

Anyway the good thing is that if you do get it wrong, it's never too late to change the learned behaviours with a little help from someone like a social worker, therapist or psychiatrist, not that it's easy.

There is no formula or right way of doing things, bottom line is they need to feel safe, loved and nurtured.