Fast-track Social Work

Ed Balls

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Yesterday, Ed Balls announced a plan to fast-track other ‘professionals’ like lawyers, teachers and police officers into social work on a one year ‘scheme’.

He says that this scheme – which will attract a £15,000 payment to those who take up the offer – would appeal to those who might be put off by a three year degree.

I wonder how much he knows about social work itself though outside his departmental bubble. Ten years ago, I took a two year postgraduate Masters course – the kind of which exist currently – and alongside me on my course were former teachers, police officers and even (believe it or not!) a clinical psychologist. Sure, we didn’t get £15,000 but we did two placements alongside the academic training.

I wonder how it will be compressed into one year. My understanding is that it will be ‘on the job’ type training. Perhaps he hasn’t learnt from the difficulties universities are having at the moment in finding placements.

Maybe I’m just too cynical but I have to wonder if Balls is even aware of the post-graduate route to train as a social worker. He seems completely oblivious to its existence – from his comments that social workers should be trained to post-graduate level (a good proportion already are, Balls!) to his comments that some professionals wouldn’t want to leave work to take a three year unpaid degree (the Masters attracts more funding and it’s only two years so no lawyer/teacher etc would be taking the three year route anyway!).

For all that, I don’t want to be too cynical. It isn’t Ed’s fault he is so ignorant but the idea behind it – namely to encourage people to seek a second career in social work – isn’t a bad one. I am just confused as to how the necessary skills can be compressed into one year – after all, as practitioners, they will still need the same knowledge and experience.

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Stalling on the Case for Change

The Guardian reported yesterday that the expected publication of the Green Paper which would outline future funding plans for adult care has been put on hold, having been due for publication on Tuesday. The Case for Change – a presentation of the discussion document – was the precursor of the still embryonic Green Paper and those discussions and debates took up a good proportion of last year.

I haven’t probably followed the progress of the Green Paper as much as I should have – apart from having a vague awareness that ‘it is coming’ but the article made some points that sprung out at me and that I’m sure I’d have caught earlier had I been paying more attention.

The reason that is stated for the delay is some kind of wrangling between the Department of Health and the Department of Work and Pensions – because there may be on the cards a proposed scale back of the Care Component of DLA (Disability Living Allowance) and AA (Attendance Allowance) to use this money to pay towards the cost of care services. In essence (although not in monetary value) they are the same benefit but DLA is paid to under 65s and AA is paid to over 65s (at a lower rate usually but that’s another argument for another day).

In the case of residential care, this money is already taken by the local authority when they fund placements but the proposals, reported in the Guardian, would be used to fund some kind of discretionary ‘social care’ grants which would likely be used to filter this money to local authorities who could then possibly reallocate according to their means-testing.

These benefits are wholly non-means tested and are provided to pay for additional costs related to disability. There are few non-means tested benefits left and understandably they are deemed to be less efficient than those that are targeted to the highest need. It would though, be a political bombshell – hence, the Guardian claims – the delaying of the publication of the Paper.

Personally, I’m torn. I have, first-hand, seen the benefits of a non-means tested benefit for older people. The criteria are clear while often it is a question of persuading people to take what they are entitled to, particularly, in my experience anyway, with older people rather than creating a further layer of tiered funding that it more arbitrary and unfathomable and creates another level of bureaucracy, no doubt.

However, money is needed to fund care services. The money has to come from somewhere and if it is a matter of taking from a blanket benefit paid regardless of levels of savings and assets or raising the bar to accessing services, I’d rather the former.

Whatever is announced there will be political implications. People don’t like paying for care, perhaps it is the line between health and social care that becomes too blurred and we are accustomed to a health service that is free at the point of delivery.

Personally, I think over the long term, some kind of insurance system is bound to be implemented and is possibly the most equitable but it won’t solve any of the short term issues that are going to arise.

Interesting times.

Winding down

I’m going away soon. Friday will be my last day at work for a couple of weeks anyway and I’m heading west for a while. It brings to mind one of those panics though when you go through each and every set of case notes and try to imagine all the possible and potential scenarios which might or could play out while away.

I’m also trying to ensure that paperwork is at least showing a semblance of being up-to-date – not always as easy as it sounds (I don’t know though, does it sound easy?).

There is, as is wont to happen, one person I am particularly concerned about. You pass all this on to colleagues of course but we are moving into peak holiday season and increasingly there are fewer and fewer people actually around and ‘picking things up’ is restricted to emergencies. There is a possibility it will be resolved to a point, anyway, this week but I then sometimes feel guilty about imposing my time limitations on other people.

My fears are.. well, I shouldn’t always look at the negative really but there’s someone else who seems to become more unwell whenever I go away, even if it’s for a long weekend but I have to reassure myself that he knows the people to call and things to do and when I’m out of the country there’s little I can do.

This week though, I’m mixing between a few visits and a mad dash through the files to ensure that anyone picking any of them up will have a rough idea of where I’m at and what I’m doing.

Picking up other people’s work on holiday always seems to be something of an issue. The same level of service can rarely be maintained and so, as I ring around to remind people that I’ll be away, I’m aware of the feelings of abandonment as there is not an equal or equivalent offer of service. Sure, I leave alternative contacts (although everyone has these anyway) but somehow it doesn’t feel the same.

And I’m reminded how long it is since I took more than about four days off in a row.

But before I leave, there’s the bluster and rush of trying to get as much done as possible. I’ll need a holiday after all of this!

image skyseeker at Flickr

Abduction

There is a story that has been concerning me over the weekend. It was reported by The Daily Telegraph and while the details of the story are troubling taken prima facie, I can’t help thinking there is a lot that we aren’t being told.

Under the inflammatory ‘Is the state guilty of child kidnap?’ headline, Christopher Booker details the situation where a man was reported by the headteacher of his children’s school to social services because he showed concern about the safety of his children (seems a bit unusual to say the least). The social worker then turns up with the police to take Mr Jones (pseudonym) under a section 136 to a hospital where he was assessed and admitted under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act.

Mr and Mr Jones, accompanied by their younger son, arrived at school to pick up their daughter, they were met by a group of strangers, one as it turned out a female social worker

OK, why is the gender of the social worker remotely relevant? There is no mention of the gender of any other professional in this article, including police officers, so why mention that the social worker was female? It would probably be more unusual if the social worker were male but then, I think the so-called ‘journalism’ compiled from the files of one family who clearly may have a reason to be angry with social services, is intended to outrage rather than inform.

Back to the story, the Jones children were taken into local authority care.

Mr Jones was discharged from hospital by a Tribunal two weeks later. The children remain in care. His wife was at home while this happened. He contacted various members of the legislature, one of whom contacted the newspaper.

Obviously it is a shocking story, but there is a hunch, just a hunch, mind, that there is an awful lot that isn’t being reported here.

The language of the article is almost sneering in its tone. Of course, I wouldn’t expect balanced reporting as the information source is barely balanced. I doubt the reporter has access to full medical records and to be discharged by a Tribunal is not an indication that no mental health issues ever existed. It could be that either it was not sufficient to warrant admission at that time or that the need for the admission had served its purpose.

I can’t imagine why a local authority would benefit from keeping his children away from him unless they had good reason.

Of course, all the blame in the system lies with social workers – particularly the social worker who turned up at school who

..asked, without explaining why or who she was, whether he was Mr Jones. When she three times refused to show him any ID, he was seized from behind by two policemen, handcuffed and put under arrest

I have to say, personally, I’ve never refused a request to see my ID, in fact, we encourage people to ask us but we don’t have any idea of the circumstances and possibly a speedy exit from the school grounds (where this happened) was seen as the most appropriate action. He was not arrested. He was taken under section 136 which says

The police officer must find the person in “a place to which the public have access” and:

  • the person must appear (to the police officer) to have a mental disorder and to be in “immediate need of care or control”; and
  • the police officer must think it necessary to take the person to a Place of Safety, in the interests of the person her/himself or for the protection of others.

So as would usually happen, he was assessed under Section 2 – this would happen with an AMHP and two doctors present. Apparently, according to the article, his wife was taken as well although she was released within the 72 hour limit.
Of course, we’ll never know what actually happened although it is stated initially that questions were raised due to him claiming to be related to various members of different European Royal Families and has connections which mean that his children require additional security measures be taken at school. The reason offered in the ‘documents’ held by the reporter is that Mr Jones suffers from some kind of ‘delusional belief system’.
The tone being that all the claims made by Mr Jones are true. I wonder though if the children had been attending the same school for a while, that the headteacher would have been suddenly concerned enough to call for social services and that there would have been sufficient grounds to at least, admit him to hospital. My own experience suggests that if anything can be done to keep someone out of hospital, it will be, not least on the brutal issue of the cost of a hospital bed.
Whatever happens, we’ll only ever hear one side of this story but some of the vitriol in the comments following the Daily Telegraph article make you wonder at the levels of hate and disgust with social workers in general.
Regardless of this incident, and there may well have been poor practice involved (which I would never condone), the rage of those members of the public who see fit to comment on newspaper articles never ceases to amaze me.. nor the willingness to believe without question a source which can only ever be one-sided.

Friday Mix

It’s been a long week. For a variety of reasons that would probably come over as whiny or irrelevant, it has been one of the more difficult periods of work. It isn’t over yet – I still have Friday to get through but the end is in sight – not least with my longer (well, a week or so) holiday now shifting into sight. One more week of work left before I go.. . . .

On that basis, I thought to share a few links of things that have caught my attention but haven’t quite been able to form coherently into full posts!

I was amused by the Daily Mail story about a weight-loss initiative being piloted in Essex where there is an offer of a £1 shopping voucher for every pound of weight lost. I find the idea vaguely appealing – I wonder if you could put on weight just to earn money by losing it.. I expect not.

Yesterday, the BBC reported that

People living alone in middle-age had twice the risk of dementia than those who were living with a partner.

But widows and widowers had three times the risk of dementia.

It seems that the study, in Finland related to a particular gene type as well. I expect it is about general life patterns, events and social interactions.

In a related story, Time Magazine confirms that for older people (and younger too, I presume) wider social circles and more friends could guard against cognitive decline. I haven’t read Time for a while, but I was amazed at the patronising tone of the article which concludes

if you visit with Grandma more often and let her know that a regular pastime may just help her stay fitter and sharper longer

So thanks, Time, for one more reason to visit Grandma!

Community Care reports that the Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery wants to encourage more mental health nurses to take up the AMHP role and have been disappointed by the low take up.

Interesting that the commission is headed by a junior minister and has it’s own website to take comments and ideas as well as share information. Compare and contrast with the Social Work Taskforce which was set up under political pressure by a minister who hasn’t a jot of interest in any of the issues facing social work and has relied on over-subscribed ‘meetings’ to get the views of social workers although the time and space limited nature of their ‘information gathering workshops’ meant that only those who were able to sign up with days  could even get to attend these ‘meetings’ – no, I’m not bitter.. well, ok, maybe just a wee bit.

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And on that note, a very happy Friday – after all, it’s nearly the weekend..