Riots, Poverty and Assumptions

It would be remiss of me not to mention the rioting that took place in London over the weekend. I work and live in some of the poorer areas of the city and felt, indeed, still feel desperately saddened by some of the pictures and reportage coming from Tottenham, Enfield and Brixton among other places.

I can’t begin to make sense of it. I know the initial trouble grew from anger against the police after the shooting of a local resident last Thursday.

Regardless of the details of the initial spark that lit the tinderbox of malcontent across London, my sense is that it was, for many an excuse to cause trouble.

That isn’t to say there may not be real reasons for anger against the police and against the ‘establishment’ but the way the anger was expressed through mindless violence and looting seemed to indicate that there was also a wish to express anger and rage against lots of other things as well.

The places the riot went, so went the Twitter messages, Facebook posts and groups and the less ‘keyed in’ SMS messages letting others know where to come for random violence. Where to come for looting ‘opportunities’. Where to express ‘anger’ even if sometimes it was unclear what the anger was about or to whom it should be directed. It seems harsh that the ordinary citizens of Tottenham will be the ones to bear the deepest repercussions of the violence and aggression – for whatever reasons.

This morning I was listening to the radio. I heard the host say, ironically I suspect that the people of Tottenham deserved this for not ‘parenting their children’ correctly. For allowing their children to run wild. He said, again, I think it was intended to be ironically – ‘Where were their parents? Or rather, where were their mothers as I’m sure most of them don’t know their fathers’.

Wow.

Let’s just think about the way that we perceive people who live in poverty and poor areas for a moment.

I’m no sociologist. I have though been living and working cheek by jowl with poverty. It doesn’t make me an expert and I am fortunate enough to say I don’t have a lived experience of poverty. I’ve had periods of debt problems.  I’ve had periods of difficulties.  I lived in a single parent family but I haven’t experienced poverty.

Even so, I think that poverty is not necessarily one of the flames that fuelled the protest.  I think there’s an element of wanting excitement, wanting danger, perhaps even – wanting to change the way things are in society that lead to so many and so much injustice, discrimination and pain.

The ‘order’ of things that makes some people own and other people beg. A governing class that can take fancy foreign holidays while the streets of Tottenham burn.

Then there is the looting. Wanting something for nothing. The politics or rather the sociology of envy. The kinds of programmes that fill our evenings of reality star mania that make fame and wealth so easily accessible without the commensurate effort. Without seeing something grow. Without working.

Without work. That’s another element. Can it be a sheer coincidence that the levels of joblessness around Tottenham are some of the highest in London?

Probably not.

While Cameron holidays in Tuscany and Osbourne enjoys the delights of Disneyland (or DisneyWorld or wherever he is), I genuinely wonder if they can ever understand the fears and concerns of the people of Tottenham.

We’re all in this together?

Sticks a little in the throat to say it while statements are returned to the country from exotic foreign climates.

There needs to be a real effort and a real desire to make this world and this country better.

As for those who proposed, instigated and enjoyed the riots. Those who looted and ruined local communities already hurt by poverty. I hope they are caught and punished. I’m a social liberal and my views tend to drift leftwards but I have no time whatsoever for mindless destruction.

The pictures I’ve seen have been ones of mindless destruction and people enjoying violence. That needs punishment.

As for now, we need to think about these communities. We need to care about the people of Tottenham and places like that. We need to think about the effects of the cuts programmes in areas like this and why the levels of disengagement and disaffection are so high.

We need to heal this city and this country.

No, violence should never ‘win’. Destruction and crime must be punished.

But creating a better community, society and country need to be the goal.

As for today, I’ll share a thought or two with those caught up in the violence, fear and disorder. The people who live in the communities and particularly the people of Tottenham.

I wish them healing and time to build their community back up stronger and better.

Weekly Social Work Links 24

The spectre of sickness has cast a shadow over my household this week. Fortunately I have more or less escaped the worst ravages but it’s been an interesting week work-wise and I hope to come back to some of the themes over the next week.

As for the rest of social work blog land, there has been much going on as ever.

SocialJerk has a new director who wants to make changes.

And How Not to Do Social Work meets a local council Cabinet Member for Childrens Services who demonstrates they learnt all they know about social care from the press.

Dorlee reflects on the first month of her job search.

And From Media to Social Work reflects on her first shift in a homeless project.

On another note, The New Social Worker has a fascinating article about the use of Facebook and Social Networking by Social Workers and some of the ethical considerations.

And this was an important news week in the UK for social policy and social care with the Dilnot report being published. Malcolm Payne covers the issues thoroughly on a few posts on his blog – worth reading through them.  This one focuses on carers and advocacy.  This one on the issue of quality of care which seems to have been lost amid the discussion of cost and this related post on whether we would pay insurance for care that is not top quality.

and worth looking at the comments thread here for more discussion about Dilnot and the repercussions.

Moving back across the pond, Social Worker Mom raises an absolutely crucial skill to have as a social worker – being able to tell your manager when you are ‘at capacity’.

And Social Worker in the South explains some of the ways she keeps going through the week at work.

Going Mental is counting down to her holidays..

And Diary of a Social Worker returns after a break.

Embracing Social Media and Developing Guidance for Social Work

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

I’ve been engaged in an interesting conversation on Twitter over the past couple of days about guidance being developed or potentially being developed about  use of social media for social workers and more generally people who work in social care.

Our sector seems to be dragging its feet a little in this respect – certainly in comparison to some of the more sophisticated writing and communities that exist in other professional domains.

Can you imagine, for example, a social care blogging event taking place on the same scale that a legal blogging event is taking place today?

Or a weekly twitter chat about social care and social media strategies as happens with the NHS.

Even other local government employees seem to be talking about ways of using social media in their work that seems to be unbelievable for those who work in social work and social care.

Shirley Ayres on her site, posts an interesting video about the spread of social media and the need for engagement in all channels.

I wonder how long many of my colleagues and managers are going to be left ‘out of the loop’ and continue to let the world develop and grow around them.

The reasons that I am so strongly in favour of guidelines is that the bars are being moved regarding contact, discourse and discussion constantly and with many people testing out new ways of communicating and engaging, there are certain difficulties that lie ahead for the front line practitioner.

One is the anonymity vs named issue which I covered a couple of weeks ago. A part of me (the part where pride is based, I guess) would love to write under my own name but I worry about the impact that would have both on the service users I work with on a day to day basis and I am genuinely unsure if I am breaking any kind of contractual rules with my writing and can’t afford to risk my job.

Another is sheer openness of the debate and discussion. Just as I told one of our foster children not to put anything on Facebook that she would not want everyone in her school and family to see, the same applies for me but more so. With Twitter/Blogs/Facebook, privacy settings can be tightened but security is always an issue and even behind an anonymous persona, being a prig or prejudicial or just ‘having a moan about a visit’ might come across very differently to a service user who has just had an unpleasant and forced encounter with a social worker – does a search – and sees social workers complaining about seeing the ‘druggie’ or about people with ‘too many children’. Everyone likes a moan but having a moan about having a busy day is different from having a moan about some of the more particular things you might see on a day to day basis.

Then there is the illusionary barrier that is provided by a screen-name. Anyone can be a ‘social worker’ if they say they are. Anyone can be a ‘judge’ or a ‘professor of social work’ or a ‘psychologist’ if they say they are. While I have a healthy degree of scepticism generally, I tend to take people at face value  but I add a hefty pinch of salt as the ‘internet’ and by extension ‘social media’ can be a great way to invent less than useful ‘personalities’ if you are so minded to do.

I remember when I did some research back in the day into the use of social networks for self-help groups – and this is over 10 years ago when I was initially doing my MA – and came across lots of research examples of online confabulation. As I say, a healthy pinch of salt.

I hope that the baton is picked up by the social work profession because more than media guides and focus groups and the odd press release here and there, we, at the grass roots of the profession have an real opportunity to be heard by those who are able to make changes and help them get an understanding of what is happening beyond those focus groups but we can also change the perception of the profession and the sector and while I certainly don’t see ‘social media’ as a cure-all, I do see it as yet another tool to be added to our arsenal regarding communication.

Where previously a bad experience with a particular social worker might have shaped someones’ perception of the profession forever, now we have the chance to join in the discussion on blogs, give advice and thoughts in different forums, add support and information on twitter and show that social workers can do a lot more than just become mouthpieces of their employers.

But our employers and our College (whatever form that takes) need to take up the baton and run with it so that guidance can allow for safer practice and inform and education others in the profession about the opportunities that are now open to them.

Social Media and Social Work – Part 4 Social Networks and Forums

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

In this post, I am going to look at the ways that I use and have used social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook in a professional capacity and I also want to touch on the wider uses of forums and discussion groups.

Perhaps this would have been the logical place to start the ‘series’ because when you mention ‘social media’ or ‘social networking’ the most commonly held (and used) example is Facebook.

Facebook is the most prolific site with over 500 million active users around the world. That’s a fairly mindblowing figure when you stop and think about it.

So how would I use Facebook in a work environment. The simple answer is that, in general, I don’t.  I favour Twitter over Facebook for link sharing and random work-related thoughts. Facebook identifies me by name and location. My family and friends update me on their news. I have some work colleagues or ex-work colleagues as my friends but anyone who has ‘friended’ me on facebook and reads this can testify to the dullness of my updates!

This is intentional. There are ways to close down Facebook regarding information that is accessible and it’s a good idea to do that for reasons of privacy. I might sometimes share an interesting story I find on Facebook but I’m more likely to share pictures of baby animals and other non-controversial irrelevancies. The reason for this is that generally when the people I know ‘go’ to Facebook, it is for updating/chatting to friends – it has a perfect use for students at the same universities to stay in touch throughout placements, for example – but for me, it doesn’t seem to be the best environment for sharing more controversial or immediate items. Partly because half the people from school who have ‘friended’ me on Facebook seem to have grown into Tories…

However I fully accept that I don’t explore the full potential of Facebook. The ability to set up groups both closed and open groups allows for discussions to take place.  You can’t ignore the user base of Facebook. I have, for example, set up a ‘fan page’ for this site but I am less good at actually checking and using it! Fan pages though can be used as discussions and to form more integrated communities around certain issues and debates.

You can, of course, create ‘false’ Facebook identities. I know a number of people who use maiden names or slightly different names to use Facebook just to make more of a distinction with work.

As for LinkedIn, which claims to be a more ‘business’ focussed network, I am much more sceptical.  There are claimed to be 100 million users (although ‘user’ is more of ‘people who have signed up’ than active users who keep returning).  LinkedIn is presented as a more ‘serious’ social network where you connect with contacts on a professional rather than personal level. Like Facebook, your name and place of work is identified and there are ways and means to use both open and closed discussion groups.  If you see yourself as a ‘product’ to be marketed and sold, I suspect it has more use. My personal experience is that is that most contacts that have  made with me are from predatory recruitment consultants and I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about advertising my place of work so openly.   It is open enough to be searchable from Google if you don’t lock down the privacy settings and to identify both name and place of work.  I understand that not everyone operates in the same kind of arena that I do and for most people in most spheres of life, that would pose no problem whatsoever but social work is and can be different. Sometimes the actions we take mean that being openly searchable is not necessarily ‘a good thing’. I’m open to persuasion though so if anyone can convince me that would be fine.

I have tended to prefer ‘Communities of Practice’ as a work-related discussion forum which runs on a government site and again, it attaches your name to your work location but the discussions there are much more valuable as they are more specifically related to the workplace in the UK.  It is not ‘open’ in the same way and content is not search engine linked which, to be honest, I see as a bonus.

There are ‘communities’ about many of the more specialist subjects that might come up in statutory work in particular. I’ve found it to be a useful source of information for those with much more experience and I’ve also found it to be a ‘safe’ place to ask some of the questions that might come up in practice. Some of the ‘communities’ are only open to invite, some to allcomers with an interest and it is quite easy to set up your own communities. The attachment of name and employer mitigate some of the tendency for ‘trolls‘ to emerge on some of the more open forums.

Then there are other forums of interest – namely those that are hosted and set up on their own websites. An example of this would be the ‘Carespace’  from Community Care which is a discussion forum for those interested in social care in the UK. Like any anonymous community, there is an element of mischief making among some participants who may find that anonymity allows them a freer rein and there are the alarmingly regular requests for help with essays by people who seem baffled by some of the most basic concepts but in general the good outweighs the bad.

BASW have their own ‘forum’ which is only open to members and the GSCC have their own forums for those who are registered with them. The problem with both of these is that there is a ‘higher’ bar to membership. Sometimes making things as simple as possible (create a  username – login –) make for the more vibrant and active communities or a login via Facebook and/or LinkedIn which only require a ‘one click’ to join a particular group.  I haven’t joined either the BASW nor the GSCC forums partly because I don’t like the idea of my membership number or registration number to be linked to my log in.

Some services such as Free Forums’ allow anyone to set up a free forum for themselves.

Then there are some other mailing lists that I belong to. Yahoo and Google both allow for these groups to be created and ‘posts’ can be emailed round members or visited ‘on the site’.  For those ‘old school’ users, Google has archived the old Usenet groups from the early days of ‘internet connectivity’ but they and their successors are far more accessible now! Obviously, the level of information shared can be more closely focused on what you choose to share.

The positives of social networks and forums to discuss are very clear – on one level it is the absolute bedrock of social media – discussions can take place and there is a sense of ‘democracy’ in that anyone can start and contribute to them – depending obviously on the ‘open or closed’ proviso.  There are many different platforms for the discussion and debate to take place   – in some ways too many choices, real name or pseudonym, real ‘person’ or caricature of an identity.

One of the basic fundamentals in discussions online is the veneer than allows on one level a deeper debate of issues and thoughts and the cloak of anonymity that can allow a more unfettered rein to some issues that could offend or upset. It is far easier to get ‘wound up’ about a forum post than it is to feel angry or frustrated in discussion with someone face to face. Misinterpretation can be an issue to be aware of in all communication media.

However as the ways to share information grow, we have so many more opportunities to learn and gather sources and knowledge and to share.

All that’s up to us to do is to find the appropriate channel and that’s a tough decision in itself.

If you are interested in the use of social media in social work, please look back at the other posts in this series.

Part 1 – Blogs

Part 2 – Social Bookmarking

Part 3 Twitter

Thanks. I’d welcome any input about other communities/forums that have been useful to you and how you use Facebook/LinkedIn

Facebook and Kindle

I have set up a Facebook page for the blog. It took me so long because I was trying to work out privacy settings and some such and created a ‘new persona’ in order to set the page up – but it’s there and as soon as I work out how to put a widget in the side bar, I’ll link it there.

It’s linked to my twitter account and I hope to use it mostly as a depositary of interesting links as I come across them but I can’t promise it will be wildly active (that’s why I never went into Sales!).

I also (ok, this was a bit of a vanity exercise, I admit) have the blog published on the kindle. So you know, if you really really want to and you have a kindle (which you probably won’t as the UK ones aren’t released for a couple of weeks) you can go and subscribe there!

And if anyone out there has their own blog and wants to publish it on the Kindle format – go here.

It took  me a while to find the link but I’m happy to share!

Random Round-up

As I’m still creaking back to normal, I have come across a number of articles that made me consider and ponder which I thought I’d share. It is a little hotch-potch of different things about a variety of subjects but that’s just the way my brain is working (or not!) at the moment.

There’s an interesting piece in the Los Angeles Times written by a doctor who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s a short piece with perceptive insights worth a look.

Martin Narey, the chief executive of Barnardo’s has again been saying that he believes more children should be taken into care earlier. I haven’t explored the details of his views in any great detail but it is always interesting to challenge confidently held orthodoxies once in a while.

I certainly think that providing additional support to 18 and on to 24 should be a minimum expectation for children in care .I also wonder at where the additional foster care placements are going to be coming from although it reads that Narey has more ideas about extending childrens’ homes.

The Guardian has a panel article written about perspectives in caring. It is worth reading through. It consists of six personal accounts and suggestions as to how things might be improved for carers.

It’s a well put-together piece and the conclusions are unsurprising namely that carers should be valued more in our society both financially and in relation to moral authority regarding their knowledge of the needs of the cared-for person.

I was surprised/horrified by this report from a home carer quoted in the piece

Take this example: two ladies in my care are living together. Mother and daughter both have very different needs. The mother struggles to walk as her knee joint replacement has become septic and needs removing. The daughter has learning difficulties, asthma and is morbidly obese. Easily fixed? Sadly, no. The mother also suffers with severe dementia and refuses to have any personal care or treatment. She is legally responsible for her daughter, and also prevents her from having treatment.

Social services do not have the power to make both women wards of court. We, as carers do not have the authority to even call a GP to them, unless it is an emergency. My fear is that these ladies, who are already being terribly neglected, will come to serious harm, an occurrence which will force an enquiry. Why can’t this be stopped now? Because carers are gagged. We are advised by our agency to “cover our backs” and make notes of our tasks and concerns at each visit, which we do, diligently. These records are collected once every few months and immediately archived.

For me, capacity decisions cried out from this vignette. Do the women have capacity to make these decisions? In which case, no decisions can be made on their behalf as they are capacitious but if there is a question of the lack of capacity over the issues of health management or care, then this is exactly the situation that the Mental Capacity Act should be able to clarify through the use of the Court of Protection if necessary. The carers DO have the authority to call a GP if there is a lack of capacity or understanding of the need for medical attention. I truly hope that the legal position of these women is clarified and that the carer writing realises that she does indeed have the responsibility to call a GP if she feels a GP is needed and capacity is lacking.

I hope her agency are well aware of their own legal responsibilities.

Finally, an Irish MEP, Nessa Childers claims that Facebook is a public threat to the mental health of a generation. She states that

the social networking site is an addiction that caused people to “crossed the line from social networking to social dysfunction.

It’s easy to ridicule this kind of position due to a lack of understanding or intransigence about attitudes towards ‘new’ ways of connecting or networking. Personally, I see ‘facebook’ and ‘social networking’ as a tool to use rather than a use in itself and like everything, it is how we choose to use the tools rather than the tools in themselves.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to build up a bit more consistency in the posting as I still work towards recovery! Otherwise, it’s just a bit of pot luck in the meantime!