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Laughable approach to reform…

Why do I continue to have a problem with the Frontline Social Work program? There are three reasons:

  1. People who go through the entire Social Work training are telling you they are no prepared for frontline work. Why would you then think it would be appropriate to give professionals a shortened training and send them into the field? Have you considered how they are going to be met on the ground when they get into practice? I know there is a support element but if the support is inadequate to Newly Qualified Social Workers, how would these new frontline Social Workers be any different. You’re not helping the profession!
  2. You’re not helping the profession. In this so called age of austerity the powers that be prioritise brand new costly initiatives instead of investing in improving what they already have. Reinvesting in the current Social Workers to improve their skills and make their practice more robust. Reinvest in Newly Qualified Social Workers so they are getting the support they need to be able to be strong practitioners who are able to challenge appropriately, hypothesize, gather evidence and accurately analyse the circumstances and the information they have gathered. This entire program is counterintuitive. You have an educational program that has been deemed inadequate. You have newly qualified social workers who cannot find jobs and your answer is to take professionals, run them through something like a 9 week program and then throw them into a field where the people that have taken 2-3 years to train are being told they could not go? I’m sorry. I find this completely offensive. Personally and on behalf of the profession to which I have committed myself. This is in no way a reflection on the people who would like to make the switch into Social Work. When I did my degrees there were career changers. The point is they were going through the program with me, not getting some fast track into employment. Let’s not forget the struggle we are having trying to legitimize the profession as experts on the work that we do. How does this help that fight?
  3. Social Work is meant to be a holistic profession, incorporating knowledge and techniques from a range of sources. This program isn’t training Social Workers. It is training child protection case workers, at most case managers. Stop calling them Social Workers. No offense to anyone in the program, but I’m sorry I can’t take a nine week (or however long this training is) training and call myself a scientist, or a doctor, or a lawyer. Why do people continue to disrespect our profession by trying to minimise what we do and how we do it? Then on the other hand tell us we’re not doing enough. Well, guess what? When the profession isn’t built on stable ground, and you’re not providing those coming into the profession with a realistic view of it, what they are going to encounter, or with the relevant support system to not only survive but to thrive, you’re going to have a disparate profession that looks confused and unsure of itself. And while we have individual professionals who are able to inject confidence and experience into the profession these aren’t profession wide sentiment.

I think it is commendable that people want to help but I think it is completely disrespectful to us, the profession and the people we help to think you can do our job after a few weeks of training. I think it is utterly disgraceful that the government continues to condemn Social Workers when things go wrong, but think it is absolutely ok to take a short cut in training new ones. I am sure the program will turn out some who thrive in the environment and again, this isn’t a personal jab at those who are taking this journey. It is an utter frustration with the nature of Social Work training at the moment.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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I Need a Job!!!

ImageIf only it were this easy, eh???

As we approach graduation season there are tons of posts about tips for graduates. One such blog is on Social Work Helper. What I like about this blog is that this is advice I wish someone would have given me when I graduated. It’s great general advice.

I am here with some advice on interviewing and getting a job. Many people have been working for quite a while before ever getting their degree with summer jobs, after school jobs etc. so will have some experience of the process. What I think is helpful is to offer some practical advice.

1. First and foremost, get a professional – whether a career counselor at College/University or someone from a career centre – to look at your resume. You can also google “good social work resumes/CVs” or even be more specific “resumes/CVs for counselling jobs” to see what kind of experience they are looking for. A good resource for writing a CV or resume is a library. They will have tons of books on the topic and you can chose how to format it. I would suggest (this is more applicable in the states than in the UK) to have more than one format for your resume depending on what you want to highlight.

2. Tailor your resume/CV to the job. If you have the experience the organization or company is looking for make sure it is on your CV/resume. It could be the difference between and interview and nothing. Read the job description and or person specification clearly and understand what type of worker and what type of experience they are looking for. If you have it, make sure you outline it in your duties where applicable. If you don’t and you want that particular job I would suggest taking a position just below to get the necessary experience and keeping an eye out for your dream job after 6 months to a year.

3. Preparation – get to know as much as possible about the organization and find a way to work the information into your answers to their questions. Preparation is about:

- knowing what it takes to get the job: being able to sell your skills

- know what gives you the authority to do the job: understand how you fit in to the legal structure. This is especially true for child protection, adult protection, mental health and forensic jobs

- know, in so far as is possible, how Social Workers in the organization practice. Does the organization utilize a certain type of therapy or way of working over others? Why this chosen method? Does this fit with your own values, ethics, etc?

- know why you want to practice the particular type of Social Work you are interviewing for

- know how your current skills and experience match up with the duties andbe honest where they do not, stating how you would address this if given the position

Once you get the interview:

1. Remember you are going ot be nervous and most interviewers will expect that. There is nothing wrong with taking your time to answer a question. You can ask them to repeat the question, give yourself some time to take a deep breath and formulate your answer. Don’t forget to speak slowly and clear and make sure you answer the question in it’s entirity to the best of your ability.

2. It’s good to have a professional edge. A few ways to have this edge:

- Excellent writing skills: Spelling, grammar, sentence structure – all of it matters. If you can evidence that you are able to communicate not just efficiently in writing but also expertly, this gives you an advantage. As a Social Worker you will be tasked with communicaitng with people from various backgrounds who may or may not have any experience of the Social Work profession. You will be tasked with writing various types of assessments and reports. It is vital that your writing skills are up to par but taking it a step further gives you a professional edge.

- Confidence in speech: this isn’t about knowing it all. It’s about being confident in what you do know, being able to admit what you don’t and why, and how – if given the position – you would seek to address any gaps to ensure you are providing the best possible service to your clients, no matter the setting.

- Eye contact: maintaining eye contact with the interviewers may seem a difficult task as sometimes they are writing and trying to capture your words to be able to weigh you against other candidates, however it is important that when they do look up, you are looking at them. If there are multiple interviewers, then it’s best to divide your attention. A good technique I use is to move my line of sight everytime there is a natural pause in my speaking but always look first at the person asking the question. Don’t forget there are others in the room. You will find other places that tell you to find one face and just look at that person, but that undermines your interview if someone else is addressing you.

- Have a personable manner. Being strict and stringent has it’s place in the professional world. Structure and boundaries assist us in maintaining a professional environment but you need to be mindful that interviewers are not only looking to match your skills and experience, if there is a team involved, they also have to assess how you will fit into the dynamics already established. There is nothing wrong with appropriately allowing your personality to shine through during an interview. Smiling and connecting your academic knowledge to your real world experience shows you to be human. When working with people it is important that your humanity is visible.

When chosing your area of practice:

- don’t feel that you have to stay stuck in one area for the rest of your life.

- Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and develop new skills.

- Get to know where your strengths lie and apply to jobs that will showcase these, allowing you to excel.

- Get to know yourself – are you happy to stay on the frontline forever, doing the direct practice? Or would you like to move into an expert or senior role?

- When you find your niche skill up in it – make sure you stay abreast of the latest developments, make sure you are trying new things out and documenting how they work and under what circumstances you have used them, participate in professional development forums etc.

101 Careers in Social Work (a US based book) was a great help to me in figuring out all the areas of Social Work I wanted to try and what skills these areas were looking for. It helped me to get the most out of every job I had because I had a greater understanding of the skills I wanted to develop to be able to get the job I wanted. Remember, you work for these organizations but that doesn’t mean you can’t make them work for you as well. You are a professional and you may one day want to try something else, why not develop a varied skill base to add to your professional tool kit and make yourself more marketable.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Pay it Forward

I am just back from a 10 tour around Europe. What was great about the tour group is that there were a range of ages and cultures. It was really a wonderful experience. While on holiday I encountered a young English girl with acting aspirations. She had done some acting as a child (she is now 18) and is really looking forward to doing more. She engaged myself and a couple of other group members in a conversation about developing a career and success etc. She was very open, unafraid to ask questions and was genuinely interested in any advice she could get to help her along. I found myself enjoying the interaction and I reflected on it later with regard to my contributions to the profession.

I think anyone who has had even minimal success should want to give a little back. We’ve all had helping hands coming up and I think it is important for future generations to have the same. The young woman I mentioned was really keen to see through her career aspirations. We, myself and the other tour members, we really encouraging and encouraged her to push past her doubts to really get what she wants. As professionals I think, even in a small way, we should be having these conversations with young people. Even if they are in a different profession, I think general careers advice or even knowledge from personal experience can help others. I have done some informal mentoring in the past, on a small scale, but I have found it rewarding. I think it is especially helpful in Social Work.

We graduate with very idealistic hopes and I think this could be tempered with a bit of realism without sounding cynical and negative. I think fresh minds and fresh faces need a splash of reality just so they can carve a way out for themselves. They see what others around them are doing. They have a theoretical framework from which to base their hypotheses and assessments. They can do it. I think it is a bit irresponsible not to give them a real view of the world, but at the same time we don’t want to crush their hopes of being able to facilitate positive change in the lives of those with whom they work.

Lend a hand to a young person who is serious about have a career and not just a job. If they ask tell them. Be realistic but hopeful and you give them something they can carry with them throughout their professional lives.

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Serious Case Reviews: How much are we really learning?

I went to an event where they asked this question and my response is, we are good at learning lessons. I think the reviews themselves are quite good at pointing out where there need to be improvements. Where we go wrong is what we do with this information once we have it. I am not speaking, necessarily, of the local authority where the incident happened. It appears that, when it comes to local authority services, all the learning from others is very much externalized. Executives and senior management recognize the importance of the key themes but don’t really make internal changes based on the reports from the case reviews from other authorities. Most have internal quality assurance process and case audits but it isn’t until something tragic occurs in the particular local authority that systems/processes are checked and/or reviewed for failings.

We need to learn from the mistakes of others. I think serious case reviews should prompt internal mini reviews. Take the learning from the case reviews and do a mini internal review to ensure mistakes are not being replicated locally. The review may not raise any issues about replicating mistakes. However, it may highlight issues in other areas.

The Individual

I tend to be of the opinion that if as you (as an individual worker) are committed to your work, quality assurance will be a critical part of your overall practice. Not just token quality assurance – coming from a perspective of political agendas, but from a point of doing the absolute best and delivering a high standard of services. In this way you can catch any mistakes before they become tragic events. You won’t be able to account for absolutely ever eventuality but it is inevitable that you will be able to catch a few things before they escalate. Of course, a big part of this and good practice in general is evidencing the work you’re undertaking. So, if there is ever a time when something tragic does happen, there is documentation of the actions you took to do all that you could with the information available to you as a practitioner.

The Organization

It is the responsibility of management to convey messages from serious case reviews in terms of how this will impact the way of working within the local authority and what changes are coming. This is where I believe there is a gap.

Change management programs are not managed as well as they could be from what I have seen. They all start with recognition of a need for change. It is then discussed at the executive and senior management levels (which also happens to be where the final decisions are made); and may include one or two staff consultations though I am not sure to what degree these are considered in the final decision making. Then, the change program starts. It is almost like the decision is a target holding practitioners over a dunk tank and senior management have the ball. The final decision is the ball hitting the target, dropping everyone sinking into the water.

If we look at change programs in the private sector you can see why they are successful. Two of the more popular change models are Kurt Lewin’s model and John Kotter’s model. Both models emphasize the importance of a staged change program. “Change needs to understood and managed in a way that people can cope effectively with it.[1]” Management need to ensure if they cannot get complete agreement from their staff that their staff at least understand the need for change. It is suggested to use workshops to achieve understanding, involvement in plans, measureable aims, actions and commitments. It is the responsibility of management to manage change. It is their responsibility to facilitate and enable change.

Within social care, it appears that there are lots of reflection and lots of thought, work groups etc. that get established as part of change programs. What’s missing is the lack of work to embed learning and help practitioners internalize lessons learned from serious case reviews. Without this any change management programs that need to occur will not be as effective as they could be. Embedding only works when the lessons are internalised by frontline staff; that is, they need to understand how it applies to them and the work they are doing.

One possible reason for this is the lack of space for practitioners to understand the lessons and assimilate it. They are busy trying to manage the day to day that they don’t get much time to take on new ways of working. It would help for management to give staff the same space they are afforded to think about lessons and any possible changes that could be made to assimilate the new knowledge into practice. I think there need to be designated practitioners to be part of management meetings who are tasked with taken messages back to staff in workshops where they are given space to come up with some solutions that they believe would work on the ground. They could then own the change instead of having changed imposed upon them. Involving staff will also give the message that they are valued. Allowing them to drive the change on the frontline will empower them to make changes. It will give them confidence to speak up and give them a voice so they can identify areas that need to be changed before these issues come to light in serious case reviews.

Management needs to help staff understand what is in the real m of possibility. Staff need to understand the limitations present so when they are a part of the change process they can make informed decisions. Fore warned is fore armed.

Going forward

1. I think it is crucial that managers’ institute staged change management programs with thorough plans to feedback to stakeholders to alleviate any fears about drift and avoid being pushed into quick change programs that produce token change at best.

2. Involving frontline social care staff is another part of the process that will yield longer term change. If they are involved from the start in the readiness evaluation, planning and implementation it is a change they can own; a change in which they are invested. Critical to this is that staff understand the why and the how.

3. Annual reviews of improvement and quality assurances frameworks which include frontline staff. It is important that staff understand the standards against which they are being judged. It is important for them to understand why this process is important, what it is and what it isn’t. I believe involving staff in these processes gives them a better understanding and demystifies anxiety provoking processes. It also helps with their ability to do individual quality assurance. They are more aware of what is being scrutinized.

4. Anticipated or planned changes can be incorporated in the learning and development strategy for the local authority. Internal audits can produce a wealth of information that would be invaluable in terms of courses needed to ensure that staff are prepared to do the job for which they were hired. Change management programs can inform strategy by informing management what new skills their staff may need or skills they may need to develop.

5. Even though we can recognise that senior management are getting better at identifying themes and reviewing performance from serious case reviews, but they cannot ignore the need to make sure frontline staff are on board because the culture of the organisation may need to change and this means changing the way they work. As I have already mentioned this is important because if they are able to own some of the changes it is more likely to be embedded into practice and become a lasting change.

6. I mentioned this previously but we need to make sure that not only the messages from serious case reviews are filtered to staff but it needs to be communicated just how the organization intends to use this learning. That is, does this learning mean there will be changes in the Social Workers own organization.

The key to ensuring lessons are learned and embedded are to ensure there is a strong stable line of communication throughout the organizations. This communication needs to incorporate key learning, what is going right in the home authority (if this is an external serious case review) and what might need to change within the organization to ensure it is not replicating the mistakes outlined in the review. This is setting the stage. Once you have done that, then managers needs to sit down and plan (or outsource) a change management program, a thorough one. Making sure that staff are involved and kept informed at every stage of the process. There is too much shrouded in secrecy. People operate much more openly in a structure that not only supports such thinking but operates within it.


[1] Organizational and personal change management, process, plans, change management and business development tips http://www.businessballs.com/changemanagement.htm

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Why is it so hard to fail social work students in practice learning settings?

This article in community care asks the above question.  The issue is the way the system is how do you justify failing someone who provides all the evidence that is requested to pass. Can you justify failing someone who provides all the “evidence” requested but there is something that tells you they may not be suitable? Because someone is able to garner the experiences they need in order to gather suitable evidence doesn’t mean they are suited for the spectrum of Social Work. As someone who is trained in another country where Social Work is a broader profession with many areas in which to get involved, I find the narrow road of Social Work here absolutely stifling.

I had a student that would not be suitable for long term Social Work but it would have been insane to ignore the fact that she is able to gather and compile information to a high standard for her assessments. But there was no where for me to make that distinction in her assessment and failing her would have been unfair. Where is there a way to make it clear what their strengths are while stipulating that as the person assessing their practice you don’t believe they strengths lie in particular other areas?

Not everyone is suited for every type of work but it would be wrong not to acknowledge someone’s strengths and contributions he/she is able to make to the profession. Where is there room to say that while a student may not be suitable for a particular type of Social Work but might be very good at another or in another team?

As a “Practice Educator” I find that alot goes in to assessing practice and these students. There is a lot of paperwork generated to provide this evidence that they are capable. When I did my Bachelors we didn’t have any paperwork that my Field Instructor needed to do but my process recordings (reflections) were regularly reviewed by my advisor, my assignments were scrutinised by professors/educator for insight into my abilities. There were regular meetings between my advisor and field instructor regarding my progress and where I need to improve. I managed to become a Social Worker without the massive amounts of paperwork (which is a parallel to the paperwork they will have to do once on the job even though everyone says they understand that the on the job bureaucracy is a hindrance to the profession!). The other side of that is the fact that I was well trained. For my placement, which was the equivalent of statutory children’s Social Work, I had to commit my summer to being trained before I could go onto placement. I still have my certificates. There was a group of about 20 of us that bonded that summer and created a support network for ourselves throughout our placement. Several even went on to be employed and the employers could be confident in their skills because they had not only witnessed their practice but they trained them!

I have said it in previous posts and I will say it again. There needs to be a distinction between Social Work education and Social Work training. Social Work education should be the history of the profession, the various elements of the profession, the struture of the profession, what makes it a profession, necessary skills – basically the generic or generalist elements of Social Work that could be applied in any industry/segment of Social Work. Social Work training should be on the job and should include those things you need to know in order to do the job you were hired to do.

In answer to the question, it is hard to fail students because if they provide the evidence you have no substantial grounding to fail them.

 

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Accessory After the Fact….

ImageStuart Hall has now admitted to sexual assualts after categorcially denying it. Jimmy Saville got away with abusing children and this only came out after his death. There were professionals who were noted as saying they wondered which one he would take into his special room on the day. This might be a bit harsh but anyone who knew, had a suspicion or saw these children and this man should be charged as an accessory after the fact. There is no one that should be allowed to get away with having knowledge of something like this and be able to get away with it. When I first read about Saville’s tasks I was disgusted. When I found out that professionals knew or even had an inkling of what was going on I was physically ill. We can argue that it was a different time, we could argue that things were different then…what we cannot argue is that he was excused because he was a celebrity. Celebrity does not make someone exempt from the law. I cannot imagine that any of these professionals would be so non chalant about things or even let it go without getting some sort of law enforcement investigation if any of these, were their children. Or, mabe they would, especially if there was a pay out??? I have no idea what is going on when I see things like this. It is so incredibly disheartening. It is heartbreaking, and it just fills me with a sadness that feels jagged and raw. I want to know if these children are okay (as adults). I want to know that they were able to develop positive attachments and healthy relationships. I want to know that their parents were able to support them enough where these experiences did not leave them with stains on their childhood that overshadowed any other goodness. I know this makes me seem naive but I’m sorry, hearing about adults taking advantage of a child’s innocence and trust with no regard to the blatant wrongness and disgusting nature of their behaviour is disturbing. I just hope beyond all that at least some (better, all) the victims of these two people are able to work through their feelings about these experiences and not let them darken the possibility of happiness and healthiness in the future.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Professionalism

Sometimes I think we forget to give people the basic respect they deserve as individuals when we are in the work place.

I was always taught that when you’re working you leave your personal feelings at the door and it’s all the work. As managers, this is even more true. Despite what we may think of an individual worker, we need to be professional and fair. We need to be practicing in anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive ways.

I have recently been witness to a manager speaking to someone in a very condescending, dismissive and flippant manner then obviously reacting to the workers understandable distaste of this treatment. As someone who has been through the same type of treatment I can honestly say it is incredibly undermining especially when done publicly. It can damage a worker’s confidence. It can damage their ability to be efficiency. It can create a tense and contentious work environment.

When it comes to my Social Work practice, I treat people the way I would want someone to treat my family should they every need to access services. When it comes to management, I do my best to give my workers the same respect I want to be given. It’s a basic human principle. As managers, workers see the way they are treated and the way others are treated. I am not ignoring the fact that there are some workers that require a level of authoritative management that others do no, but I am not talking about their individual needs as workers. Here I am simply talking about the way in which people communicate with each other.

Respect is paramount in any working relationship and if the working relationship is to work that respect has to work both ways, it cannot be one dimensional. I think as professionals when we learn to treat people they way we would like to be treated, talk to people the way in which we would want to be spoken, help others the way we would want ourselves or our family members helped we would create working environments that are free flowing open, honest and transparent.

I have never been one to play politics. I despise the entire practice. But I have been a witness and party to people who do, those who have their own agendas, those who make assumptions about my character without ever having engaged with me, those who have appreciated me as long as I went along with their plans and didn’t exercise any amount of individual personality what so ever. It’s leaves you in a very bad place; a place in which you can feel stifled and belittled in the work environment.

I urge Social Workers, Social work managers, and likewaise any other professionals, to keep personal issues and problems outside of the office. When you come to work, be prepared to work and to focus. There are times when things are going on in your personal life that effect you in a way that inhibits your ability to focus, maybe these are days you need to stay away from work and reflect on how to improve your disposition.

As human beings we all want to be respected and in many instances understood as individuals and not made victims of other people’s opinions of us. Give people an opportunity to show you who they are. Judge people on their own merit and not assumptions and be open to being proven wrong. Learn to be the person you expect others to be and we can create environments where people learn, grow, and make positive contributions.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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