Monthly Archives: August 2011
Since I’ve been employed as a social worker one of the constants in my working week has been the presence and existence of ‘panels’ in many different forms. There was a brief stage when we were told not to refer to them as ‘panels’ but rather meetings but it’s all the same thing at least, in the setting in which I’ve been working. They are groups of managers and professionals of a variety of provenances making funding decisions on behalf of the local authority or health service. Of course sometimes they say it is about joint decision making (which is why the word ‘panel’ is frowned upon now) but that’s really a facade. I make recommendations but I have little authority over funding decisions.
Different local authorities often have different mechanisms so my explanations of the panels that I might attend come with the proviso that things are arranged and organised in a variety of ways.
We have panels which primarily make decisions about packages of care that exceed a particular baseline cost. That baseline has changed a variety of times but generally managers in each team are given a certain ‘threshold’ to which they can approve funding requests but above that and any application for funding for residential or nursing respite or long term care have to navigate a ‘panel’.
We have separate panels for high cost personal budget packages which would be provided for care at home and those which approve residential and nursing care/respite and continuing health care (which authorise applications for long term payment for care by the NHS )
Going to panel generally involves the transfer of reams of paperwork. I’d probably say it’s the most obvious way though that I provide the function of advocating for a particular service user or family member when I ‘present’ the situation to those who make the ultimate funding decisions.
Contrary to what some people might think, I have absolutely no vested interest in the local authority or NHS ‘saving’ money by not agreeing to a particular package – indeed, I won’t tend to bring something to the panel if I don’t wholeheartedly agree with it myself. I am a great advocate of money being spent where it is needed. I have a general wish to see public money well-spent of course and I understand the need to ration resources but if I bring something to the panel and authorise an assessment, it is because I believe that that is what is needed according to my professional judgement and as far as that’s concerned, balancing the rest of the local authority’s budget is not an issue I consider (which is obviously why these panels exist!).
Similarly with the Continuing Health Care Panels I cannot conceive of a situation where I would bring someone to that panel if I didn’t absolutely want and believe that they should get that funding. If I attend and collate a report it is because I and the multi-disciplinary team behind the report, believe in it. I absolutely want people to get what they are entitled to and have no ‘secret instructions’ to try and deny the funding. The rules though are not altogether clear but it suits the funding parties and the governments to keep the rules complicated and unclear. There’s a lot of money at stake.
The panels are open to service users and carers but for me, personally, it’s very rare that service users or carers attend with me.
I have more often had family members attend Continuing Health Care Panels with me and found it is a much better way of working as it allows a lot more transparency and removes one of those bars between me trying to put the words of others in my mouth.
By now, I know the people who sit on the panels and they know me. That’s a massive advantage in being able to persuade and cajole. It makes me realise how useful it is to have built up links and a reputation among the more senior management. I like to think that a trust develops.
Panels used to scare me because I’d be questioned, often in detail about the proposals that would have a substantial monetary implication for the local authority. My paperwork and assessments are examined in great detail and a level of scrutiny applied. Now that I’m more confident, I tend to take pride in presenting my reports and welcome the questioning as I know what to prepare, what to highlight and what to expect.
I’ve had panels where paperwork alone is assessed and where we are not required to attend in person. I prefer being there ‘in person’ especially when there are any question marks that I feel I can clarify.
One of my favourite tasks in my work is feeling that I am genuinely able to advocate and navigate a person or family through the muddy mired waters of local authority funding streams and decisions. I wouldn’t say I enjoy the panel process although there is a satisfaction in having something approved especially if it is something you feel might be hanging in the balance, but I don’t dread them as much as I used to.
As for now though, it’s just another part of the process of seeing a paper ‘plan’ through to fruition. I know they work differently in different areas – indeed, I’ve seen them in different forms in the local authorities I’d work for – but that’s how they work – whether they are called meetings or panels, the effect is the same.
And that’s the explanation of what the panels are – the other side of each discussion I have and each decision that is made by the faceless ‘management’ that I sit in front are that they are desperately important decisions to each person who is reliant on the authorisation of that funding to allow them to life their lives more fully, to allow their family to have access to respite services. My job as I see it, is to bring the paperwork and paper assessments ‘to life’. I am not only writing about a person on a pro forma, but I’m able to flesh out the requested questions and documents with a person, with a family, with relationships.
That’s why I don’t mind attending these panels as much as I used to. I’m not frightened of them anymore. I see them as an opportunity to take a crucially important role in someone’s life and to speak for them and not just about them.
I have some across lots of discussions and debates about ways of using social media and new technologies and interactions to ‘help’ social services become more effective. Most of it seems to revolve around building online directories and databases of micro providers and services that are available which build on so-called community capacity to improve the way that personal budgets can or might work.
At the risk of sounding overly cynical there is nothing ‘innovative’ in my mind about building a directory of services. To me, this is not a particularly innovative way to use ‘technology’ in social services. It taking a very obvious and well-trodden route to using new technologies. Providing directories while being useful to a certain group of people again exacerbates the isolation of those who are not party to or able to use them. Being innovative isn’t always necessary to be helpful but it is very important that new ideas are focussed so we don’t just end up with increasingly specialised, localised directories that might have more ‘interactive’ features and feedback, look more ‘user led’ and compatible with the buzz words of social media but in the end they are brushing the surface of possibilities.
It feels more and more as if that there is a growing division between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ as far as personal budgets have been extended and does absolutely nothing to address or use technologies to address those who reside continually in the ‘have not’ section.
While at work, we labour with database systems that have clearly been developed through conversations between commissioners and software companies without any recourse to frontline practitioners, nice new provider directories are being tinkered around with while the fundamental foundations of the systems we work with remain resolutely inaccessible.
I’ve had a few ideas myself and whilst I lack the technological expertise to see any of these ideas to fruition, this is a kind of ‘wish list’ of the sorts of things I’d like to see. I’m under no illusion that these are ‘new’ ideas. I am sure similar things already exist in some form but they are things I’d like to see pan out in the longer run. Things I’d like to use at work.
I’d like to see more creativity in the use of technologies to assist with decision making for adults who have some kind of cognitive deficit. I’m a great fan of the ‘tablet’ and ‘touch screen’ model as I think it is intuitively an easier interface to understand. When I see people instinctively reach out to touch the screen of my Kindle (which isn’t touchscreen!) I realise that we are becoming conditioned to seek the easiest input methods which are about touching a screen and speaking into a microphone and perhaps writing on a tablet. Now, voice recognition has improved, I’m yet to come across very successful handwriting recognition (possibly because I have scrawly almost illegible handwriting) but there is potential there. In the meantime, pictures and touchscreens seem like a good way to go.
Using pictures/sounds/music it can draw on multi-media ‘shows’ and explanations of different options – moving beyond the ‘written word’. Providing documentation in aural form or in pictorial/moving form rather than reams of leaflets. Having recordings of familiar voices or pictures of familiar faces might help to reassure. I’m a great fan of telecare in general with the proviso of always being mindful that the human contact is not replaced but in days where human contact is sparsely provisioned anyway, it may be something that can be experimented with.
Why not a YouTube type video to explain how services can be chosen instead of reams of ‘easy read’ leaflets which really aren’t remotely ‘easy read’. Instead of flooding people with lists of providers (which, while good for some ignores those who are restricted in terms of capacity and carers to choose ‘freely’ the types of services they garner) why not explain and expound in different ways the ways that services can work?
Why not explain providers in terms of what they can actually provide and what purpose they serve rather than creating directories that are meant for people with a good understanding of what they want and need?
I was in a day centre last week and there was a seemingly unused Wii. I wonder if he Kinect might be a better project to develop some type of interactive play, exercise and work as it doesn’t need a controller at all and uses the more innovative way of body movement. Using participatory games with larger screens in company can provide different stimuli. I know why games developers haven’t tackled directly the ‘older’ market with games that might otherwise reside in memories but why not repackage old school yard games and board games with Kinects and iPads? It may be a good way to introduce the use of these new technologies in a ‘friendly’ manner which may then see them used in other wider ways – such as directories or personalised information sources. Using YouTube video channels for personally designed ‘reminiscence’ therapies could personalise the delivery of memories and digitise memory boxes where items are not there to build up the frames of someone’s life and people aren’t there to fill in the gaps.
There are many ‘dating site’ type services that match people and organisations. Volunteers to voluntary groups etc. How about a type of match between schools and residential homes? I know it’s something that’s sometimes done locally where I work and having spoken to both providers and some of the kids who go in, they seem to enjoy it and it can change and break expectations – each of the other. I
We talk of social media a lot and often it is used to provide ‘recommendations’ to particular services through these databases. Perhaps more user and carer led general recommendations can be collated. Crowd source an ‘introduction’ to social services provisions by those currently using the service.
Ask ‘what do you wish you’d known?’ ‘what do you wish someone had told you?’ and while taking out all the obviously libellous stuff, a local authority must be brave enough to leave in the criticisms. We learn through complains and criticisms and it can take a lot of guts (or anger) to make a complaint or to criticism and that MUST be respected by the service and the individuals at fault and used as a means of improvement.
I don’t want to see local authorities ‘whitewash’ problems in order to gain sparkling OFSTED or CQC inspections. It sullies the whole process and makes the inspections worthless. Regulation should be less authoritarian and more about actually making improvements and making things better for the end user – not about allowing local authorities to produce the ‘right’ results while poor practice is brushed away from the sight of the inspectors.
But back to my point about using social media to crowdsource – it is important that social media ALONE is not used as an ‘answer’. Crowd sourcing must be honest but it must also be broader than putting out an ‘internet consultation’ and having a Twitter account or blog. There must be pounding of the streets too to engage those who are not able to use digital means to put their points across. There should be knocking at doors and face to face discussions – not leaflets, not inaccessible (for some) groups.
Talking about crowdsourcing though, there’s a much better and perhaps more obvious way it can be used and certainly isn’t being used at the moment and that’s to engage other social workers and professionals into putting together more information and useful methods of practice for ourselves. Sure, it needs time but we remain reliant on organisations to provide ‘guidance’ such as SCIE (who do provide fantastic resources) and BASW and the College of Social Work but why none of these organisations who purport to exist to help social work and social care practice actually engage more directly and use social media and open access blogs/discussion groups/forums/micro blogging etc to engage with currently practicing social workers is completely beyond me.
I’ve become very interested in open access education and resources and feel there is great scope for professional engagement and information to build its own resources and information together with users and carers, together with other professionals but there has to be a push for social workers to see the benefit of sharing and finding appropriate ways to share the information that we learn every day.
I have other ideas which will come in different posts but I’d be interested in hearing other peoples’ ideas for uses of ‘technology’ in the very broadest sense and how they can develop to help the broadest range of people we see in social services – particularly those who are less able to look information up in various fancy online directories.
I enjoy having students around. It helps keep me fresh and enthusiastic and to see my job through the eyes of someone coming into it rather than through the occasionally blurred eyes of someone who has been working for a while.
I had a student shadowing me for a period yesterday. It was a fairly standard visit as far as my work goes. The person we went to see (who I’ll call Mrs J) was someone I’ve been working with for a few years. While I endeavour to do my best in every aspect of my work, I can’t deny that Mrs J is someone I have a soft spot for.
I started working with her about three years ago and to say she is isolated is an understatement. For obvious reasons I can’t go into the details but suffice to say since my first encounter with her we have both come a long way. She has had a lengthy compulsory hospital admission during this period and has lived in three different flats (and two different hospitals) in that time. She is now living in a beautiful flat and has a secure tenancy. She is ‘settled’ for the first time in many many years. She even has a fairly interesting personal budget to pay for a support worker.
I thought it was quite a good visit. We got through a lot of things that needed to be done and things that needed to be discussed.
As we left the student said to me how sad she felt after the visit. She asked me if all the visits I made were that ‘depressing’ and wondered if I worried about ‘getting old’.
It took me by surprise because I thought it had been quite a positive visit and wasn’t feeling remotely ‘depressed’. Then I remembered the perspective I had and the perspective she has. She doesn’t know, apart from the words that I filled her in with, where my ‘starting point’ with Mrs J was. I can explain and expand but it isn’t the same. My ‘starting point’ needs to change and as long as I consider where Mrs J was three years ago, I wonder if I am becoming complacent about the further routes to enrichment and recovery in her life.
It made me think about the way that new eyes can improve the work that I do and shatter some of that selfsame complacency. I shouldn’t look at where I am now necessarily in the context of where we’ve been but rather where we are going.
As for the sadness in my work, I don’t feel it. I feel it some days and in some situations, of course. It’s hard not to and a part of compassion is empathy but I remember a conversation I had a few years ago when I wasn’t long in the job with a colleague who reminded me, while I was expressing my own concerns about age in general, that we only see a small proportion of the population and to constantly remind myself that most people age well. I try to remember that. I wonder if that is one of the reason for prejudice against older people and a lack of respect in the care system. We just don’t like being reminded of the fact that we will get old. It personalises the work in a way that working in other areas of social work might not. We all hope to grow old. We owe it to those we work with and for to provide the most assistance and to make what can be the unpleasant task of ‘dealing’ with public services as painless and as accessible as possible.
Food for thought.
I’m off out of town for a few days.
Back next week - have a good weekend!
Posted in work
I caught this article a few days ago on the Huffington Post by a Social Work academic, trying to explain away another aspect of the riots and cashing in on his status no doubt as an ‘authority’. I don’t have much time for the body of the article.
He starts by saying
There is much of merit in the Prime Minister’s speech concerning the riots
and I’m afraid he almost lost me there as I found absolutely nothing of merit in the Prime Minister’s speech. Not even a single thought that I would deem worthy of merit.
He also states that
Social work has developed, importantly, its commitment to people made vulnerable, marginalised and disenfranchised by social, political and economic circumstances. However, it has constructed an edifice of anti-oppressive practice sometimes decorated with the inanities of political correctness that hampers its position to mediate and negotiate a pathway that re-engages individuals with their society.
I dislike the way the author picks the intellectually soft targets of ‘PC gone mad’ brigade to cast aspersions on the profession and to attempt to construct a criticism of an over-reliance on ‘anti-oppressive practice’.
Perhaps I’ve had the theories ingrained into me after years of practice but I maintain that it is absolutely vital that social work retain a fundamental commitment to language of inclusion, equality and equity and I have strong objections to the theft of ‘political correctness’ as some kind of negative stream that is acting to society’s detriment. I believe very strongly that challenging oppressive language and offensive language is the first stage to changing assumptions and removing labels.
It seems to be desperately sad that someone who purports to be teaching social work holds these ideas and I have to wonder if his goal is simply to gain more ‘status’ for himself.
His criticism comes a lot closer to home when he states that
Perhaps for too long social workers have been content to stand outside of the policies and workings of society when it suits, whilst still being employed, in the main, by local government.
and I honestly have to claim I’m not sure I know what he means. I wish he had written in a less emotive and a more explanatory style. Shame, if he considers himself to be a so-called ‘teacher’ that he can’t express his ideas in a clearer way and come out with exactly what he means by ‘content to stand outside of the policies and workings of society’. To whom is he referring this comment? I take it personally because he goes on to refer to those of us employed in local government, like me, but I wouldn’t by any means see myself as being ‘content to stand outside the policies and workings of society’ and I would say, if he is doing his job properly in teaching and training social workers, he isn’t doing very well at it if those are the kinds of social workers he is producing.
Every single day I go into work (and many I don’t) I consider how the impact of my work affects the society I work around and live in. I have never been content to ‘stand outside’ and take the proverbial government dollar. I challenge from within the system and criticise from without. That is what the reflective and critical analysis that we are taught trains us to do.
If you are not happy with it, Mr Parker—oh, sorry, I mean Professor — teach it better.
But there was one aspect of the article which rang a bell for me while he is having a dig at the provisions of the welfare state and buying into the tired government rhetoric of the ‘something for nothing’ benefit claimant as he says
The rise of neoliberal, de-humanised market-driven approaches have encouraged a version of Government that has removed personal well-being from the economic. In the middle is the third level of action that is dependent on social policy and legislation and individual ‘buy-in’. It is the area of social welfare. We have a system in which a person’s expectations have reached a point at which there is no need for reciprocal action themselves. There is an important social welfare cushion that rightly protects vulnerable people. However, it allows some to play that system, to refuse to engage with training, work or socially responsible activity and to believe they have a right, not simply for protection, but for continued support regardless of lifestyle, behaviour and willingness to contribute to society.
When I first read this paragraph I thought he was going to go off into a far more interesting angle of discussing the way that personalisation has led to a commodification of resources and the reduction of care to money and cash but no, he went in the far more predictable tub-thumping ‘let’s bash benefit claimants’ way.
Well, I’m going to take the ‘neoliberal, de-humanised market-driven approaches’ in another angle.
Let’s think about what personalisation means. Of course it means choice. Choice is good. Choice is a word that abounds in economic theories relating to consumers.
Service users are now consumers so, the argument goes, they will have more equality in the market system. They can buy with their money what they choose.
That is the ideal but it is very very far from the reality for all. The agenda of choice is all very well and I heartily back it but it has been deceitfully delivered first to those who are most able to exercise choice (adults with physical disabilities, those with involved family members). We can see some excellent examples and many charities and organisations have whole-sale bought into the wonderful possibilities of opening up markets to more social enterprises and small providers.
The research evidence from the roll out of direct payments which proved that adults with mental health problems and older adults (particularly those without carer support) had a very poor take up of direct payments was COMPLETELY ignored when new systems of delivering personal budgets were developed. How those involved int he implementation were and are allowed to ignore swathes of evidence and plough on with the process in the way they ‘knew’ and the way it ‘suited them’ and this has somehow been interpreted as ‘successful’, I’ll never know.
As someone who actively advocated for those user groups who were ‘harder to reach’ to be targeted FIRST by personal budgets roll-out, I stand by what I said then. We have known what has worked for direct payments for a long time, why not look at new ways of managing them for those who lack capacity and don’t have family or informal support - but then, as now, I was completely ignored.
So we have a care delivery system which is very much couched in the biases of the market and insurmountable inequity that no-one is interested in challenging because it does not meet the needs of the narrative that relentlessly drives this as a wholly positive change. I completely accept it is a mostly positive drive. I want people to have better services but I see some people having much better services and some people having fewer, worse services and amid the wave of positivity, the difficulties are ignored.
We have commodified care needs and quantified them. Our work as social workers is about allocating resources and not supporting and providing a service ourselves.
An assessment becomes a mere conduit for an allocation of resources rather than an attempt to actually work to combat and counter inequities.
So has neoliberalism ‘won’ in the battle for the soul of social work? We become functionaries of the state for the most part and are reduced ad infinitum to processors and glorified data systems entry folk.
I don’t think so – not entirely. There is a real danger of it happening but we need academics to actually support us not attack us. We need people who are engaged in research to help us by providing information that will highlight what is lacking as government policy pushes forward relentlessly towards devolving responsibility and couching it as an increase in choice.
I am in favour of direct payments. I’m in favour of personal budgets but I am not in favour of the whitewashing that has taken place of the real problems, challenges and lack of choice which is the reality for the majority of people I work with.
I am more hopeful than Parker and his somewhat mealy-mouthed, confused ‘article’. I think we need to seize the opportunity to make social work something more meaningful in the face of neoliberal pressures to commodify everything.
Our wise leader, David Cameron, clearly being an iconic Philosopher King, spent many days studying the possibly causes for the devastating riots in London and across England. He concluded after much intellectually rigorous pursuit, that the causes of the ‘sickness’ of Britain are – single parents and gangs aka ‘other people’.
Oh well, maybe he didn’t put quite as much thought into his words as I credited him for after all, he’s been toting those policy aims for decades. What more could we expect of him? Complex thought processes and analysis? Don’t be silly, he’s a politician who thrives on sound-bite politics that blames others.
I’m going to share a tiny bit of my own obviously clearly thought through analysis and that is this. There are no ‘easy’ solutions to the endemic problems that created a culture where people feel they can take what they want. This was not about ‘gangs’ although I’m willing to concede that might have been a fraction of one part of a ‘problem’. This is not about single parent families although yes, there may be people who are labelled that way. It seems that when our leaders set about scapegoating some of the voiceless citizens, we are heading for more divisions and damage than healing and unity which is what we really should be seeking. I’m not saying people should not be punished according to the law but they should not have new punishments invented specifically for them just to satisfy the vengence of the middle class who suffered for the first times when Ealing and Clapham burned.
Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face … Our security fightback must be matched by a social fightback,” Cameron said as he described the violent disorder as a “wake-up call” for Britain.
“Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged – sometimes even incentivised – by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally de-moralised.”
Setting out his personal priorities for government the prime minister promised he won’t be “found wanting”: “In my very first act as leader of this party I signalled my personal priority: to mend our broken society. That passion is stronger today than ever.”
There’s a lot here to get our collective heads around. A lot of dangerous assumptions and a clear view into the simplistic mind of someone who is supposed to be a leader and has proved himself beyond inadequate for the task. The Financial Times for example, explains that these riots happened in a period where crime figures had been falling consistency? A moral breakdown? Perhaps not.
Irresponsibility? Like appointing a press secretary whom you have repeatedly been warned not to appoint and to continue to give him ‘second chances’ when you don’t consider second chances for the person who steals a bottle of water.
Selfishness? Like the MPs who gorged themselves on expense claims.
Behaving as if your choices have no consequences? Oh, well, for this one I have to reference the Iain Duncan Smith story from The Broken of Britain
Now, all those platitudes, we get onto the real meatiness that Cameron is gagging for.
Children without fathers? Excuse me? Does he realise how he stigmatises and chastises all the fine families that are raised by a single parent? Does he really think the presence of a man and a woman in a family unit regardless of whether they actually want to be together (the usual reason that splits take place) will ‘help’ the children? He is a fool and it is a dangerous message. Male or female role models do not have to be parents and unhappy parenting is not a useful environment in any circumstances. Cameron has his ideal of the perfect ‘Chipping Norton’ family just as he has his ideal of the perfect ‘Chipping Norton’ community. It is damagingly false and it seeks to further stigmatise and alienate those who for very many good reasons, do not conform to his traditional family view. Does he refer to families with two mothers or two fathers or single-father families? What about communities with extended friends as support? He is finding it too easy to paint ‘poor people’ with a brush.
Schools without discipline? Again an easy target. How about actually putting money and effort into the schools that exist then rather than trying to hive them off into ‘free schools’.
Reward without effort? Um.. Mr Cameron.. you know, you with the inheritence of millions. Can you tell us exactly what effort you put into the accident of your birth?
Crime without punishment? – Well, I suppose that depends on definitions but an awful lot of crimes seem to be getting some mightily grand punishments at the moment. Unlike the bankers who ravaged the finances of the nation.
Rights without responsibilities? Dangerous stuff here. See, he has been quoting that awfully subversive Human Rights Act. Possibly because he, in his privileged position would never have need to refer to it.
Communities without control? Interesting one. I wonder what exactly he means. Which communities are these? Poor communities? Communities of people with different minority ethnic backgrounds? Gangs? It’s pretty rhetoric and a nice alliteration but it is meaningless.
You see, I don’t believe Britain is ‘broken’. I think she is functioning as well as she can despite the government though. I think the more that the rhetoric fixes on the ‘sick pockets’ and less on the body politic the more she will begin to sicken though.
Cameron’s ‘solution’ to help to fix (note fix not heal) this country is to bring in Emma Harrison from Action for Employment as a ‘Families Champion’. Really? That’s a bit patronising and it seems to dictate to us as adult citizens what ‘families’ the government approves of and disapproves of but back to Emma Harrison who has built her millions on the back of the government’s ‘Welfare to Work’ programmes. Is this really a call for more private profit-making?
What message does it send about making money off the back of so-called ‘broken families’ and trying to fix them?
For me, Cameron’s heavy-handed and quite frankly ignorant response to the riots is a sign of a far more broken element of British society. The ruling classes and their detached empathy sensors. That has already caused a lot of damage and is likely to cause far more in the future and we need to be wary of it and try and push the agenda towards healing rather than fixing.
- David Cameron’s solution for broken Britain: tough love and tougher policing (guardian.co.uk)
- Emma Harrison to be paid by results in fighting unemployment (guardian.co.uk)
- PM focuses on ‘troubled’ families (bbc.co.uk)
- UK and London riots: David Cameron vows to ‘turn around’ 125,000 troubled families by 2015 (telegraph.co.uk)
- David Cameron’s speech on the riots (digitalpolitico.net)
Jessica Kingsley Publishers sent m e a review copy of ‘Social Work Under Pressure – How to Overcome Stress, Fatigue and Burnout’ by Kate van Heugten I interviewed the author and the interview is available on the Jessica Kingsley Blog here . I know I’m biased but I highly recommend reading the interview to put the book into a context.
I was intrigued by ‘Social Work Under Pressure’ and what it might provide that is ‘different’ in the market of text books for social workers. While there are books covering the legalities, theories and policies, I haven’t come across a book that covers the emotional stresses and pressures of social work as a discrete issue.
van Heugten presents issues of workplace stress in social work (although there is no doubt that the issues and learning can be extrapolated into other areas of social care and health sectors) in the context of theories of ‘stress’ and stress management.
The first chapters are a great example of the importance of using theoretical approaches and research, in this case about models of workplace stress and stress management in practical situations. van Heugten explains and expounds the relationships of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout in more details as being issues for which the profession is particularly prone.
Her discussion of the increased stressors relating to bureaucratic tasks and a lack of control seem to have put a lot of my personal experiences of working as a frontline social worker into a context that made me able to understand better where my own reactions were ‘coming from’. As a ‘reflector’ by instinct, having a context within which to place the stresses and difficulties experienced at work helped me to explore how to build up my own resilience and recognise my own needs regarding self-care and support.
Van Heugten does address the issue of self-care and building resources and ‘toolkits’ to resist and overcome from the the stresses at work. Some of the ideas and plans are aimed squarely at managers and systems but there are also ideas there for individual practitioners without managerial control or authority.
Van Heugten looks at some of the specific issues which affect different areas of social work but her book is focussed internationally and she calls on a wide range of interviews and research data to back up her hypotheses about the reasons and solutions for workplace stress.
There are chapters about dealing with violence and aggressive service users and dealing with bullying in the workplace as well as ‘making mistakes’ and an appreciation that humans work in human services and we need to look after ourselves as well as each other in this trade because ultimately, stress and overload lead to poor practice and sick professionals.
I’d definitely recommend this book to managers, practitioners and social work students as it introduces a lot of elements that are fundamental to a successful and long career in social work and social care as well as health services and these elements are very seldom taught formally but rather learnt most frequently from decent managers, supervisors and colleagues.
It is easy to read and there is a good use of quotations and personal experiences, including the authors’ own experiences of personal stresses and combining this with work. Each chapter concludes with references and it is a very well researched book that allows readers to discover more for themselves about specific issues that might affect them.
I apologise for keeping on one track in my posts this week but I am preoccupied by events of the last week. I’m not the same person I was a week ago. Some of the pillars that I held on both tangible and intangible have gone now, never to be replaced.
There is so much I’m angry about. I’m angry that our ‘so-called’ leaders were all absent and seemed happy to let Tottenham burn, only coming home when the violence spread.
Tottenham, the patter and media seem to imply is a ‘place like that’. It’s not like Ealing or Clapham or Croydon.
There is a lot of ugly rhetoric that has been stoked by the government too. The blame is afforded to poor parenting, poverty, gangs – all, of course, present in places like Tottenham and making easy armchair sociologists of us all – myself included.
The truth is far more complex though as the cases coming through the Magistrates’ Courts testify. It was obvious from Saturday that the situation was exacerbated by opportunism.
Police ‘engaged’ in one area left other areas open to be looted pretty much at will. This ‘model’ spread around London and around the country.
Is it a coincidence that the increase in policing came when the ‘leaders’ returned? I doubt it.
As for those following the story, the Guardian are updating lists of those cases brought up to the Magistrates’ Court. It will make for interesting reading but for me, for the moment, it’s all a bit raw.
The push towards taking away council housing and ‘benefits’ from people found guilty of looting or rioting is ignorant beyond belief in my very humble opinion.
Housing isn’t a treat to be dangled in front of ‘poor people’.
It is actually a basic right so is the ability to live in a dignified manner.
And what about those ‘rioters’ who live in private housing? Or is there an assumption that it must have been ‘poor people’ in ‘council estates’ who caused the trouble.
It is easy to paint broad brushes and make easy judgements – so long as they are judgements made by ‘other people’.
Our minds need to simplify often complicated issues but there’s a danger in jumping to conclusions that can be wholly damaging. My concern is that that’s exactly what the government have and are doing.