Working the Media

Community Care are running a campaign ‘Stand up Now for Social Work’ which aims to highlight both the good and the bad in reporting of social work. It’s a fascinating campaign and a positive one and also, as we can see by recent news stories, one that is desperately needed.

Indeed, the magazine which is a mainstay for UK social workers, has set up a blog specifically to cover the campaign and media issues as they relate to social work called The Monitor.

image ernst moeksis @ flickr

A couple of posts there have caught my eye specifically over the past couple of days. Firstly a piece about social workers not being so wary of journalists and the importance cross-pollination of positive news stories relating to social work and social care as well as a need for a more realistic knowledge of social work by some sections of the media.

Perhaps it is easy to put the barriers up when you see some of the coverage that exists and some of the generalised hatred that seems to exist for the social work profession as a whole. I wonder if it is something that is relatively unique to Britain and the red-tops/Daily Mail style of reporting that seems to find anything connected to government somehow evil and controlling and fails to appreciate some of the actual day to day work that happens.

I have no wish to be ‘appreciated’ to be honest. Of course, on an individual level it is rather nice but as a profession it is wholly unrealistic.

As for speaking to journalists, apart from contractual restrictions, it is as much as matter of time!

Another post from the blog titled ‘Ten reasons why Social Workers must speak to the media’ provides exactly that.

Rather than re-listing all the points, I’d recommend reading the post as it provides some pertinent posts that almost made me want to go out and collar a journalist or two.

Until I considered that the new forms of the media are allowing us.. and me.. to have a distinct voice without the need for a conduit. I won’t have the readership of the Times or Telegraph but I do have the ownership.

Community Care reports that Behan, the ‘government’s social care chief’ (really? I’d never heard of him.. I didn’t know the government had one!) has called for

directors and social workers to stand up for themselves and stop “playing victims” in the face of public criticism.

and he goes on to say

“How much have you been doing to get stories into the Guardian and Community Care on adult care?” he asked delegates yesterday at the Association of Directors of Adult’s Social Services spring seminar .

But I humbly suggest  he’s got things wrong. We don’t really need to target The Guardian and Community Care because those news sources are naturally sympathetic. We should be focussing on the Mail, the Sun and television news and drama as well.

Not least, now we are living in an age where anyone can publish a blog, record a podcast and build an audience, albeit a small, niche audience. It might not change the world today, but it’s the way we are moving and social work needs to embrace more fully the possibilities of web-publishing, social networking and moving away from a mainstream media if the mainstream media shows little interest.

The stories are there – we just need to promote them and through it a greater understanding what what ‘social work’ actually is and does.

The cost of vacancies

Community Care published some research they carried out yesterday which found that there is a 10.9% vacancy rate for social workers in England – rising to 18.6% vacancy rate in London.

They also publish a breakdown of individual councils – at least those that responded.  Of course I checked up on my own local authority and while it provided interesting thoughts, it would be quite easy to pick up on so I’ll pass on that one for the moment – except to say that it pretty much keeps up with the general average.

One of the more interesting statistics though that came out of the study is that the vacancy rate for adult social work posts is just about the same as that for children’s social work posts.

image theogeo at Flickr

Although it doesn’t surprise me on an anecdotal level, I’m almost surprised anyone sees fit to notice.  While social work remains a profession committed to work with some of the more disenfranchised sections of society at least children can pull on more emotive heartstrings than some of the users of adult services.

Of course, tragedy and failings should not, alone, inform policy and practice – although learning from mistakes is a key – but it does and a picture of a child will create much more national outrage than a photo of an older person who has been subject to no less horrific levels of abuse.

As is pointed out in Community Care

The similar vacancy rates for adults and children’s social workers follows massive investment in the children’s workforce that has not been replicated in adult care.

This particular story has immediate resonance for me currently. Our team is short of a couple of social workers. It has been short of a couple of social workers (as well as an OT and a nurse) for many months.

The real effect of this is that the workloads increase at an almost dangerous rate. Having had this conversation with a manager yesterday, the reasons for non-recruitment are not related to lack of resources, but rather to lack of suitable applicants.

This is perhaps another argument in itself. The department don’t feel that that can appoint someone who does not have experience because the level of work is currently operating at a high rate and they would rather have someone ‘slot in’ but – had they gone for someone who had little experience but a lot of potential, well, 6 months ago, that person would potentially be easily competent in the period that it might have taken to employ someone with more experience.

It is frustrating beyond belief at the moment. It seems like a very short-sighted and management-led way to problem-solve because there is no appreciation of the ground level work that needs to be done to maintain a safe level of practicing.

It reaches a stage where people are not able to take on new pieces of work or accept allocations and that is where we are beginning to feel the tension. Each time a worker tries to explain why we are not able to accept any more work, that is another individual, another family, who may be in desperate need of contact who are being left to wait.

Hopefully, the survey will promote some more attention onto vacancies across the sector and somehow the local authorities will actually see the need to take some kind of action.  In fact, that is a point that is well made in The Social Work Blog which states

If councils really want to solve their recruitment problems, providing suitable placements for students or rethinking their approach to extra training for recent graduates. The current, defensive but understandable, stance of wanting to recruit only experienced staff requires a radical rethink because that supply is simply not there at present.

This is exactly the scenario we are seeing played out on a ground level.

Something does have to change but I have to say, I’m not holding my breath.

Gift ideas for Social Workers

Last week, Community Care printed an article which provided some gift ideas for the Social Worker in your Life.

A good article with some interesting ideas. But I thought I’d add one or two ideas of my own – of course, it might be too late for Christmas this year but you know, you can never receive.. I mean give.. too many presents!

image miszpinay at flickr

How about a nice button badge? Fried Social Worker Store has some interesting designs – I love Social Work – that says it loud and clear. Or a nice bag with the slogan ‘Social Workers sow seeds of healing in the lives of others’. I wonder if that would go down well if I take it with me to work or even use it in my leisure time..

And for the child in your life – how about a t-shirt with the loving slogan ‘My Mommy is a Social Worker’ I  hate to be cynical – but would you let your child go to school wearing that? I mean, it’s not that I’m not proud but I can’t imagine it would necessarily go down well.. (there is a daddy version too, of course).

But you know, what I’m getting for the man in my life – oh no, I just saw that it is unavailable in the UK – darn, the US really does get all the best things.

A Burger King body spray with

“the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat”.

Maybe I’ll try and source some for next year – life just isn’t fair.

Ageism and Justice

Community Care reports on a proposal by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to recommend more severe sentences to those who commit crimes against older people

The policy is the last to be published on six “equality strands” and brings victimisation due to ageism in line with crimes driven by racism, homophobia, religious hate, disability hate and domestic violence.

coach Royal Courts of Justice

To be honest, before severe sentences are considered, I’d like to see the CPS take more action about taking seriously crimes reported by elderly people so that -any- sentence is considered.

I can personally run through many examples of protective conferences and planning meetings I’ve been party to that have whimpered to unsatisfactory endings because witnesses/victims were deemed to be unreliable witnesses in a court setting or not able to testify in a court – situations where I honestly think video-links would have been extremely helpful.

The policies currently have no teeth and as a victim’s daughter told me just earlier this week ‘why should it be that it’s my mother that has to move away from her home because of my brother’s actions?’.

No answer – but the CPS won’t take any action because of the unreliability of evidence, an injunction requires a similar level of proof and we need to ensure safety as best we can and unfortunately that means a move of someone who would in any other circumstance, be able to stay in her own home.

These are the things that constantly frustrate working in adult protection. The mechanisms just don’t exist to put into place and sturdy protective actions if the witnesses are never deemed to be reliable due to cognitive impairments. While allowances can be made for young witnesses, they rarely are for older ones.

This article explains

The policy also describes how older people who are acting as witnesses can be subject to “special measures” such as being able to give evidence by video link. Older victims will also be offered specialist advocacy services.

Seems well overdue but I’ll try not to be ungracious about it and merely add the sooner the better..

Action on Elder Abuse responded to this by adding

“There is a growing body of evidence indicating the extent and complexity of elder abuse, and the argument is becoming increasingly compelling for there to be equal parity with child protection and domestic violence strategies.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself..