The New Year

Happy New Year! While being far from what could even generously regarded as a practising Jew, it would be remiss not to mark one of the most important days in the Jewish calendar, that of Rosh Hashanah, which is celebrated today and tomorrow.

image ronalmog at Flickr

Although noone would ever describe me as religious now, I was raised in a traditional observant household where all the festivals were celebrated. The frequent occasions throughout the years often mark different memories and remembrances for me – usually from my childhood.

As I like the autumn, the High Holydays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which follows in just over a week, mark the season when the trees turn colour and the leaves start to fall.

I was taught that the celebration of the new year in Judaism is a lot more circumspect than the secular calendar. It is a time to look back and think of how life has been lived over the past 12 months (or 13 months in a Jewish leap year – one extra day sometimes just isn’t enough!).  Reflection then. It’s amazing really. One of the cornerstones of my practice and I’d been doing it for as long as I can remember!

These are days in which we (as Jews) are traditionally judged. Falling very much into the secular camp and not being very good at believing in ethereal ideas, I see it as being just a good time to turn back to reflection. Rather than fearing a wrathful divine intervention, I am now far more afraid of the harm caused by humanity all by itself.

So for me, these times which draw me and link me irrevocably with a part of my culture and heritage which I can’t shake off (and believe me, I tried at some particularly rebellious late teen stage) are about giving me time to pause for thought and reflect.

Reflect on the ways that I work and interact with people and the effects that I see as well as those I don’t.

Reflect on the throw-away remarks I might make when I’m tired and am working late into the evening and take a telephone call that I try to speed up so I can head off on my way.

Reflect on every decision I make and the responsibility I hold and their implications.

Reflect on my own learning and training as well as being responsible for addressing needs and gaps as I see them.

So on that note of reflection – a happy new year to all who are interested! As for me, well, I’m off to work – I think my grandparents would  not be best pleased!

Rated Good

The Commission for Social Care Inspection inspect and rate every registered care home in England – as well as every agency that provides care for others.  The website provides access to inspection reports on every facility in England – both announced inspections and unannounced inspections. It is our first port of call, quite literally, when we are looking to  make a placement.

CSCI introduced a rating system earlier in the year. It’s to make things easier for us to understand. Rather than ploughing through a report – you can just look at the amount of stars a home has. The more, the better. All useful stuff.

Victoria House Care Home in Durham is rated good by the CSCI. Rated good, that’s reassuring. The last available report is dated July 2007 though.

But as reported in Community Care last week, it is closing. Not only that, but according to the article

Durham Police are leading a multi-agency investigation into the care received by a man at a Darlington care home for people with learning disabilities, which is now set to close.

The 75-year-old man, who lived at the Victoria House care home, died last month from septicemia.

There are really more questions raised for me by that paragraph than answers provided. Police being involved in leading an investigation into a death in a care home? That is very far from common and exceptionally worrying.

I decided to see if I could find any more about the situation and came across a blog called Advocacy in Darlington which posts further on the matter here

Advocacy in Darlington was pleased to learn this week that after literally years of evidence gathering (which described a care regime which in the words of a Council manager in 2003 was recognised as being “moribund”), Victoria House, Barton Street is now subject to a 90 day closure notice.

So this evidence has been being collected for YEARS? That’s certainly the implication. The post goes on to state that reports had been collated both 5 and 10 years ago which had recommended closure of this property – and now residents have 90 days in which to move out. As noted by the Alton Centre situation where closure was not recommended, there have to be some quite strong grounds for a closure to be forced.

Another interesting point in the Community Care article was the statement that 19 residents will be moving out. This is from a home which is registered for 45. Quite a discrepancy. It isn’t known (by me, anyway) if there had been a freeze on placements there or whether it was just a place that wasn’t filling – but when you plan for an income from 45 residents and only have 20 – that’s a big difference – especially at a cost of £550 per week each.

So many questions and so few answers.

I went back to the Inspection Report from July 2007. Ironic that one of the recommendations was that

Greater efforts should be made to ensure all staff have mandatory
training in health and safety matters and infection control.

As well as the only standards which were ‘almost met’  as opposed to being ‘met’ are the ones relating to staffing levels. I hate to make assumptions  but cost cutting is screaming in my ear.

I haven’t been able to find out much more about Victoria House in Darlington. Amazing really that the information just doesn’t seem to be ‘out there’. I can’t imagine many people wouldn’t be interested in what had been happening here to lead to a quick closure after the death of a resident – police investigation and all.

I am concerned that, being someone who used the CSCI site and ratings to recommend placements in other parts of the country when I have no means to check them myself, I would have been reassured by the little stars and the ‘good’ rating to have followed through with a placement there when possibly there had been concerns for many years.

Why do we.. and I mean we, as a society.. allow these stories to die quietly?

Reasons to be Angry, part 16.

Placements and Practice

Last week, Community Care reported that a social worker, Ruth Hughes, was struck off the GSCC register after being found guilty of misconduct.

There were a couple of details about the situation as reported that struck me. Firstly, in the hearing, one of the criticisms made of her

her then manager Amanda Collinson told a General Social Care Council committee that she had had concerns about Hughes since the social worker joined her team in August 2004, with nine months’ post-qualifying experience.

Collinson said she had not shown the ability to put her training into practice and did not understand what constituted a crisis.

And she faced charges that

her handling of cases involving at least 10 children (she)  behaved more like a student than a qualified social worker, a conduct hearing was told

A few things come to mind immediately on reading this. But most importantly, what is the difference between being a student social worker and a qualified social worker. There is no requisite ‘post degree’ training before becoming registered and the expectation is absolute that when you finish studying – you are fit to practice.

Theories and textbooks aside, the competence to practice is reliant on the practice placements during the course and the management of this.

Placements are not practice in reality though. I was lucky with my placements – I was in supportive settings that provided me with a broad range of statutory and voluntary sector experience in areas that I wanted to work in – but I was working on a caseload which is a fraction of the work that I dealt with in my first job post qualification.

One of the downfalls of the social worker in question in the conduct enquiry was her lack of willingness to ask when she was concerned about specific cases or situations.

Sally Gillen, in The Social Work Blog, writes

It is easy to see how a newly-qualified social worker may feel overwhelmed by the transition from college to what is likely to be a busy, hectic department, particularly if they feel their practice placements have been poor. What this case shows, though, is how important it is to ask for help if something is unclear, rather than trying to muddle through alone.

And I’d say that ‘muddling through’ should never be an option. Practice placements should be exactly that and not smother a student’s learning needs.

Poor practice placements serve no purpose. There is a continual lack of ‘good quality’ placements. Perhaps the focus on tasks and figures is a disincentive to the senior social workers in taking students. When enquiring myself about moving towards this position, I was told it was not a department priority and that I could not be spared the time to undertake a practice teaching course or supervisory role.

I maintain this is a means by which the profession of social work lets itself down. Other professionals I work alongside, consultants, OTs, CPNs, psychologists, ward staff are all obliged to and thrive on the experience of having students train with them. It is a positive on both sides, providing the supervisor with some experience of supervising and sharing knowledge while providing a real and interesting working environment for those who are training.

We, the social workers, that is, are neither required, expected or provided the means to offer that level of support to social work students – unless we push really hard for it, justifying it at every level. At least, that’s how it is in the area I work in.

Then there is the expectation that this system of looking everywhere for creative placements will provide competent-to-practice professionals on qualification. The system works for many – works for most, perhaps, but it seems more through chance and luck as to what placements are available.

Perhaps the best way is a supervised post-qualification period – say, a year – in which greater supervision and feedback is provided. Although it may be necessary in some situations – certainly in my first job after I qualified, I made a specific point of establishing more regular supervision patterns than were usual in that work place – by virtue of being newly qualified.

Perhaps being less reliant on pre-qualification experience is also a factor – back in the day – when I applied for my MA in Social Work there was an expectation of 5 years experience in the social care field (and an undergraduate degree of course!). Experience doesn’t necessarily make perfect or better practitioners, but I maintain I would not have been as competent or confident had I not had that experience behind me when I started.

It doesn’t mean things are worse now – I don’t think age is a barrier to quality service delivery or competence (I’m just judging what I, personally, was like in my early 20s and know I wouldn’t have been able to do then what I do now!). I do think it makes the experience of placements all the more important though – and crucial in providing practice-ready practitioners.

Power to the People

Last Sunday, over 2000 people, set out on a march through London. They were marching against the rise in knife crime and to draw attention to it. Not that attention needs to be drawn in a sense – as we are very aware of the pervasive nature of violent crime thanks to news bulletins and newspapers.

image Gwire @ flickr

Putting the cynicism aside for a moment, it was to draw attention to an alternative. The march was organised through Facebook. There were actually two parallel marches. One starting south of the river, in Kennington Park and the other, north of the river, in Caledonian Road. They met in the centre of the city.

According to the Guardian – people applauded the marchers as they passed in acknowledgement of the message that they sent.

I was pondering as I watched the news coverage, how much difference the march will make. Who will it affect? Will  it actually make anyone who is considering whether to take a knife with them to go out on a Saturday night, stop doing so?

Possibly not. I suppose that isn’t the point of marches though. Occasionally they change opinions but often they are about raising awareness.

Awareness that knife crime is a bad thing? I think that generally that’s a given – note the applause that followed the crowd.

More, perhaps, that it is something that does not single out some sections of society to have an effect. Violence has long since existed on the streets. Is it complacency that tells me it will continue to exist in some form or another?

Are things worse now than they were and doesn’t every generation claim that and blame their children – or their children’s children?

Is it easy to romanticise our own youth? Times change, attitudes change without change there is no evolution and no progress.

People willing to march for a reason can’t be a bad thing though. It indicates a passion and a will for change that can be challenged. Grass-roots movements need to tap into the consciousness of society and can affect change, I believe. Maybe not today or tomorrow but a hope for the future at the least.

If a willingness to march over one issue leads on to a general willingness to march other other issues then perhaps there will be more effective direct democracy.


Yesterday I passed my 150th published post. I haven’t really marked any of my ‘blog’ milestones publicly – and I know that statistics will interest few other than myself – but I never thought I’d be able to keep writing and thinking of things to write for as long as I  have.

For the first two weeks, I had three views. Probably because I didn’t tell anyone and just wanted to see if I would be able to maintain the writing! My first comment came after about three weeks!

The milestone that probably pleased me the most was passing my 500th page view – it was a motivation thing – kept me going.

My most popular post by far, is, unsurprisingly, my About Me page, chiming in with 551 views to date.

My most highly viewed post otherwise, is Trouble at Southern Cross. I get a lot a searches for Southern Cross Healthcare. Funny. I never would have thought it.

The other frequent searches that seem to come up are Postmodern Social Work (hurrah – lots of people interested in it or more likely, there isn’t much out there.. must return to that), wearing purple (!) and thongs!

I think most of the searches that find me are vaguely relevant but then there are some people who search terms like ‘creating a monster’ and ‘man fighting monsters’ and suchlike. I’m am sure they go away disappointed but the fortunate thing about internet searches is that you don’t need to stay in any given place for very long.

Will there be another 150? That’s a long way off. I am coming to a stage where I will be slowing down for a bit, in any case – or that’s the plan. An alternate working day schedule – at least (although always reserving the right to change at the last minute). So if a day or two pass with nothing, don’t despair – I’m still around.. just pacing things a little more evenly!

On Studying

This is around the time that a new batch of students turn up at the universities to enter training. I am no expert but I have been considering the ‘now’ me, would give to the ‘then’ me as it is now 10 years (gulp) since I started my MA in Social Work.

image scui3asteveo at Flickr

1. Reflection. Initially you’ll find it hard and not really ‘get’ it. They talk about it a lot, particularly in the placements. But it is worth it. Reflect, reflect again, and then reflect on your reflection. You might not see it now but it will improve the way you work.

2. Self-advocacy and assertiveness. You will never be able to speak on behalf of others if you are not able to speak for yourself. This is not a place for shyness. Assertiveness is not the same as blurting out things. It needs to be measured with respect and should not overpower or denigrate anyone.

3. Do not be afraid of perceived power in others – lecturers, supervisors. Remember the feeling of authority that they have and transfer that – because that may well be the way you are perceived in the future.

4. Don’t be afraid of fear. It is a good check on some of the powers that you will use. But channel it and use it. Don’t let it control you.

5. Remember that every word, phrase, action, expression will not necessarily be interpreted the way that you intend. Good intentions are not enough.

6. If someone either in the university or the placement, advises you to do something that you are uncomfortable with, don’t back down, it won’t make you feel better. At least discuss your feelings, opinions and differences. Instinct can be a good guide but it should not be your only guide.

7. Study. Take advantage of the university resources. You won’t need to spend so much money on books if you use the library more effectively. And keep going with those Italian classes – they will be your conduit to all those dreams you’ve been storing up (OK, a bit me-specific – but I was so uncertain as to whether I should have been wasting crucial study time on language classes!).

8. In the words of Alexander Pope

‘Know then thyself, presume not God to scan

The proper study of mankind is man.’.

People will never fail to surprise and not all knowledge is garnered through books. Eclectic theoretical approaches will be your friend!

9. You only gain respect by giving it.

10.  You can change the world. Not necessarily everyone’s world. Not necessarily every day. But one step at a time, for individuals, you can change perceptions of the world. Changing one person’s view of the world is as if you have changed the world. Don’t stop hoping and dreaming.

11. Admit mistakes. Don’t ever try to cover them up. Especially if they affect other people. Covering things up is a long and slippery road.

12. Enjoy it!

What would you consider to be advice that you would give to yourself, 10 years ago?

Lest We Forget

Yesterday was World Alzheimer’s Day. Events around the world were held to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease and it’s impact. Some countries are holding study days, others picnics and walks. Different ways of drawing attention to the disease and pushing it into the public consciousness.

I know I am a day late but I thought I’d recognise it by sharing some of the links that I have collected that are related to Alzheimer’s. Some are personal blogs, others are resource or research blogs. Some sites that share information, others that share news.

Hopefully there will be something among them that will prove useful. I know I have found them helpful, personally.  There are many more resources ‘out there’ and I make no attempt at comprehensiveness!

Some don’t fit neatly into my categories so there is some wiggle room there.

image *Micky at Flickr

Personal Blogs

Alzheimer’s Team

Fading From Memory

Wit’s End

Monday’s with Mother – An Alzheimer’s Story

As We Lived Before

Resource/Information Blogs

Forget Memory


The Myth of Alzheimer’s

The Tangled Neuron

Alzheimer’s Notes

Mothering Mother and More

Resource Sites

Alzheimer’s Society

Alzheimer’s Research Trust

Fisher Centre for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation

Alzheimer’s Association

I’m sure that there’s a wealth of information ‘out there’ that I have missed and if anyone has any suggestions, I’d welcome them. Of course, it is important to remember that Alzheimer’s is one kind of dementia – but it is by far the best known.

Alzheimer’s Disease International has developed a charter to promote the awareness of Alzheimer’s worldwide. Go and sign – it doesn’t take long! They have also released a short film to accompany it.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas – Do not go gentle into that good night

Links, links, links


Another quick round up through some of the places that my feed reader have taken me over the last couple of weeks. It’s a bit more haphazard this week so apologies but check some of the links out. There are some gems there!

A  random collection but that’s sometimes just the way it works out!

The Anti-Social Social Worker writes about That A-Ha Moment  when you realise what field you want to work it. Most of the responses seem to point to it more as being a process of elimination or chance. Life does that sometimes. The best laid plans etc etc..

Awake and Dreaming writes about the cyclical nature of the health care system  shares a mild healthcare rant with us. She also shares lots of photos of her cat!

At Blue Jean Social Worker, she has had a career moment and weighs up the pros and cons of a new supervisory position  with some simple cost benefit analysis

Burnt Out Betsy remembers 9/11 as does Milwaukee social Worker.

Therapydoc shares her thoughts and experiences of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (I can definitely recognise some elements of that diagnosis in myself)

LCSW Mom has to deal with a lot of anger at work at Just When I think I’ve seen it all. And proves that.. well, the title of her blog is very pertinent!

Millenial Social Worker considers the nature of Relative vs Foster Placements.

Illusive Joy shares some extremely pertinent observations about the competancy of counsellors and counselling services and the need for accreditation.

Dom Care Dragon shares a story of filial devotion from an unexpected quarter.

Cellar_Door at Not another Nursing Student Blog shares a guide to restraint and seclusion.

At It’s a Mean Old Scene, Silvawingz writes about her experiences of attending a talk about ‘voice dialogue’ for voice hearers.

The Independent ran a piece by Patrick Coburn and his son, Henry, about Henry’s experiences with schizophrenia.

And for something lighter, Mental Nurse is  running a caption competition – make sure you read the comments! And join in!

And finally, I’m with Prin – I like the idea of Amazon grocery delivery too – and I can assure her that they’ll get to her way before they get to me over here!   

Why I love London

A few weeks ago, I went to a humanist naming ceremony to celebrate the birth of a child of a friend of mine. One parent is German Jewish and the other is non-denominational Sierra Leonian/Nigerian.

At the quite small celebration, which took place in an Welsh Cultural Centre, there were guests representing five continents. We listened to music and ate food that represented the cultures the child was born into – with a Welsh Male Voice Choir practising in one of the other halls.

The ceremony was a beautiful acknowledgement of all the cultural elements that make up this child and its place in the world.

I know this probably  happens in many different places over the world but for some reason, it seemed to me like a particularly London kind of event.


She is oft-maligned, this city, especially as the violence grows but there is as much goodness to outweigh the badness. She is a haughty maiden aunt – a little stuck in her ways, but prone to shock – wearing her shabby shoes underneath a finely tailored dress.

I have lived other places – urban and rural, in the UK and overseas. I have never found anywhere with as much heart and disinterested acceptance as there is in London.


People like to deride her, she is an easy target. Of course life is better, cheaper, safer in the ‘country’. But she’s seen a lot, this city. I doubt Edwardian, Victorian or even medieval London was safer. And she’s been good to me.


Patient/Professional Divide

We often talk in terms of us and them. Both users of services and providers of services. Quite often though, we are the same people. I work in a psychiatric hospital – that’s where my office is. Work defines me to a large extent. But I, or people close to me, use the services that I provide.  Yesterday, we took a referral for the mother of a colleague who works in a different office but whom I have worked alongside for years. Last year, I put in a care package for the father of the manager of a care agency that we are contracted to use.

My father, too, lives in sheltered housing (in central London, still  but in a different borough) which is provided by the council and has a care package from his local authority. I am a patient myself when I haul myself to my doctor’s surgery and am nervous enough to have something about white coat effect scribbled across my own notes when attempts are made at blood pressure readings and I stress constantly about wasting my own doctor’s time when I do (rarely) haul myself around the GP.

A very good friend of mine, a child protection social worker, suffered from severe post-natal depression to an extent that she was off work for a considerable amount of time and unable to go back to the same position. She still suffers.

The people I work with and around use the services we provide. When I was doing my ASW course, one of the social workers had been a patient in a psychiatric hospital herself for an extended period and another of the students described to us all in minute detail, the effect that sectioning had had on his mother and his family dynamics since that time.

We often talk in terms of us and them – if it isn’t explicit then it is implicit. Who are we trying to fool? Perhaps it is easier to work within systems when there is a divide in place. When we empathise but not too much. Not so much that we relate to our own experiences.

We don’t talk about our own experiences of being a patient or a user of the services that we (or our colleagues in different boroughs) provide because it detracts but it does put things into perspective a little.

I don’t usually attend my father’s care reviews – I leave that to my sisters to manage (or actually most of the time I know he’s well able to advocate for himself and probably does a better job of it than I would – of course, if I felt he needed it or had cause to complain, I’d nose around but actually he receives an incredible service).

Perhaps that’s one of the differences between working in adult and children’s services. It is a bit less ‘us and them’. We use the services. Our parents use the services. We want them to be better. We want things to run smoothly.

We want the services to be there and to be robust for the times when we reach an age that we need support.

A few weeks ago, I was called out in an emergency to the local A&E to see a woman who had been admitted following an assault by her partner. She had early-onset Alzheimer’s and although she did not need to be admitted, she could not return home. Shelters that exist in the area where I work are very limited in terms of particular needs and so we needed to think of solutions. She had been a social worker until a few years previous. Now, she was struggling to remember her address.

Of course there are more ties that bind us to humanity than a profession but sometimes it does cause us to pause for thought.

‘PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that….

Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne