Carers, Conferences and Random Blog Search Terms – a Friday Special

Yesterday, I was sent an email by someone associated with Age UK to draw attention to the information on their website for carers. I get a number of requests from various sources every week but having checked out the information, it is definitely worth sharing and I will be adding the site to my ‘resource list’ both on this site and at work – and on that note, I’ll be trying to update the links on the ‘more links’ tab so am happy to take suggestions of sites that people  have found useful.

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Next week is the Community Care Live event at the Business Design Centre in Islington. It’s a conference over two days every Spring that us aimed quite specifically at people who are involved and work in social care and social work.  I’ve been attending this event most years since I started studying social work and am a great fan.

As a free event, it is pretty much unparalleled in terms of access to useful and interesting debates, workshops and networking opportunities for social workers and social work students.

I’m only able to attend on one day but I hope to feedback some of the information gathered about the sessions I attend and will be following closely those sessions that I’m not able to attend. I expect there to be great coverage over at Community Care.

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Finally, because I haven’t done it for a while –  one of my favourite things about writing a blog is seeing some of the terms people use  to find my site – some intentional (I think I’ve seen every possible spelling of Munro possible) , some with familiar difficulties and some just.. well, who knows!

Here are a few from the last couple of weeks (spelling retained as original)

‘is it possible to feel good about my being a social worker and imbarassed at the same time’

‘explain why i cant login to my nhs computer via a council network’ (oh, I feel your pain)

‘hairy arm pitted women’ (?!?)

‘who benfited from the nhs 1990 community care act’ (Southern Cross)

‘dementia trampolines’

‘wonder drug for alzhimers’ (would be nice)

‘are hampster dagerus’ (no, they are wonderful!)

‘sex monsters’ (I usually get at least one of these per week – I love the internet, some things are so predictable!)

My most popular search terms after the usual ones of the blog name and people searching for ‘social work blog’ or ‘british social worker blog’ or other ‘expected’ ones are ‘no roads in the city of London’ or ‘which city has no roads’ or variations on ‘gifts for social workers’.

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Just to end, I noticed as I was looking through the search terms that yesterday I passed 200,000 unique ‘hits’ on my blog.

Wow. Thank you to everyone who pops by and visits. I really do appreciate the support!

Happy Weekend!

Social Media and Social Work – Part 4 Social Networks and Forums

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

In this post, I am going to look at the ways that I use and have used social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook in a professional capacity and I also want to touch on the wider uses of forums and discussion groups.

Perhaps this would have been the logical place to start the ‘series’ because when you mention ‘social media’ or ‘social networking’ the most commonly held (and used) example is Facebook.

Facebook is the most prolific site with over 500 million active users around the world. That’s a fairly mindblowing figure when you stop and think about it.

So how would I use Facebook in a work environment. The simple answer is that, in general, I don’t.  I favour Twitter over Facebook for link sharing and random work-related thoughts. Facebook identifies me by name and location. My family and friends update me on their news. I have some work colleagues or ex-work colleagues as my friends but anyone who has ‘friended’ me on facebook and reads this can testify to the dullness of my updates!

This is intentional. There are ways to close down Facebook regarding information that is accessible and it’s a good idea to do that for reasons of privacy. I might sometimes share an interesting story I find on Facebook but I’m more likely to share pictures of baby animals and other non-controversial irrelevancies. The reason for this is that generally when the people I know ‘go’ to Facebook, it is for updating/chatting to friends – it has a perfect use for students at the same universities to stay in touch throughout placements, for example – but for me, it doesn’t seem to be the best environment for sharing more controversial or immediate items. Partly because half the people from school who have ‘friended’ me on Facebook seem to have grown into Tories…

However I fully accept that I don’t explore the full potential of Facebook. The ability to set up groups both closed and open groups allows for discussions to take place.  You can’t ignore the user base of Facebook. I have, for example, set up a ‘fan page’ for this site but I am less good at actually checking and using it! Fan pages though can be used as discussions and to form more integrated communities around certain issues and debates.

You can, of course, create ‘false’ Facebook identities. I know a number of people who use maiden names or slightly different names to use Facebook just to make more of a distinction with work.

As for LinkedIn, which claims to be a more ‘business’ focussed network, I am much more sceptical.  There are claimed to be 100 million users (although ‘user’ is more of ‘people who have signed up’ than active users who keep returning).  LinkedIn is presented as a more ‘serious’ social network where you connect with contacts on a professional rather than personal level. Like Facebook, your name and place of work is identified and there are ways and means to use both open and closed discussion groups.  If you see yourself as a ‘product’ to be marketed and sold, I suspect it has more use. My personal experience is that is that most contacts that have  made with me are from predatory recruitment consultants and I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about advertising my place of work so openly.   It is open enough to be searchable from Google if you don’t lock down the privacy settings and to identify both name and place of work.  I understand that not everyone operates in the same kind of arena that I do and for most people in most spheres of life, that would pose no problem whatsoever but social work is and can be different. Sometimes the actions we take mean that being openly searchable is not necessarily ‘a good thing’. I’m open to persuasion though so if anyone can convince me that would be fine.

I have tended to prefer ‘Communities of Practice’ as a work-related discussion forum which runs on a government site and again, it attaches your name to your work location but the discussions there are much more valuable as they are more specifically related to the workplace in the UK.  It is not ‘open’ in the same way and content is not search engine linked which, to be honest, I see as a bonus.

There are ‘communities’ about many of the more specialist subjects that might come up in statutory work in particular. I’ve found it to be a useful source of information for those with much more experience and I’ve also found it to be a ‘safe’ place to ask some of the questions that might come up in practice. Some of the ‘communities’ are only open to invite, some to allcomers with an interest and it is quite easy to set up your own communities. The attachment of name and employer mitigate some of the tendency for ‘trolls‘ to emerge on some of the more open forums.

Then there are other forums of interest – namely those that are hosted and set up on their own websites. An example of this would be the ‘Carespace’  from Community Care which is a discussion forum for those interested in social care in the UK. Like any anonymous community, there is an element of mischief making among some participants who may find that anonymity allows them a freer rein and there are the alarmingly regular requests for help with essays by people who seem baffled by some of the most basic concepts but in general the good outweighs the bad.

BASW have their own ‘forum’ which is only open to members and the GSCC have their own forums for those who are registered with them. The problem with both of these is that there is a ‘higher’ bar to membership. Sometimes making things as simple as possible (create a  username – login –) make for the more vibrant and active communities or a login via Facebook and/or LinkedIn which only require a ‘one click’ to join a particular group.  I haven’t joined either the BASW nor the GSCC forums partly because I don’t like the idea of my membership number or registration number to be linked to my log in.

Some services such as Free Forums’ allow anyone to set up a free forum for themselves.

Then there are some other mailing lists that I belong to. Yahoo and Google both allow for these groups to be created and ‘posts’ can be emailed round members or visited ‘on the site’.  For those ‘old school’ users, Google has archived the old Usenet groups from the early days of ‘internet connectivity’ but they and their successors are far more accessible now! Obviously, the level of information shared can be more closely focused on what you choose to share.

The positives of social networks and forums to discuss are very clear – on one level it is the absolute bedrock of social media – discussions can take place and there is a sense of ‘democracy’ in that anyone can start and contribute to them – depending obviously on the ‘open or closed’ proviso.  There are many different platforms for the discussion and debate to take place   – in some ways too many choices, real name or pseudonym, real ‘person’ or caricature of an identity.

One of the basic fundamentals in discussions online is the veneer than allows on one level a deeper debate of issues and thoughts and the cloak of anonymity that can allow a more unfettered rein to some issues that could offend or upset. It is far easier to get ‘wound up’ about a forum post than it is to feel angry or frustrated in discussion with someone face to face. Misinterpretation can be an issue to be aware of in all communication media.

However as the ways to share information grow, we have so many more opportunities to learn and gather sources and knowledge and to share.

All that’s up to us to do is to find the appropriate channel and that’s a tough decision in itself.

If you are interested in the use of social media in social work, please look back at the other posts in this series.

Part 1 – Blogs

Part 2 – Social Bookmarking

Part 3 Twitter

Thanks. I’d welcome any input about other communities/forums that have been useful to you and how you use Facebook/LinkedIn

Statutory Duties and Consultations

Session of the Chamber of Local Authorities

Image via Wikipedia

A blogpost by Vern Pitt  on the Community Care website alerted me to a very quiet consultation that started this week.

According to the post

Quiet as a mouse the Department of Communities and Local Government announced a review of all statutory duties on local authorities today.

There are a good proportion of these duties which fall into the lap of both adults and children’s social services departments.  This is a part of the DCLG process of ‘decentralising’. The central government wants to remove some of these ‘duties’.

Yes, the website does say that essential duties will be protected but there is no indication of what the government thinking is that these essential duties will be. It worries and frightens me though. Not that I’m a fan of bureaucracy but I am greatly in favour of statutory rights and publicly provided rights of citizens who require support to receive it.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. Perhaps I have understood. Perhaps I’m just becoming paranoid in relation to the government agenda but it made me gasp audibly when I read through the all the duties of local government that are being put ‘on the table’. I know the document states that it is not a matter of removing these duties but the consultation puts a lot of ways we have been working and are working into the spotlight in an uncomfortable manner.

The framing of the context of this review seems rather sinister and follows the line of central government directives as being the ‘enemy of enterprise’ as the DCLG website states

Local authorities are most effective when they have freedom to innovate and respond to what local people want. We want to reduce radically the demands, burdens and restrictions placed on local authorities by central government.

Some of these demands, burdens and restrictions provide a safety net and a protection to those who aren’t able to engage as fully in the political process as Pickles might like us to.

Just have a look at the duties that are under consultation on the DCLG website. There are two relevant documents but the one I was more interested in was the ‘Review of Statutory Duties – other government departments’ document at the bottom of the page (it is an Excel document – hence my inability to link here).

It covers duties too numerous to list under the Department of Education in relation to Children’s Services and under the Department of Health in relation to Adult Social Care and Mental Health services – though a lot of the duties under Adult Social Care are being considered by a Law Commission which is reviewing Adult Social Care Law in general.

I can see some of these being removed from local authorities so that private companies can step into the gap. The government want to strip local authorities bare and have already taken many steps in that direction.

We need our voices to be heard in this consultation.

We need to protect public delivery of public services.

Another reason I’m going to be marching in London on March 26th.

No Secrets or No Action?

Yesterday, Community Care reported that as a response to the consultation on changes to the ‘No Secrets’ guidance on Safeguarding Adults published in 2000, Safeguarding Adults Boards will be mandatory for all English local authorities and an inter-ministerial board will be created between the Department of Health, Department of Justice and Home Office.

Well, it’s a start, I suppose. In my own experience, procedures and support have been virtually toothless in safeguarding adults procedures  – especially if there are additional areas of incapacity involved where the abused party is not able to make statements or complaints themselves.

I could share many stories of lack of action – mostly as the procedures which currently exist do not have much force to them.

We do our investigations and reach conclusions but personally, I can say that response from the police has been minimal if it exists at all – and then where do ou go with the information? The investigations can be paper exercises and the offending party is told to act in a specific way.  Vulnerable adults don’t pluck on the same heartstrings as vulnerable children even though the act of abuse is no better or worse.  Abuse of someone who is vulnerable is abuse, regardless of the age of those concerned.

This is currently one of the most frustrating issues about the work that I undertake. Hopefully these ‘boards’ will push for more action to be taken when there are cases brought to them.

The positives are that now there is a law against mistreatment of vulnerable adults (thanks to the Mental Capacity Act 2005) – in fact, we are dealing with an issue which might lead to prosecution at present,  but the amounts of times things have had to be ‘let go’ due to lack of motivation to make changes or we are told that cases will not be brought to court because the victim is not a reliable witness, well, I wouldn’t like to say.

More focus on adult protection is, without doubt, a priority in my view. Hopefully, this places it as a priority.

Report Reporting

So the Task Force report yesterday was pretty much as predicted. Personally, I think a lot of the contents are very welcome with the main concern being the lack of money to implement them – but I’m willing to engage positively with the process of change in the hope that some of the issues that we have been complaining about in social care will change – it’s that old chestnut – the triumph of hope over expectation but leave me in my ‘happy place’ however briefly!

I thought it was interesting to consider how some of the press reported on the publication of the Task Force report which in it’s full glory can be found here. I was about to print it out at work to read later when I realised it was 71   pages and thought that was a bit much –  more trees saved.

The Independent focuses on the tagline of ‘better pay’ for social workers but no money to fund it – which is the crux of the problem really.  Similarly, the Times also looks at the ‘elephant in the room’ – namely funding for the additional money that might be spent to implement the recommended changes.  The comments though are a little disheartening. There seems to be a perception that anyone with a bit of ‘common sense’ and ‘life experience’ can be an effective social worker. I think there is so little understanding of the importance of training that it is almost frightening.

The Daily Mail meanwhile go for a whiny

‘Social Workers to be given pay RISES in the wake of the Baby P scandal’ which is a disgustingly ignorant headline. Their capitals by the way. It is a plain misrepresentation which panders to their insufferable readers. The comments are enough to make my stomach churn. I would love that reporter to come to my office to see the work we do on a day to day basis.

The Sun’s agony aunt, Deirdre Sanders who actually sat on the Taskforce tells her readers

How we can stop another Baby P’

She seems to put things in patronisingly simplistic terms but it gets the general message across although I think that relating all the changes to a single child’s tragic death is not entirely a fair explanation of the scope of the work done. There is a generalised thought lingering in my mind that there should be a wider understanding of what we do as social workers in adult and mental health services rather than the focus solely on child protection issues as the Task Force was to concentrate on social work as a profession rather than one aspect of it.

Meanwhile on the safer arms of the pages of the Guardian, there are a number of articles addressing different parts of the report.  From the details of the report to opinions by Peter Beresford who discusses the long term commitment needed across the political board for the reform process to Ray Jones who writes in praise of the taskforce – although not without a well-aimed kick towards Ed Balls (and quite rightly in my opinion) who

followed through on the tabloid-generated victimisation of social work and social workers by himself vilifying those who gave their professional lives to protecting children. Not surprisingly there were then major problems in recruiting and retaining social workers, and the workloads for those who stayed increased. Who wants a job where, when a tragedy occurs and the going gets really tough, you and your family are hounded by the paparazzi and hung out to dry by politicians?

I was applauding in my chair as I read that!

Community Care, a magazine aimed specifically at those in the social care sector in the UK, unsurprisingly has a lot more in-depth coverage – from their own discussion of the main components to reactions from ADASS (Association of Directors of Adult Social Services) and ADCS (Association of Directors of Childrens Services) which understanding question where the money is going to come from to their own views (via the Group Editor, Bronagh Miskelly’s blog).

Personally, I think the issues around training and recruitment are far more important than the pay issue but I accept it’s because I’m not unhappy with my salary – although more is always good..

One of my favourite (and I mean that in an ironic way) quotes comes from the Independent piece where Tim Loughton, the Conservative shadow children’s minister says

“The task force makes some sensible suggestions for improving social work and child protection, many of which we proposed some time ago.

“Ultimately the success of these proposals must be judged on whether they improve conditions on the front line. This Government has strangled social work with 12 years of bureaucracy – it is important that it now acts to improve the situation.”

Sorry, but a Conservative shadow minister saying the government has strangled social work with bureaucracy? Shows very little understanding of the last Conservative administration… and the one before that, and the one before that.

I am no fan of the government and couldn’t despite Balls any more than I do at the moment but the Conservatives are hardly speaking from a position of authority after seeing what they did with and to the profession.

But in general, I am left with a warm buzz of excitement that changes might be implemented to benefit the profession and most importantly those who use the services provided by social workers in the future.

On Probation

In some unsurprising but still welcome news, Community Care reports that the Social Work Taskforce is proposing a ‘qualifying year’ post degree and pre-registration to all social workers coming into the workforce from university.

It makes perfect sense and it’s amazing that it was not a check that was brought in with the new degrees which placed less emphasis on pre-qualification experience in the social care sector.

It is a useful and necessary check that does not leave the universities as sole arbiters as to whether a student is ‘good enough’ to practice as a qualified social worker.

I will, of course, be interested to see details about how the application process works for these ‘qualifying years’ and how the local authorities engage with the it. Hopefully, it will offer newly trained social workers a chance and opportunity to learn and grow as practitioners in a safer environment than being thrown straight into practice. I know I’d definitely have benefited from it although I was lucky to move straight into a supportive and large team with other newly qualified workers including others from the same university course – perhaps that made it a lot easier to ask questions and learn from each other as we went. I think it might have been more challenging in an environment where asking questions and supervision was not given appropriate time and consideration.

Looking at the people I qualified with (those that I remained in touch with!) – those of us who had the more supportive first employment experiences have certainly stayed ‘in the field’ a lot longer than those who were ‘thrown into the deep end’ regardless of pre-qualification experience. Even without my very random personal experiences, it makes most sense that the better supported newly qualified staff are, the more effective the profession will become over the next few years.

In the meantime I’m looking forward to the publication of the final report from the Taskforce – due early December according to the same Community Care report.