Community Care reports in their Social Work Blog that the women’s magazine ‘Take a Break’ has taken up the cause of positive social work stories with a headline of ‘Thank God for Social Workers’ which started with this week’s magazine. This follows on directly from Community Care’s own campaign Stand Up Now for Social Work!.
In the interests of research, of course, I bought a copy of Take a Break. The article is a couple of pages spread about what good work social workers do and how unappreciated they are.
It makes a change to see something positive to be honest. I sometimes envy our nursing colleagues and the overall angelic perceptions that they attract. Don’t get me wrong though, I could never do the job they do and have the utmost admiration for them – I do feel a bit grumbly at times though that the attention attracted by social workers is usually negative.
It was good to see a major national magazine take up the issue though as well, of course, as Community Care – which as a magazine directly for the Social Care sector, is an unsurprising supporter! The only pause for concern I had came at the bottom of the article when they invited readers to write in to the magazine with their own experiences of social workers ‘good or bad’. Now, many people call me a cynic and it wouldn’t be unfair to do so but I have a sinking feeling about some of those ‘bad’ experiences. I know I should be more optimistic though!
The way of the world is that we will always be constrained by issues of confidentiality when speaking out about individual situations or successes. Also, depending on the type of social work practiced, ‘success’ isn’t always easy to measure – especially over the short term. I’ve harped on about this before but genuinely feel that there is an element of wishing to sweep some of the every day issues that we work and deal with ‘under the carpet’ and that feeds into the overall dismissal of any kind of positive regard for social work.
I also think, in the UK at any rate, the profession hasn’t really helped herself. The GSCC (General Social Care Council) has presented some kind of mish-mash of post-qualification that has led to increasing specialisation. Is that any surprise as there is only two registered social workers on the ‘’Council’ of the General Social Care Council (both very distant from any kind of front line practice – one took the management and executive route and the other is an academic) – this is supposed to be the body that is responsible for overseeing the registration of all social workers and social work students – that upholds the codes of practice that we are obliged to work towards and, as they claim, it is their job to champion social care and to help give it the recognition it deserves.
And of course, as a government QUANGO, they are appointed and accountable to the government departments and the mealy-mouthed politicians who have no interest in promoting social work as a positive channel for change. So what do we pay them for? (because we pay a fee, of course, to be registered). We pay to hold our names on the lists of registration – but why isn’t the GSCC ‘speaking up for social work’ when one of it’s listed aims is to champion social care?
I haven’t seen much evidence for it. I get more value from the 78p I pay for Take a Break to be honest.
So I’d urge anyone so inclined to go and grab a copy of Take a Break (and if you have the answer to the crossword on p48, I’d be grateful – I need to win that deluxe bedroom makeover!).
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- Salmond stands up for social workers (communitycare.co.uk)
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The Guardian printed an article earlier in the week about a poor take up nationally of telecare. Telecare (assistive technology) is the system of various automatic alerts that are often used in local authorities for the care of older people.
The most familiar might be an ‘remote alarm call’ system – perhaps a pendant worn around the neck or wrist with a big red button to be pressed in case of a fall. At which point (at least with the systems I’ve worked with) a disembodied voice echoes from a small box-like device asking if any assistance is required. If there is no response or a call for help (because sometimes the button is pressed accidently or sat upon by visiting social workers.. yes, I’ve done that more than once) people will attend (they have keys) and respond appropriately.
But the world of ‘Telecare’ has expanded exponentially – or at least, I thought it had.
We have fall monitors which can test the pressure on ‘usual’ chairs or beds and alert the appropriate team if there isn’t anyone on that particular chair/bed for a programmed period of time (and it can be set so that the bed monitor is only active between certain hours and the same with the chair monitors).
We have gas detection monitors, C02 monitors, smoke detectors and heat monitors and flood detectors which all report back to a central office in case the person in question is not able to alert anyone.
There are, as I have actually been directly involved in recently, have ‘door monitors’ that can detect if someone ‘wanders’ out of a front door at night.
And probably lots of other types of equipment that I haven’t even begun to explore.
I was surprised at the poor take up because as the article notes, a lot of money has been thrown at the project – it’s certainly been very evident in our local authority. Perhaps the poor take up is related to seeing it as a ‘replacement’ service for home care workers. I’ve never considered that but more of an additional service – a kind of safety net.
Again, in my own Borough, the funding provided by central government has been used to provide the service as free on demand so we are able to offer these services to users at no current cost (although we have to explain that this may change in the future as the funding runs out). Perhaps that is why we have been more successful in rolling out the services than some.
And I have not personally known anyone considering reducing face-to-face care as a result of Telecare being implemented. Sometimes it is a more of a case of peace of mind for the carer who might not live in the same house, as much as needed for the user. I have certainly used that line as persuading factor, you know, ‘get the gas detector for your daughter’s sake, not because you wouldn’t know exactly what to do if you smelt gas during the night’.
So why the low take up, the Guardian presents a concerning but unsurprising conclusion.
In 2006, the government made £80m available in grants for English councils to pilot telecare and other forms of assistive technology…But there is uncertainty about how much of the £80m, which was not ring-fenced, was spent on telecare, as opposed to other uses
Of course the main worry has been that these new technologies will lead to a decrease in care visits but I haven’t seen it used in that way yet, and I hope it never will after all, the needs that are met are very different.
I am actually rather glad that I work in one of the authorities that seems to want to take this forward though as I’ve seen a lot of direct benefits – in fact, someone I work with currently managed to leave the gas on and this was alerted through exactly this system. It might have been a lot longer if there had been no electronic trigger.
I can’t see it being anything other than an integral part of the packages that are delivered increasingly in the future. Technology does not have to be our enemy and it does not have to replace people.
As I was wandering around the office, stretching my legs, I fell upon a conversation between one of the social workers who works in a different locality team and her manager about the possibility of a whole team ‘team building away day’.
Of course this was too good an opportunity to miss. My view of an away day will always be a trip to a theme park or the zoo but unfortunately that wasn’t quite what was being proposed – it was more of a ‘sitting in a room and discussing’ type of team-building that was being proposed.
I thought paintballing sounded quite fun – we could split on a geographical basis or in our own type of geeky way, discussed a possible football match between ‘social model’ v ‘medical model’ with the doctors and nurses against the social workers and psychologists (as one of our clinical psychologists piped up at this point that she was very good at football!).
Of course this led to a discussion of which team would ‘claim’ the occupational therapists.. (I think we would because they are quite athletic and the social workers – if my colleagues will forgive me – are probably the least.. erm.. athletic.. to put it kindly).
Of course outside of my imagination, what is likely to happen is that the away day will consist of us all sitting in one of the Trust or Council offices discussing team dynamics and trying not to raise the issues that really need to be discussed.
Through various convoluted means that would be way too complicated to explain, today, I am going to an event at which my first practice teacher from my first placement as a social work student will be present. I qualified in 2000 and my first placement was in a local authority older adults community care team in 1998/9.
It was the first experience that I had in a statutory setting and I had a wonderfully kind and supportive practice teacher. I remember I was the first student she took as she was completing the practice teaching course as I was studying.
She was exceptionally thorough and has consistently been an inspiration to me of ‘how I would like to be at some point’. My second placement was a little less happy but fortunately, I had the experiences of the first placement to inspire me and carry me through. Through my own laziness really, we never kept in touch – although we said we would in that way you do when things come to an end – that and the fact that I left the country pretty soon after I qualified.
I saw her name though, on the distribution list for the invitations to the event. I wonder if she noticed mine. She’s probably had lots of students with and around her since so I’ll be one among many. I am not at all sure what I’ll say or even if she’ll recognise me after 10 years.
If ever though, there was a point for reflection of where I’ve come in these last ten years, it will be today..
Here’s a pleasant story from the BBC. Music affects positively both physical and mental health. I don’t suppose this will surprise anyone who thinks about it too much as I know it is certainly the case for me (well, as far as mood is concerned anyway – I never really considered the effect on physical health!).
Particularly the research from Pavia University near Milan tested the volunteers’ responses to classical music.
Every musical crescendo – a gradual volume increase – “aroused” the body and led to narrowing of blood vessels under the skin, increased blood pressure and heart rate and increased respiratory rates.
Conversely, the decrescendos – gradual volume decreases – caused relaxation, which slowed heart rate and lowered blood pressure.
It might be time to readjust some of the playlists on my Ipod. I wonder if the same is the case for more contemporary music – not that a strong dose of Puccini and Beethoven is anything other than positive.
Scienceblog publishes a few more of the details about the study which is printed in Circulation : Journal of the American Heart Association and summarises the conclusions as follows.
- Every crescendo led to increased narrowing of blood vessels under the skin, increased blood pressure and heart rate and increased respiration amplitude. In each music track the extent of the effect was proportional to the change in music profile.
- During the silent pause, changes decreased, with blood vessels under the skin dilating and marked reductions in heart rate and blood pressure. Unlike with music, silence reduced heart rate and other variables, indicating relaxation.
- Music phrases around 10 seconds long, like those used in “Va Pensiero” and “Libiam Nei Lieti Calici,” synchronized inherent cardiovascular rhythm, thus modulating cardiovascular control.
Music, as the article explains, has already been shown to reduce stress, boost athletic performance and increase resistance to pain and is and can be used through different therapeutic means.
As for me, I don’t doubt it for a moment. I wonder if Singstar ABBA will ever be used as a therapeutic tool.. I know it makes me feel better!
Community Care report on the case of Lynda Barnes, a social work team manager in a child protection team with Bath and North East Somerset Council who was involved in a case involving care proceedings last year. Not necessarily unusual so far.
She was found to have been lying under oath, fabricating evidence and asking a more junior social worker to lie in court and another social worker gave evidence stating that
people were “frightened” of Barnes, describing her as a “force to be reckoned with”
If staff did not agree with Barnes, they were told “life could be made very difficult,” she said. B also gave a number of instances where Barnes had lied to others.
All fairly conclusive in the quite appropriate censure. However the father of one of the children involved in the care proceedings, asked to see a copy of Barnes’ CRB (Criminal Record Bureau check) when it was revealed that she had a conviction for ‘conspiracy to murder’.
Allan Norman, a solicitor and social worker, writes in his blog at Community Care, that he feels it is right that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is interpreted in a way such that those who have served their sentences are able to move on and gain that rehabilitation in society.
While seeing his point that
Instead of being convinced, as we social workers should be, of the capacity of all people to change, and that a criminal conviction should not be a life sentence, I fear we are moving towards precisely that: a label is the end of a career.
I am not wholly convinced by the argument although I know I should be. I want to be but it doesn’t sit right in my gut, I suppose. I think it is the gravity of the offence as much as anything.
I am more than happy to work alongside those who have spent convictions and have done, however I had always thought that any conviction for a violent offence would automatically bar me from practising (as opposed to a fraud or non-payment of tax type conviction).
Norman’s argument that such a conviction should not automatically disbar Barnes from registration as a social worker sits a little uncomfortably with me. Possibly due to the GSCC’s lack of action but I think back that it is because of the nature of the conviction. Perhaps that makes me over judgemental. I suspect it does so will be pondering more on that over the next few days I imagine.
The GSCC confirm that
a criminal conviction was not a bar to registration.
And I absolutely support that without any question but I do think the nature of the conviction should be taken into account. Particularly, as The Independent notes, things may not have been as straightforward as they were presented
Mrs Barnes had disclosed her conviction to the council when she was first employed and despite this had successfully registered with the General Social Care Council in January 2006.
The council and the GSCC simply believed Mrs Barnes’ version of events of the crime, which Judge Paul Barclay said was a “highly sanitised version of events in which her role is minimised compared to what is revealed in the Crown Court papers”.
So perhaps the issue isn’t the spent conviction but more the lack of ‘checking process’ by the GSCC and the employing council who would have both had access to her CRB. I understand the GSCC did refer this case to a ‘committee’ and that, again, according to the Independent
the committee “considered the length of time since the offence, the sanction given by the court, the context behind the offence, that she had been working in child protection for six years prior to registration, had positive references and that her employer at the time endorsed the application and were aware of her conviction and she had been working for them before registration came into force.”
So while now, the employing council can say that
The council admitted it was a mistake to employ Mrs Barnes.
They were still happy to furnish a glowing reference to the GSCC – seemingly, according to the judge anyway, with knowledge of the ‘sanitised version of events’ which was supplied to them and taken on trust.
While I can understand that a spent conviction should not be a bar to a career for the rest of ones life, it should, at the very least and with such a serious offence, at least necessitate further investigate into the backgrounds by the GSCC and the employing council – after all, isn’t that what CRBs are for?
Regardless, she has, without doubt, brought the name of the profession into disrepute by her actions. As if it was needed.
Just a quick post which I hope will be of use to some. I listen to the Moneybox and Moneybox Live podcasts and yesterday, I heard the edition from Wednesday of Moneybox Live which was about funding long term care.
There were a few discussions (it has the format of a phone-in) about differing issues and certainly clarified some points for me and can be downloaded here.
Incidentally, although it is often not in the slightest bit related to my work, it is a well-constructed and more-interesting-that-it-sounds podcast that I’d recommend more generally.