Blame the Poor – A Riot Rhetoric

I apologise for keeping on one track in my posts this week but I am preoccupied by events of the last week. I’m not the same person I was a week ago. Some of the pillars that I held on both tangible and intangible have gone now, never to be replaced.

There is so much I’m angry about. I’m angry that our ‘so-called’ leaders were all absent and seemed happy to let Tottenham burn, only coming home when the violence spread.

Tottenham, the patter and media seem to imply is a ‘place like that’. It’s not like Ealing or Clapham or Croydon.

There is a lot of ugly rhetoric that has been stoked by the government too. The blame is afforded to poor parenting, poverty, gangs – all, of course, present in places like Tottenham and making easy armchair sociologists of us all – myself included.

The truth is far more complex though as the cases coming through the Magistrates’ Courts testify. It was obvious from Saturday that the situation was exacerbated by opportunism.

Police ‘engaged’ in one area left other areas open to be looted pretty much at will. This ‘model’ spread around London and around the country.

Is it a coincidence that the increase in policing came when the ‘leaders’ returned? I doubt it.

As for those following the story, the Guardian are updating lists of those cases brought up to the Magistrates’ Court. It will make for interesting reading but for me, for the moment, it’s all a bit raw.

The push towards taking away council housing and ‘benefits’ from people found guilty of looting or rioting is ignorant beyond belief in my very humble opinion.

Housing isn’t a treat to be dangled in front of ‘poor people’.

It is actually a basic right so is the ability to live in a dignified manner.

And what about those ‘rioters’ who live in private housing? Or is there an assumption that it must have been ‘poor people’ in ‘council estates’ who caused the trouble.

It is easy to paint broad brushes and make easy judgements – so long as they are judgements made by ‘other people’.

Our minds need to simplify often complicated issues but there’s a danger in jumping to conclusions that can be wholly damaging. My concern is that that’s exactly what the government have and are doing.

London – Some thoughts and hopes

I didn’t sleep  much last night. Or the night before. Or the night before that. My city is burning. There is a tangible fear in the air. I’m not above it because I feel it and I see it.

I don’t want to listen to politicians being parachuted in (when they finally arrive back in the country) to talk about mindless violence and talking to ‘community leaders’.  ‘Community leaders’ who are self-appointed and seem to want to polarise and divide rather than come together and heal.

Don’t speak to community leaders, come and speak to me. Come and speak to people like me who just want to find ways for sense and our voice to be heard. I’m just as much a part of this community as ‘church leaders’. Why are they credited with greater access to the ‘influential’.

I want people who live here and love this city to find ways to heal her and pull her together. I don’t want the same ‘community leaders’ speaking to the same ‘politicians’ trying to build up their own special interests and agendas.

I want to shout and scream and rage at all those who seem hell-bent on destruction but this is a symptom not a cause.

This is and never was about race. This is about age and belonging. How can you care for a society when society cares nothing for you?

This is a disaffected youth who are devoid of a moral compass because our society values goods and monetary worth over basic humanity. This is what has been learnt. The ‘establishment’ doesn’t work for you but against you. You take what you can.

Perhaps though, these awful scenes and desperate situations will provide an opportunity to build a better society for everyone and to reach out to disaffected youth and marginalised people.

Maybe, this will be the way to build a real, true community and to build a better London.

I love this city. I was born here. It’s my home. It has its rough and smooth.  But it is a good place and it is filled with good people. There are enough of us here to force a triumph for the good.

Eligibility, Birmingham and Cuts

Birmingham was the first English town without ...

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While awaiting the details of the court judgement, there was an important ruling yesterday that Birmingham Council’s attempt to limit eligibility to social care services to those who have ‘critical’ care needs is unlawful.

Drawing out some of the definitions to what this actually means and could mean requires a look at the details of those who brought the case to court.

There were four defendents which the BBC explains include

a 65-year-old woman with severe learning difficulties who receives 24-hour care in a home paid for by the council

25-year-old man with a rare genetic disorder and severe learning disabilities who receives overnight respite care, also funded by the council

30-year-old deaf, autistic man with severe learning disabilities who is prone to self-harm. His specialist day care would also have gone under the plans

and

a 36-year-old woman with severe learning difficulties whose day care centre will close and who is also set to lose respite care

It’s useful to go back to the definitions of what ‘critical’ and ‘substantial’ needs are to understand fully the implications of councils moving the eligibility criteria from one stage to the next.

Critical needs exist where –

• life is, or will be, threatened; and/or
• significant health problems have developed or will develop; and/or
• there is, or will be, little or no choice and control over vital aspects of the immediate environment; and/or
• serious abuse or neglect has occurred or will occur; and/or
• there is, or will be, an inability to carry out vital personal care or domestic routines; and/or
• vital involvement in work, education or learning cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
• vital social support systems and relationships cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
• vital family and other social roles and responsibilities cannot or will not be undertaken

Whereas Substantial needs (those that Birmingham are stating they are no longer able to meet) exist where –

• there is, or will be, only partial choice and control over the immediate environment; and/or
• abuse or neglect has occurred or will occur; and/or
• there is, or will be, an inability to carry out the majority of personal care or domestic routines;
and/or
• involvement in many aspects of work, education or learning cannot or will not be sustained;
and/or
• the majority of social support systems and relationships cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
• the majority of family and other social roles and responsibilities cannot or will not be undertaken

A couple of things to be noted here. A differentiation is made between ‘abuse’ and ‘serious abuse’ so that one will be covered and the other won’t. What kind of ‘legal’ test would there be to determine when abuse counts as ‘serious’ or not? Can we see children in similar cirumstances being subject to a differentiation of level of care available depending on whether abuse is ‘serious’ or ‘not serious’? And who is doing the judging? Well, I can answer that last question. It is the social worker involved as I am asked as a matter of course to ‘band’ people according to these criteria.

The obvious glaring point is the lack of thought of any kind of preventative work that sticking so closely to the criteria will create. Where is the hope of creating those very creative personal budgets when only the very bare minimum of essential needs are being met.

I can’t claim anything other than relief that Birmingham case was challenged in court. These criteria and these levels of need look at people as lists of what they cannot do. That goes against everything that we know and the ways in which we practice by looking at strengths and looking at people as individuals. However, the reason the criteria were brought in in the first place was to end some of the ‘postcode lottery’ of care provisions and to bring consistency to who was offered what nationally. Of course, the problem remained that interpretations of these criteria vary so the consistency which is objected by ticking boxes (the only way the officials seem to know to apply it) depends, as mentioned previously on the social worker who is doing the ‘judging’.

Back to this case though, it was brought under the Disability Discrimination Act and hopefully the judgement will be available soon. Hopefully too, local authorities around the country will be leafing through it and realising that the wholesale and slapdash cuts that they are imposing are not legal.

As for the government of millionaires, none of them will be reliant on social care support from the council. They can buy in any support that they might potentially need and cannot understand the distress of those who are totally reliant on the availability of services.  They cannot understand the implication of their gung-ho ideological cuts and the thought of Cameron, Clegg and Osborne claiming ‘We’re all in this together’ sticks painfully in the throat.

Although I fully expect Birmingham to challenge this ruling, I hope that the case is held and that some of the trigger happy cutting is stopped and the very real effect of the cuts agenda is shouted out more loudly and more clearly – not just for those of us who are personally losing services but to raise our voices with those who cannot always shout so loudly.

That is what social justice is about and that is what social working is about.

The REAL College of Social Work – Part Infinity

BASW and SCIE may be planning to merge to form BASWCOSWSCIESWBOFEETOFIIB.

(British Association of Social Workers College of Social Work Social Care Institute of Excellence Social Work College But Only For England Even Though Our First Initial Is British)

Trips off the tongue.

Having a Scottish parent though, makes me feel marginalised by this new college, much though I approve of the name – so in the spirit of yesterday’s fiery post, I’ve decided to set up my own College.

It will be called the College of People  With Social Work Qualifications and Those Who Are Studying Social Work.  CPWSWQATWASSW.

Good thing I grabbed the domain name  quickly and have been sitting on it for two years, biding my time.

My proposals are:-

To create a job for myself so I can move away from front line practice

To create jobs for my friends so they don’t have to actually do anything that involves social work but we can talk infinitely about what’s best for the profession.

To produce an online magazine because print is so last millennium.

To promote links with social work organisations internationally – cough cough, free trips to the Caribbean to ‘investigate’ how services work there, please.

Membership will be open to anyone who wants to join.

To set up a new set of capacibilities that will be expected of all social workers –

– these will include

– being able to type at least 40 wpm

– advocacy skills when working with oppressive  management regimes

–   Being able to work with Housing departments without raising your voice.

– Ensuring chocolate and biscuit supplies are constantly replenished in your place of work

– The importance of washing your own mug not using your colleague’s  special kitten mug because that makes her really angry – especially if you don’t wash it up.

– Not hiding paperwork in drawers to make your desk (if you have one) look tidier.

– Never being more than one hour late for pre-arranged visits.

There will be a consultation period of one week.

Membership will be free today only but after today will rise to £10,000 per annum to pay for my living costs and trips to the Caribbean.  As I don’t believe in paypal and secure transactions are overrated you can just leave your bank details in the comments below and I’ll be in touch.

Special concessionary rate for international members if they live somewhere I want to go on holiday to and can put me up free of charge for at least a week.

Irresistable, I know.

Munro’s Interim Report on Child Protection – some thoughts

Professor Munro published an  Interim Report on Child Protection – subtitled ‘A Child’s Journey’  yesterday with some ideas, thoughts and (most importantly) hard research evidence about changes that need to be made in the child protection system and particularly in the way child protection social work operates.

As will be enormously apparent to anyone who passes by here, I have no experience at all in working in child protection services so I don’t want to comment on some of the details which relate to things that I don’t have any idea about (like ICS – their computer systems).

There are a number of points though that came to me as I read through the interim report. This is, though, from the viewpoint of someone who is very much a non-expert so do take my comments with the proverbial pinch of salt.

Nothing came as a great surprise to me. I have often felt, through conversations with colleagues and friends as well as my experience as a foster carer, that some of the child protection departments sound plain toxic in terms of management styles and healthy workplaces.

Everyone is under pressure to hit targets. I have worked in that style of team myself where you really do feel like an automaton just pumping out work of varying quality to meet targets, targets and more targets at the expense of quality interactions and interventions – or as Munro puts it more simply – help.

It does seem (and this is wholly anecdotal evidence) more prevalent in child protection teams due to the pace of the work and statutory time frames in which to work.

The report itself makes interesting reading – but I fully accept that my definition of interesting might not be a standard normative base.

It is however eminently readable which isn’t always the case with these reports and documents.

There are four chapters after the introduction.

1.  Getting Help Early

This has focus on – as it says – early interventions. I do like her use of the word ‘help’ for families rather than ‘intervention’. It reminds me how distant some of the jargon becomes and how words themselves can frame ways of working and attitudes.

She mentions the planned expansion of the health visiting role and the importance of Sure Start programmes (which the government seem to be cutting).

It’s interesting as well that she focuses on the importance of universal services to ‘catch’ children and families that may otherwise fall ‘below the radar’ – or, as she puts it – meet the threshold for statutory intervention.

She also praises and seems to support the idea of multi-agency teams. For me it’s obvious having worked in a social services team and then moving into an multi-disciplinary team. Working alongside people with different professional backgrounds and specialities is both a pleasure and a very sharp learning curve. There is nothing like meeting, working and talking to people across different services and professions to build relationships informally – going for lunch together, having a cup of coffee and casual chat – to build strong professional relationships. It can’t necessarily be forced but one thing that happens where I work is that if some kind of ‘blockage’ builds up with a particular team – we then go and shadow them and/or they come and shadow us.

There is nothing like knowing the faces behind the telephone voices for promoting better joint-working.

2. Child and Family Social Work

This is a big one. It found it fascinating to read because on some levels I understood but on other levels I was having some kind of insight into an almost parallel world.

Munro ties in very tightly with the recommendations of the Social Work Task Force to improve social work practice throughout the country.

It seems she has worked closely with members of the prospective College of Social Work (the SCIE one – sigh – that is getting boring having to differentiate). I wonder if that’s why BASW have been so quiet about the report.

Munro tries to focus on the expertise that social workers bring to child protection work and particularly to the nature of the relationships that they build and how that is and can be affected by some of the borked systems that are in place – it is what she calls a ‘rational-technical’ approach to social work.  This is a term for the manageralist leaning of social work practice dependent on procedural manuals and completing reams of paperwork at the expense of the face-to-face work with children and families.

Paperwork can be faultless but does that mean practice is any better? Recording of course, is important but as she says it is often the actions that are recorded rather than the thinking and reasoning.

It’s a fair point and there may be other places to record the processes behind decisions being made. The importance is that THERE IS thinking behind the decisions and reasoning and that it does not become process-led or defensive.

There are some thought-provoking paragraphs about the importance of intuition and expertise in communication – evidenced throughout – as one would expect of a professor with a research base.

I’m glad that Munro mentions time and managers giving staff the time to develop their skills and practice. I wonder how this will be possible in a world of contracting and contracting out local authority roles and functions.

But this is a report which recommends an idealised version of practice.

Munro also considers the career path of social work which currently heads straight from front line work to front line management to senior management. There are no ‘professional experts’ within teams and few, if any, promotion or development prospects if you do not want to be a manager. That’s somewhere I’ve arrived myself actually. I’m quite happy to be a practitioner and have developed in the sense that I’m a Practice Assessor, and AMHP and a BIA but that’s probably as far as I can go without a managerial role that would take me away from front line practice. And I have over 30 years to go until I retire. If I ever retire.

I’ve pretty much exhausted available post-qualification training that is open to me at the level which I am at.

Actually, that’s quite depressing when I think about it. I’d love to study more. I sit with my nursing colleagues who are working on research projects, my occupational therapist colleague is also currently engaging in research, medical colleagues are conducting their own research. Why can’t I, as a social worker, take that path (while practising – I don’t WANT to leave the front line to do research work full time)? I can’t because the local authority have no training budget and I can’t afford to fund myself.

I hope that’s something that is picked up on. I would love to be an ‘expert practitioner’ type! Oops, got off the topic a little there.

3. Managing Front Line Social Work

Munro starts this chapter with a great line that I’ll paraphrase by saying that social workers have spent so much time on guidelines and regulations and concentrating on good reports from Ofsted that they have lost sight of the needs of the child in the process.

The bureaucratic monster is proverbially eating itself and forgetting who it is meant to serve.

Munro highlights a blame culture that seems to permeate the sector. It is hard not to feel that when you have ministers like Ed Balls showing so little support to the profession. But that was yesterday (I’m  not going to forget that, Balls).

The front-line manager often creates the culture of the organisation to their staff. This is crucial and managers need to be very good at managing and not just experienced professionals who have reached ‘their turn’ at promotion. Perhaps poor management is a reflection on the levels of progression for social workers. People might feel pressured into managing when it isn’t what they want because that is solely where the career progression lies.

Colleagues of mine often comment about me not being a manager or a senior practitioner because of the amount of time I’ve been hanging around in the service. It is rarely positive comment – something along the lines of ‘oh, you’re still in that job’. It doesn’t bother me because I have an idea of what I want to do but I can see it would play on the mind of others.

Munro also mentions the process of supervision and how it  has become a task based run down of management issues. I’m very lucky to have professional and management supervision separately.

I meet with a senior social worker in a different team and we discuss my professional development and issues away from my office. She knows my managers and colleagues but mostly just by name and it allows for some distance ‘from the ground’ and discussions about issues in social work, use of theories – it is something more like the supervision I might do for a student than the type of supervision I tended to get prior to this as a practitioner.

My manager still supervises me for case discussions and to see where I’m up to and I would go to her for advice about managing cases but being able to talk about the wider issues of social work in a different setting has been a real breath of fresh air in my practice and my enthusiasm for the job and the profession. I can’t speak highly enough of the split and I hope it is something that is promoting throughout the sector. It does take time though and partly works so well because I get along with my supervisor (which is completely random – I had never met her before she was ‘allocated’ to me). She tells me she gets as much from it as I do.

I completely understand that I am somewhat unique in that I have these two supervisors. It dates back to a particular incident where I kicked up a bit stink that went to senior management and demanded more professional support. It was conceded but it was hard fought and it is far from standard in my organisation.

4. Shared learning and accountability.

I’m not going to comment much on this because it refers to details which really are out of my sphere of knowledge.

Munro considers the role of Local Safeguarding Childrens’ Boards and the learning from Serious Case Reviews.

This is also where she considers unannounced inspections of services as opposed to planned inspections which take significant amounts of resources to prepare for.

All I will say here is that unannounced inspections are always the best way of getting a good idea and understanding of practice in any area. I’m a big fan of unannounced inspections in adult social care, care homes, hospitals and social services departments.

My old manager used to randomly patrol the office and pick out random files from the old filing system and take them to her office to read though to check on case recording quality and that paperwork was where it should be. It meant we were much more attentive and careful on a continuous basis.

This is a very slanted and somewhat haphazard almost stream of consciousness piece about my response to Munro so I apologise in advance for that. Busy week at work!

I feel the recommendations are positive but I do worry that the whole narrative of change in the social work profession is being led solely by child protection social work.

I am concerned that, for example, if there is a proposed Chief Social Worker, they will completely forget that there are other areas of social work that exist and again, just as in the training and throughout my career,  the protection of vulnerable adults and the needs of older adults will be pushed into the periphery by the more headline-grabbing needs of child protection.

For the moment though, I hope it becomes an opportunity to improve social work practice across all sectors.

(Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the Mental Capacity Act tomorrow – I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to comment on this review!)