A Socialist View of Social Work (around 1964)

The attached was produced by the Social Workers’ Group of the Socialist Medical Association around 1964.

Interesting how the same issues recur, and despite huge contextual changes, how the essence of social work can be tracked from Clement Attlee’s vision through this to what LSWG has to say now. Click here for the link to the PDF of the article Socialist MA on Social Work

 

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Staying close needed now: blog by LSWG member Stephanie Gee

 

 

Children in Care Should Be Allowed to ‘Stay Put’ Instead of Being Evicted at 18

by Stephanie Gee

When Daniel* was 17, he was told he had to prepare to leave the children’s home he had lived in since he was 11. He had no support from his family and little from his friends, yet he was told that in a few months time he would essentially be evicted and forced to live alone.

“I was worried about the loneliness; I was used to staff around me 24/7,” he says, adding that in desperation he even went to visit his mother, who had not been able to look after him growing up, to see if she had a spare room — “as if she was capable of giving me anything”.

In the UK, young people in residential children’s homes have to leave when they reach 18, whether they are ready or not. This can be extremely distressing to vulnerable teenagers and can permanently damage their future prospects.
It is also inconsistent: since 2014, children in foster care have been allowed to ‘stay put’ until they are 21.

On the day he left his children’s home, Daniel refused to move into his new accommodation. Instead, he went to stay on the sofa of another young person who he knew from care. He was destabilised by the move. He lost his college placement and spent his savings on drugs and alcohol. Prior to leaving the children’s home, he had not got drunk or high for more than two years. “I’d have given anything to stay [in care],” he says, “things are better now, but I’d have given anything to go back.”

There is a growing campaign emerging to extend the right to ‘stay put’ to young people who want to remain in children’s homes for an extra three years. A small proviso in the Labour party manifesto would have made this a reality, had Jeremy Corbyn won the election in June. But since the vote, children’s social care has been buried amid political turmoil. When children’s policies do make headlines, it is simple things like free childcare and school meals that capture the public imagination.

The Tory two-year agenda, outlined in the queen’s speech, signals no changes to children’s social care – despite the fact that local services are reaching crisis point.

There are many reasons why change is required. Children who live in residential care are some of the most vulnerable in society. They may have suffered incredible trauma and abuse. The Children’s Commissioner recently referred to them as ‘pinball kids’ because so many have moved from foster placement to placement before ending up in a children’s home because families cannot cope with their complex needs.

Maintaining their residential placements, even with 24-hour specialist therapeutic support, can be a challenge. However, at 18 they are expected to move into their own accommodation and survive. Leaving care can lead to loneliness and isolation. This is exacerbated by inappropriate housing, poor support, poor social and emotional development and poor practical skills.

Laura* had lived in a ‘therapeutic residential children’s home’ where there was a counsellor on hand to provide emotional and behavioural support. “I was a total pain to the staff, but they didn’t give up,” she says. “My therapist kept on trying to help me no matter what I said – I said some awful things to her. It was starting to sink in, I was even in full time school.”

But she says the withdrawal of this support at 18 destroyed her. “When I left it fell apart. I think I went nuts. I couldn’t look after myself. I didn’t want to look after myself.”

Research shows that care leavers are more vulnerable to offending behaviour. In England and Wales, looked after teenagers are nearly 20 times more likely to be criminalised than their non-looked after counterparts. Children who have been in care are disproportionally represented in the prison population, in the mental health system and within homelessness statistics. In February, the BBC published an article stating that young people who have grown up in care are far more likely to die in early adulthood than other young people.

For young people to succeed when leaving care, they need longer to prepare and more support. At the moment, children’s homes are having to focus on independent living skills in preparation for a stark transition out of care, when the focus should still be on achieving some emotional and behavioural stability.

The number of children coming into care is increasing year on year, which means those leaving care is also increasing. ‘Staying put’ would provide support in a familiar environment, supported by familiar staff at a time when young people are coping with many other challenges in their lives, whether that is finding employment or starting college or university.

We need policies that work and provide the right support options for young people. The chance to remain in their placement until they are ready, should be one of those options. We need to continue to apply pressure, to keep this on the agenda, and seek the support of MP’s across all parties until we get leaving care right for young people. Extending ‘staying put’ is part of the solution.

“I’ve got more problems than most people, sometimes I can’t even think straight, yet I felt I was left to it at 18,” Laura says. “I was not this perfect kid in care but I feel like I am much worse now. I was on track… I felt like I could have got better quicker if I could have stayed longer.”

If you want to help, please contact your MP. Also, sign the petition here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/equality-of-leaving-age-for-all-children-in-care

*names have been changed

 

SAVE THIS DATE LONDON LSWG MEETING 7 NOVEMBER 2017

Message to all Labour Social Work Group members and supporters

We had to cancel the National Meeting of the group arranged for May and to be hosted by Emma Lewell-Buck MP because of the election.
We now have a date for after the Party Conference season.
4pm  Tues  7 Nov, Grimmond Room, Portcullis House Westminster
BROAD TOPIC for discussion with parliamentarians
Social Work in times of Austerity     
This is an early notice, so you can save the date. and to let you know the group is still active and will be contacting Labour shadow team members whose brief links them into  social work issues across age and needs groups.
More details to follow, but any thoughts welcome and it would be good to know if, barring ‘stuff happening’ nearer the time, you may plan to come.

Letter on cuts from LSWG member Helen Wood to local press

This letter from a LSWG member who is standing as Labour candidate expresses what many members must feel when their councillors are forced (as with many Labour councillors) to cut essential services, or willingly collude with govt prevailing view: ‘public bad, private good’.

A visit to a Desborough Town Council meeting recently set me thinking about driving. Desborough’s local tax has been increased by the Conservative controlled town council from £19.10 to £95.26 (Band d property over 2 years). In doing so they have jumped into a vehicle which they now appear to be struggling to control.

To some Northamptonshire County Councillors, presiding over an impossible deficit,  the plan to free themselves of direct control of all services must seem quite appealing. Potholes don’t fill themselves. Indeed even the recent attempt by government to push through legislation ‘freeing up’ local authorities from their Child Protection duties, unleashing the potential to ‘innovate’, must have seemed like a good idea to some.  Mercifully,  at the last minute,   government couldn’t agree with itself about that.

I would suggest that such tendencies in our elected representatives, especially in Northamptonshire’s case, are more akin to freeing up the steering wheel and depressing the accelerator. An eccentric minority may think it productive,  but it is incompatible with care of the vulnerable and maintenance of our infrastructure.

When external auditors express almost unheard of criticisms of the County’s finances, and ordinary Desborough residents resort to videoing town council meetings, we have surely to consider that the drivers have lost control.

Now I have every human sympathy with anyone doing a difficult job, but no-one forced these Tories to jump into this vehicle, and it is still going.

As it careers towards goodness knows what, only the electorate can stop it.

Helen Wood

Labour Candidate for Desborough and Surrounding Villages, Northamptonshire County Council Elections, 2017

 

The privilege of being a social worker (blog by ‘Ermintrude’)

 

April  15, 2017 blog

The Privilege of Social Work

It’s easy to find problems, anxieties and stresses on a day to day basis. We often joke that social workers have a particular outlook that encourages a degree of grumpiness and that’s not so difficult to understand. Often we do work with people who have been ignored and marginalised by society with resources that are being cut and in large scale organisations that can often frustrate our professional judgements. The feeling of working in a sausage factory when you want to be a creative — co-producing innovative care plans but stuck in a model which favours top down implementations can be frustrating and can sap one’s soul.

It is in this environment that is best remembered, reminding ourselves if noone else is there to do it, of the privilege that it is to work in this field. If we begin to stop thinking and remembering the privileges we have — not on a day to day basis, everyone has good days and bad days and we have the rights to dips in mood, but on a weekly, monthly, yearly basis, it may be time to think about moving out or moving on.

I have twice ‘stepped out’ of social work since qualifying. Once was just after one year of practice as a locum social work. I went to work in a completely different field for two years. There were various circumstances around this which weren’t related to me not wanting to do social work but it had been a tough initiation. This was back in 2000 before AYSE or NQSW programmes or protected caseloads or anything like that. I went straight into an older people’s care management job in a busy inner city London team. My caseload hovered between 35–45. In the weeks before I left, I closed or transferred 49 people and families to others. I lacked confidence after completing my qualification. And I left. It was only after leaving (and I was gone for two years), that I realised what I had left behind. It wasn’t during month one, or month five — it was more in year two actually. During those years, I came to the decision that it was absolutely what I wanted to do — or at least, I wanted to try in a different setting. One office, one environment and one organisational culture, does not define the profession.

So I returned, again as a locum — into an generic, multi-disciplinary adult social work team, again in inner city London (a different borough) and again as a locum. It was different — not least because the service manager inspired faith and confidence and she was supportive. I applied for a permanent job in the team as soon as it came up and stayed in that borough (although I moved internally into mental health) for roughly ten years. Then I stepped out again, to where I am now. I am still using my social work skills and knowledge but am not in a post which requires me to have a social work registration (although I maintain it because I feel it is a part of a professional identity which is important to me).

Moving away from a direct social work role in a local authority/mental health trust has given me space to breathe. It has also given me cause to reflect on the meaning of the role I left behind and what I miss about being a social worker. Sometimes we can’t appreciate the value of what we have until we don’t have it anymore.

So what are the privileges of social work? Well, this is just my view. I’m no expert, but it’s important to fill in the gaps yourself and consider, away from the specific job, in the specific borough, with the specific team — what the profession has given you? But these are my answers.

  1. Social work has given me a sense of professional belonging. Prior to starting my MA in social work, I had worked in residential care. I enjoyed care work. I worked with adults with learning disabilities and — not least, I had a lot of fun in the job. I liked the people I worked with, both residents and staff and I was fortunate to work for an organisation which was well-run and wanted the best for residents. I was a young graduate in London and my family and friends couldn’t always understand why I had taken a job (and worked in it for 4 years) which didn’t ‘require’ my qualifications. This didn’t bother me remotely but there was a constant expectation that was sometimes irritating. A friend of mine, who I’d worked with went on a few dates with a guy she met doing a bank shift who was applying to do a social work postgraduate course (Reader, she married him — they now have two teen kids!) who persuaded her to do the same. She then persuaded me to go for it too. I had never even understood what social workers did before that. But going from never really thinking in ‘career’ terms to having a ‘proper qualification’ was an enormous jump. The training gave me confidence and it gave me a starting point from which to build more expertise and skill in social care settings. The profession has given me an identity and introduced me to wonderful, knowledgeable social workers and most importantly service users who have been willing to share painful experiences and key expertise generously. I didn’t realise how important ‘belonging’ was until I actually felt it.
  2. Social work has given me a voice. It’s easy to complain about our lot in the face of management structures which are very top down but the professional role is explicitly laden with power. We make vital decisions about people’s lives and the things that are important to them. We need to respect this and we can only respect the power we have by respecting the position we hold. It is through being a social worker that we can be heard by courts, by other professionals and by service users. If I go to someone’s house during a visit and make what I believe to be an off-hand comment about tidiness (note, I never did — I’m not really bothered by messy!), it can instil a sense of fear in those who are responding not to me — a nice, friendly person who sometimes likes to joke (as I think!) but a representative of local authority/mental health trust Bumbleshire. If ‘a social worker’ says it, it must be important/key. We should never lose sight of the impact of our voice. Professionally, I’ve used the voice I gain to write blogs and articles, to speak to those outside the profession and to speak to students and newly qualified social workers. This is a role which requires responsibility. The power of a voice — when people listen to that voice is not something to take lightly. To those who haven’t yet utilised the full scope of the social work voice, try it. You can write, you can tweet, you can join a professional organisation and join others or create a support group within your own organisation. Collective voices are stronger than individual voices.
  3. Social work has given me power. I have written a lot about power and social work so for fear of repeating myself, I’ll say it again. Even if we don’t always feel it, we have power intrinsic to our roles as social workers. We have power in relation to people who use services is enormous. When we don’t recognise that, we do those who rely on us a disservice. If you don’t enjoy the job or feel disempowered by the organisation you work in, try another role or another setting but don’t let those who rely on you, suffer or feel the backlash of your own disillusionment. They deserve better. You deserve better.
  4. Social work has given me an understanding of the world and the society I live in. I have had the privilege of walking with people through some of the most intensively difficult, personal and private areas of their lives and being in a position to offer a range of things, from a package of care to a kind word. Yes, sometimes I’ve had to take action which has been unwelcomed — often, when I practiced as an AMHP (approved mental health professional) and was responsible for making decisions about detaining people under the Mental Health Act against their will. I was able to try, as far as I could, to make an awful, traumatic experience and experiences, as human as possible as far as I could. We have to work within organisations and sometimes I felt the decisions forced on me were not the ‘right’ ones, when I was asked, for example, to follow budget constraints regarding provision of care where I thought someone needed more than the local authority was offering. Even though this challenged me, the role enabled me to carry out the ‘will of the state’ in the kindest way possible and that was how I reassured myself. We can sometimes hate some of the actions we take and are asked to take and those who are subject to our actions certainly have the right to hate us, hate our organisations and resent us but we can always try and make every interaction kinder and more human — whatever the circumstances. That is an enormous privilege.
  5. Social work has given me broad knowledge base of parts of our world that I would never otherwise have any understanding of. I have seen the circumstances in which people live in and strive and struggle and it has given me a sense of gratitude for all that I had. I realise there is nothing noble in this. I have just seen so many people that I have developed such admiration for struggle from day to day and deal with tragedy, loss, challenge with such fortitude and dignity that I feel I owe it to those who I work with and have worked with as service users to respect and appreciate every single thing that I have and can enjoy.

Grumbling happens. Of course it does. It happens in all jobs and all roles. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have ebbs and flows of enthusiasm but amid the grumbles, we also have to step back and think of the wonder, opportunities and privilege that this job — this profession- can give us.