Call to Duty – School Stress

SCHOOL STRESS: Rewrite the Rules

Young Minds consultations with young people revealed that school stress is another issue young people are trying to manage. The research outlined:

> Over half of the children and young people we asked believe they will be a failure if they don’t get good grades.
> 82% of young people said schools should prepare pupils for life, not just exams, by teaching them how to cope when life is tough.

Young people are asking for:

> schools to help us deal with all the stresses of growing up, and help us to be strong for our future life as well as for our academic work.
> Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) lessons to be compulsory.
> school inspections to look at how our schools are helping us to become strong and able to deal with our problems.
> schools to provide more support young people who are suffering stress, anxiety and depression, including access to counselling.

Children and young people spend a large proportion of their lives in schools and it is crucial to establish these as safe places where they can get help for a range of issues. It is disheartening to learn of some of the things children and young people are experiencing in schools from teachers and peers alike. But, that is a topic for another time. What the young people in this consultation are talking about is support. Tangible support that addresses issues of their education but also those things that impact their education such as their emotional health and well being. I think a few things, in addition to what young people are asking for,  can help with this.

> having clinical social workers – even if just term time or sessional – in schools available for drop in sessions

> referral pathways from schools straight to counselling services

> psychologists – again either tem time only or sessional – that can aid those young people who may be presenting with early onset mental health issues

> group work at transitional phases for children and young people – i.e. moving on from primary school. moving on from secondary school etc. These don’t have to be psycho-educational groups, they can focus on activities to help build resilience, teach coping skills and give a realistic view of the changes that are to come.

> buddy systems – pairing younger children with older children who have proven themselves to excel academically but are also exhibiting leadership characteristics and are of positive influence to peers. It would help both the younger child acclimate to new surroundings and deal with some of the school stress. But it would also help the older child as this is a skill that can be take further and possible used to gain employment or other opportunities.

As Social Workers we often don’t come into the lives of children and young people until something has gone very wrong. This doesn’t have to be the case. Having social workers in schools, or even teaching some basic clinical skills to support workers in schools, could have a major impact in getting children and young people the support they are requesting. We have a duty to safeguard their well being. We have a duty to ensure they enjoy and achieve and are able to make positive contributions to society. We can be creative about the ways in which we teach them to do these things.

Parents are critical partners is helping children and young people succeed. Teachers and school staff play a large role in their lives but parents are the rearing the, teaching them standards and morals and leading by example. Parents have to take responsibility for what their children experience at home. They have to take responsibility for setting realistic expectations that don’t leave their children feeling burdened or that they are being set up to fail. Parents have to step up and ensure their children have the best possible life chances without the trauma of failure looming over their heads. I am not suggesting encouraging children to only do those things at which they will succeed, because we all know that in those moments where things don’t go the way we expected, we can experience real growth. What I am saying is that if teachers and school staff are realistically going to help our children succeed and give them the support they need, parents need to play a role in ensuring the right messages are being given and carried through. Parents, teachers and school staff alike need to be able to recognise children and young people’s strengths, maximizing these while helping them to get better at those things where they are not the strongest. Developing partnerships supports parents in addressing difficult issues but it also surrounds children and young people with a network of support and allows the lines of communication between children and parents to be open.It gives children and young people multiple avenues for accessing help.

We also need to be mindful of the pressures that high achievement or pressure to achieve can place on children and young people. There should certainly be expectations but these should be proportionate to the skills and abilities of young people. This is why the partnership between parents and educators is so crucial; each will hold a significant amount of information about a child or young person that each will need to ensure that child or young person’s success. It cannot be left to one person to provide everything a child needs, though there are expectations of everyone involved in the life of a child.

We have a duty to our young people and we need to make sure we can answer that call.

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Posted by on November 12, 2014 in The Good Guys


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Call to Duty – Sex Education

SEXED UP: Don’t believe the hype

Young Minds consultations with young people revealed that sexual pressures rate highly in issues they are facing today. The research outlined:

> Over half of 11-14 year olds have viewed online pornography, with 4 out of 10 believing it has affected their relationships.
> 75% of young people want sex education that gives them the chance to talk about sex and relationships.

Young people are asking for:

> every school to ensure we get sex education that helps us understand more about relationships, and how to say what we want and don’t want.
> sex education that gives us the chance to talk about pornography and how it affects us.
> safe spaces where we can talk about sexual pressures online, in school and youth centres.
> more information about sexting so everyone understands the bad things that can happen if we do it.
> more help and advice for parents and carers so they understand how to talk to us about sex in sensitive ways.

The government states that primary schools should have a sexual education program that caters to the age, emotional maturity and physical maturity of students. However, the language is different for secondary schools. Sexual education is compulsory from age 11+; that means secondary schools must have sex and relationship education as part of the basic curriculum. Schools must have a written policy on sex and relationship education freely available to parents. Part of the sex and relationship curriculum is compulsory as part of the national curriculum of science. Parents are able to withdraw their children from other parts of the curriculum and schools need to cater to this.

There is a sex and relationship guidance for education in teaching the subject. It guides on such topics as menstruation, abortion, puberty, sexual identity and orientation.

There are organisations that are helping to educate young people about sex and sexual exploitation.Brook provides services and advice for young people under 25 on contraception, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy. Bish is a website offering sex and relationships advice for young people. National Children’s Bureau is a national children’s charity. They run the Sex Education Forum, which offers support and guidance on sex and relationships education for teachers and parents.  Read more at They have resources for young people, parents and professionals.

As Social Workers we can talk to children and young people about sex – what they know, what they don’t, what they’ve done and how much of it was consensual or due to pressures. We can help reassure them that they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do and direct them to professionals who can help but most of all we can be listening ear and review information with them that will help them develop the ability to make informed decisions about sex. We can help them distinguish between what is “pornographic myth” and what is a healthy sexual relationship as well as what constitutes healthy relationships.

But sexual education is not explicitly the responsibility of schools, social workers, youth workers or other professionals. Parents have to take responsibility for talking to their children about sex. Parents need to be able to create safe spaces for their children to ask honest questions and report when something has happened to them, without judgement. Professionals spend minimal time with children and young people. Parents are their primary safeguarders, the people who are the closest and responsible for their general well being. It needs to be a partnership. Parents need to be having these conversations to avoid children and young people from going to inappropriate sources for their sexual education. Where there is a need for support, where parents don’t know how to have those conversations, it would be beneficial for them to sit in with professionals to start the conversation. Developing this partnership supports parents in addressing difficult issues but it also surrounds children and young people with a network of support and allows the lines of communication between children and parents to be open. Where parents are not best placed to have these conversations – and we have to be realistic because some children and young people live with parents with histories of unhealthy relationships and interactions with sex – professionals need to be comfortable having these conversations without judgement or any agenda other than educating young people on the realities of sex and sexual relationships.

We also need to remember the links between sex among young people and low self esteem, the need for attention and their natural development. They need to understands what is considered “normal” (for lack of a better word) sexual development and what exploitation is, what sexual blackmail is, what coercion is and why these things are harmful. We have a duty to our young people and we need to make sure we can answer that call.

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Posted by on November 10, 2014 in The Good Guys


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Chicken Soup Sunday – Commitment

How am I feeling today? I’m not sure to be honest. The sun is out and shining through my living room window as I write and do laundry. I have had a productive weekend I suppose, in that I was able to tick a few things off my to do list. There is however, the lingering effects of disagreements at work. There is also a lingering satisfaction that I have been able to recognize I need help and seek it out. It’s strange sometimes to have these internal conversations with myself about myself but they help. They contribute to a self-awareness that has, in the past, kept me from focusing too long on the potential of a situation instead of seeing it for what it is and moving on.

I want to open the blinds, stare outside across the road at the people going into the supermarket to shop. I want to watch their faces and body language for the stories they tell. I don’t because opening my blinds means I am unable to see the television but I like that I am back to wanting to engage with the world, even from a distance. For a while there, retreat was my only course of action – or so I felt. I am not in the best of places but I am getting better.

How am I feeling today? I want that to be a question people ask themselves daily; a platform for honesty and permission to be a little selfish. It will be something I will ask myself each morning. It is my commitment to myself so I can keep my commitments to others. I hope you all are having a wonderful weekend. Happy Sunday!

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Posted by on November 9, 2014 in Reflections


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Chicken Soup….Tuesday????

Sunday was supposed to be chicken soup day but I missed it. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to reflect however.

Over the last few months I have been having issues with my line manager. I have been told I need to improve my attitude. I have been told that I need to learn to communicate better. Me, I don’t automatically externalize issues. I always look at myself first to see what I am doing that could be misunderstood or misconstrued causing issues. What I found upon reflection is that it wasn’t just me. But what am I to do with someone who, by their own admission, is incapable of handling confrontation? Well, I bottled it all up, literally until I couldn’t breathe and getting out of bed caused tremors.

I am not an overly emotional personal so I freaked out enough to call the doctor. His prognosis? Mild depression. That, was difficult to hear, even if part of me felt it would be something like that. I don’t know if any other clinicians have been through something similar but I almost felt like I let myself and others down. I do think as someone in the helping profession I should take better care of myself, but it was a shock because I am not doing social work at the moment. I am doing quality assurance! Part of me was just incredulous.

I have read so many articles on self-care in social work. I have advised countless clients on the importance of looking after themselves but somehow it managed to slip right by me.

Anyhoo, I felt like I needed to express myself openly and honest about the situation. The response was as I thought, defensive and no self-awareness, but I felt better. I don’t think any relationship – work or otherwise – should be the primary responsibility of one person. It was really cathartic. I was professional but honest. I didn’t even realise how displaced I felt until I did it because after, I felt more like myself than I had in a very long time.

I need a supportive manager. Someone with whom I can talk through issues. Someone who understands that every day won’t be great and that’s fine. I think this may be a hazard in having a non social worker supervising or trying to manage a social worker. The expectations are different and I am not sure it is realistic to expect a non social worker to be able to support me in the way a social work manager would. I am still working through this one.


Posted by on November 4, 2014 in My Practice


Keeping Children Safe in Education

thumbnail_Keeping_children_safe_in_education_pdfThe government has put out guidance on safeguarding children in educational institutions. It covers recruitment, retention, safeguarding responsibilities. The guidance has been around since April however, I think it is worth sharing to make sure it stays in the collective consciousness. I think it is especially crucial as we are seeing many more children and young people engaging in sexually harmful behaviours with peers on school property. The working together guidance and the London child protection procedures gives guidance on how to approach these issues but I think it is important for institutions to make sure their staff are aware of their responsibilities and what to do should they have concerns. Children and young people spend a significant part of their lives in an educational institution (day care, schools, colleges, etc.) and as a professional committed to safeguarding children and young people it improves my confidence to know that there are measures in place to safeguard children as well as expectations of staff as to how to manage.  

Safeguarding is the responsibility of every professional working with children and young people and the Working Together Guidance outlines this, making it clear that every organization working with children and young people should have policies and procedures in place to address safeguarding. However, I am not sure how many Social Workers actually know what the responsibility is of educational establishments. I know it seems we need to know a lot but it is to our benefit to at least know where to go to get further information should we need it. It is about having a solid network to support children.

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Posted by on November 3, 2014 in My Practice, The Social World


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FGM – the Government’s response

The local government has taken a stance on female genital mutilation. They have introduced legislation that allows for protection orders to save girls at risk and women who have experienced female genital mutilation. I think it is important as social workers we make ourselves aware of the services to help safeguard women and girls from harmful practices.

Have any of you ever worked with victims of female genital mutilation or honour based violence?

I would love to hear about the support your agencies offer or the services you’ve accessed that really help.

please share as I would like to get a dialogue going about how social workers as supporting women and girls around these issues.



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Posted by on October 28, 2014 in The Good Guys, The Social World


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Chicken Soup Sundays

HomeIn the 90s when I was a teenager, a publishing company started a brand called “Chicken Soup for the Soul”. There are a lot of these books aimed at different self development issues and age ranges. They are series, consisting of inspirational, true stories about ordinary people’s lives.

Chicken Soup Sundays are going to my reflections. Everything from where I am as a practitioner to the effects of my work on my day to day life. Since leaving frontline social work, I haven’t given myself much opportunity foe self reflection, mostly because I didn’t think it would be relevant as I sit behind a desk these days. However, in the last few weeks I have noticed that the work I am doing now, the new systems of which I find myself apart and the information I have to review are having a massive impact on my mental health and I am having to seek outside help. I think having this space will help me process information, reflection on my responses to my circumstances and ultimately make me a better practitioner.

Hopefully you all will be able to learn from my mistakes and contribute some of your own coping techniques. I look forward to sharing my journey.

Image from Chicken Soup for the soul website. Click on picture for website.

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Posted by on October 26, 2014 in My Practice


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