Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Paperwork isn’t Going to go Away: Get on with it

nureaucracyOne of the things that makes Social Work slightly unbearable is all the paperwork and bureaucracy. Unfortunately, as the title suggests it isn’t going to go away. As Social Workers it is necessary for us to document our interactions and interventions with clients for a variety of reasons. It is there as an account to funding sources that we are doing what we are being funded to do. It facilitates the work we do by being various living documents to which we can refer when compiling information into reports and assessments. It is a guide for clients, should they want to see their files, as to all the work and communication we shared with them. It is a way to keep track of everything we have done and will be doing with our clients so we can document progress and not duplicating work. It is a guide for those who come after us as to a clients story and or journey through our service so they do not have to retell this story repeatedly. It gives us a basis for which to challenge discrepancies when they arise in our work.

The paperwork we do has a variety of uses, thought I acknowledge that it can be tedious and at times repetitive. There is work being done to reduce the repetitiveness of our work thereby giving us more time to do direct work with our clients. It is important that we learn to manage the paperwork and your time, by doing so you develop a strong foundation for your practice.

There will always be emergencies in Social Work that will interrupt the day you’ve planned, however, if you have planned your tasks to a certain degree you will have time to make it up. Here are some tips:

1 – Schedule your visits in advance – if you schedule your visits about a week or 2 before they are due, should there be any unexpected eventualities you will have time to make sure they are still within timescales

2 – Respect time (both yours and your clients) – we all hate waiting around for an appointment that turns out to be late, whether it’s an hour or ten minutes, and we all hate having to rush to do things, which is why it is best to set an example. If you are on time for visits and meetings, start your own meetings on time and set aside time for paperwork you can be reasonably sure that things will get done. You can’t plan for every eventuality but you can give yourself a little leeway that helps reduce the impact on everything else you are doing.

3 – Maintain contact – if you keep in regular contact with your clients – checking in to see how they are, following up to see how an appointment went, going with them to appointments, popping by just because – you won’t have to make special trips to do visits or update plans. This helps to make sure that your visits and care plans are on time. If you are staying in touch you will have a lot of information at your fingertips to do your plans when they come due. In essence, don’t wait for a task needing completion in order to get in touch.

4 – Be creative with your working – you don’t have to do every visit the same exact way every time. You don’t have to meet in the same place every single time. If you are working with a family it might be nice to meet the family in their local park and have a catch up with mom or dad while the children are playing, or you can play with the children for a bit while mom or dad sit by.

5 – Know your job – if you know what needs to get done, when you can make time for it, it will all get done. Most places have systems that remind you when things are coming due but there is nothing preventing you from scheduling time to complete tasks once they are done, so scheduling next months visit before you leave the current one or booking in time to complete your care plan after you finish the most recent one.

6 – Be thorough but not repetitive – there is no use in saying the same thing constantly just to fill out your form. It is not helpful to you or the client. It serves no purpose unless you’re doing a chronology or a court report and need to outline a pattern of behaviour or evidence work over time. If you are doing care plans, keep information current and focused. Your care plans are meant to your plan for the coming 6 months so shouldn’t have to repeat information that is elsewhere on the file.

These are not exhaustive but they are things that work to help get through all the work and not fall too far behind. There may be things you do to help you get through your paperwork. Feel free to share. I am always looking to share good practice.

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Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Social Work Practice


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Be your own life coach

A big part of being a professional is ensuring that you don’t become complacent and are able to keep your practice fresh and relevant. A great way to do this is to be your own life coach. A great introduction to this is a free introductory coaching course. This will give you the basics of coaching which will not only help you work with clients but will also give you tools you can use for yourself to achieve goals and grow as a professional. My initial advice for professional development:

1 – Have a personal development plan: you can get templates for these online and keep them either electronically or print them so you can put them up for yourself to see everyday.

2 – Don’t be afraid to move around and explore in your organization: there is nothing wrong with taking on extra duties which will help you develop new skills. I actively advocate for applying for promotion opportunities once you have gained a significant amount of experience (this would be defined by the opportunity). *In preparation for this, if you know what kind of job you want you can look at classifieds/job adverts and see what kind of experience the job you want requires. Then you can use your time building that experience through training and work.*

3 – Keep up to date with changing legislation, different practice techniques and different social work interventions

4 – Join and participate in Social Work membership organizations: This will help expand your professional network, it will give you access to member’s only professional training, specialist training and expose you to changes happening within the profession. You may also have the opportunity to help in the development of changes.

5 – Have a varied professional support network: I think it is important to have friends within the same profession but I also think having friends from other professions expands your knowledge base which will invariable contribute to your growth and learning. You will also have people with whom you can consult should you need. You have people who can promote your experience as you could also be someone with whom they can consult.

6 – Have a life outside of work: An essential part of living is having a life, which also means having a life outside of work. Make sure you build into your professional self a way to wind down and disconnect from the happenings of the day. Part of your life outside of work may include profession related activities (blogging, volunteering, consulting) but it is important that you can step away from the everyday to do something different. It allows your mind to recharge and can also allow you to come back with a fresh perspective, showing you things you may not have noticed if you stayed entrenched in the problem.

7 – Know who you are and what works for you: I advocate for learning from every experience that is, finding something in every working experience that you can take with you throughout your career both good and bad. The good will help you build your own practice, the bad will help you identify what doesn’t work for you as a professional. The good will provide you with a firm professional foundation. The bad will help you begin to establish a baseline for what you can and cannot accept in a professional environment and from superiors and colleagues. Don’t discount your experiences however negative they may seem; use them by reflecting on what made them negative for you and ensure you take this with you so and learn how to manage it.

8 – Remember why you’re in Social Work: This will refocus you in those moments that feel more like trials than the reason you went into the profession. Remember that there is nothing wrong with moving on when or if you find that a place you are working or the tasks you are being asked to undertake in a particular position are not what you want to be doing. In those moments when you cannot afford to move or you haven’t found anything you want more, do your best to make the best of a bad situation, so to speak. Use reflective diaries to keep escalating emotions in check and to pick out those things you are actually learning from the position. Read these over and do them regularly, it will help you focus more on the positive.

9 – Don’t be afraid to take a break:  Social Work is about helping other people with their problems, all day, every day. This can be mentally and emotionally draining. I recommend taking regular vacations/holidays. I recommend, if you find that you need it, that you take a break; try doing something other than Social Work for a while. There is nothing wrong with this. There is also nothing wrong with seeking help for yourself, having a counsellor or therapist with whom you can discuss the issues that arise from your day to day work. Personally, my passion is working with children and families but when I’ve felt like I’ve needed a break I’ve gone to working with adults in hospitals/nursing homes etc. You may not need a break from Social Work completely; it may be that you work in a different kind of Social Work. Consider all your options.

As with anything, you need to take care of yourself to be of the best possible to service to your clients. If you’re burnt or burning out, if you’re mentally or emotionally exhausted, if you’re physically just tired, you’re not going to be at your best and you’re not going to be able to give your all. There is nothing wrong with taking a break.

Also, remember that being a professional, isn’t just about what you do for others, it’s also about making your professional opportunities work for you so you can become the professional that you want to be. It’s about achieving your own goals and markers for success.

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Posted by on July 24, 2013 in Social Work Practice


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‘Social work in the USA is a more secure and proud profession’

Researcher and former member of various Social Work Reform Board sub-groups, Dr Mary Baginsky, looks at what we could learn about the initial and post-qualifying training of social workers by looking across the Atlantic.”

The Social Work blog on Community Care had the above article which I found interesting. I am currently an American Social Work living and working in London and I have found many differences in practice and the way the profession is viewed. I would agree in most respects that Social Work has come a long way in the states. There are still the narrow-minded views of “the local baby snatchers” but for the most part we have gained the respect as a profession and have been, for lack of a better word, legitimized as a profession. This was a long time coming and it took a lot of work.

Many of the tasks I complete here as a Social Worker I find redundant. Many of the new initiatives that are coming in to make Social Work more workable are not new to me. I am glad to see there are strides being made in the profession here in the UK to help Social Workers solidify themselves in their positions and in the profession itself. I believe this starts with a more robust Social Work education and am glad this is currently being reviewed.

I am doing my part to ensure that my voice is heard and encourage all Social Workers to participate in consultations and organizations that are fighting to solidify and legitimize Social Work in the UK.

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Posted by on July 24, 2013 in The Social World


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Interpersonal Skills for Social Workers

In addition to the Social Work specific skills needed to undertake the job we do, there are interpersonal skills that Social Workers need to master for several reasons. First and foremost, our primary business is with populations with which most people do not want to work. Second, they come to us with a variety of issues that are difficult to verbalize. Third, we are considered the experts. Social Work is a skilled profession and we need to conduct ourselves as such. Without, professionalism, achieved through strong interpersonal and career specific skills, we lose the hard earned respect of our partners and peers. We do the profession a disservice because we are not representing it to the highest standard.

The following is just a basic outline of the interpersonal skills we need in order to work effectively with our clientele and represent ourselves as experts in our field.

1 – Communication

  1. Written – it is crucial for Social Workers to be able to write for a variety of audiences. You need to be able to express your expertise to managers, supervisors, court systems and clients to name a few. As a rule, when writing documents to which clients will have access, I make sure to use as little jargon as possible. Where jargon is needed, I ensure that this is explained as simply as possible so we keep communication open and honest. It is important in written communication, especially formal reports and those for court, to spell properly and be grammatically correct. The use of words is a skill. It is imperative that you not only understand what you write, but also that you mean what you write. It is time consuming but make sure you proof read. Also, unless you speak English to a high standard, never write the way you speak! Many of us used relaxed speech, especially when working with children and young people; this should not be reflected in written documents unless you’re using a direct quote.
  2. Verbal – I cannot stress the enough, sometimes what you say is less important than how you say it. I always joke with friends and family, saying “you can tell me I stink. Whether or not I accept it depends on how you tell me.” When speaking/having conversations should always consider your audience as well. I always opt for a sympathetic ear because it allows a bit of distance. It gives the client a chance to off load and me a chance to gather information I may not have been able to get if I were more formal. Try to remember that conversation is dynamic and multi-dimensional. In conversation, you have what you say, what the other person hears and how this is then interpreted through the lens of their previous experience. By the time they process it, it may be an entirely different animal than you intended it to be. A big part of this is knowing your clients, having read previous files before meeting with them. I don’t advocate for going into a meeting with clients, gun blazing because of what you read from someone else. You never know what the relationship was like in practice – maybe the previous worker triggered something in the client, maybe the previous worker reminded the client too much of someone in their lives with whom they have a difficult relationship, maybe their relationship mirrors other failed or difficult relationships. You cannot discount the information from the file/previous workers but I always look at a new working relationship as a “do-over” for clients, a new start.
  3. Non-verbal skills – it is important to be aware of your body language, the faces you make, the sounds you make and how you make eye contact. Body language is run through both cultural and ethnic lenses and a seemingly innocuous action may mean something entirely different and possibly disrespectful to someone else. Sometimes we unconsciously make faces when we hear something unexpected or something we don’t necessarily believe. It is important as a Social Worker that you learn to “school” your features, that is, you learn how not to let what you are thinking show on your face. Non-verbal communication can make or break a working relationship. If someone were to tell you about, smearing (covering walls and other surfaces with faeces) for example and you make a face as though you can smell it and are disgusted, your client may shut down. It may be a practice with which they are disgusted but unable to change and making a face reinforces the shame and guilt they may already be feeling.
  4. Listening – This is “our bread and butter” as they say. Listening, in any Social Work setting, it how we gather information. It is not only important to listen and hear what the person is saying but you have to show you are actively engaged in conversation in order for it to be substantive. People like to see that you are engaged with them. Nodding, making affirmative sounds, making eye contact, asking for clarification, sitting at a respective distance, facing a person while they are talking are all ways to show that you are actively listening. There are those times when you need to write things down, either for your own memory or while assisting with an application etc. In these instances there is nothing wrong with saying to someone you are going to write things down and why, or, going so far as to ask if they mind if you do this. In some settings taking notes while someone is talking can be too distracting to the process. It might be better to allocate time for you to take notes following a meeting or session with a client.
  5. Problem Solving – There are many occasions when we get to know our clients in the midst of a crisis. It is important that we identify what the crisis is and address it. If we are working in a long term team we will need to get this addressed so we can get started on the plan for the family. Problem solving is much like care planning only in the short term. It is about identifying the problem, breaking it down into smaller tasks and allocating these, then coming back to the table to make sure that everyone has completed their individual tasks so the problem is addressed. If the problem is something bigger, like a housing issue etc. it may be that this needs to be added to the care plan as a longer term task so it is not forgotten. In Social Work, we need to “think on our feet” we need to be able to think through problems quite quickly, sometimes coming up with bridging responses until we are in a place to deal with the issue in totality. We need to be able to address minor issues quickly so it does not overwhelm the longer piece of work that we need to undertake with a client or client system.
  6. Negotiation – A great skill to have personally and professionally. Professionally it is always helpful if you and your client are working together toward a common goal. Too many times out clientele are involuntary, which means they may not agree with what you think the problem is but they still need to work with you. If you are able to negotiate time where you address the need identified as well as those things they see as a problem you get further in the working relationship. You are communicating to them that while your work is important you are also concerned about their concerns and want them to be empowered to change their circumstances. Negotiation is also important in identifying those things you and your client will be working on for the duration of your working relationship.  When you get to the management level you will have to negotiate with your subordinates at times to ensure the work gets done when you need it and there are competing priorities.
  7. Decision making – Decision making is about using the information you have to come up with a plan to move forward. This is a big part of management. As a manager you go on the information provided to you by Social Workers in order to provide case oversight and direction. For this to work and work properly, the information needs to be as thorough as possible and it needs to be accurate. Making decisions on bits and pieces of information without having a view of the bigger picture is dangerous and professionally unsound. As a Social Worker is it necessary to gather and corroborate as much information as possible as part of your assessment in order to put the appropriate interventions into place. Without precise and detailed information it is quite possible to put in interventions that do nothing to address the actual issue at hand. For instance, if you don’t know that a father is drinking because he is not working and you address the drinking but not the unemployment, there is a risk that he will replace the alcohol with something else to address the feelings that being unemployed bring up for him. Honest and transparent working with clients means that at times they can be part of this process, they can help make decisions about how their issues are addressed, this can empower them and help make them feel part of the process and not just that they are being acted upon.
  8. Assertiveness – (Communicating our values, ideas, beliefs, opinions, needs and wants freely.) Being an assertive Social Worker means being clear about your role as a Social Worker, what you are and are not capable of doing, what is and isn’t within your remit, what the consequences are for not engaging and the sequence of events that may trigger the next level of intervention (i.e. – court, referrals, ect.). It is essential that we are clear with clients and professionals alike from the outset as to why we are involved and what we can, realistically, achieve. It’s about sharing the work around not feeling as though we need to do it all. Professionals and clients alike are quite happy to tell us when we are overstepping our boundaries or trying to extend ourselves beyond our remit, so I think it is crucial that we are just as clear with them when it comes to the work. It is also about being clear about our authority. It is possible to do this without portraying ourselves as a strictly punitive body. We do have the law behind us in most things we do and people know that. If you explain what is possible from the outset, although it may still arise, at least you know within yourself that you have done all you can to keep clients and professionals aware of what you are able to do and what you are not. I am not saying there will not be moments when your words go unheard, what I am saying is, say them anyway. You will have a frame of reference. If they chose to ignore it, you’re said and you can document that you did.

Posted by on July 15, 2013 in Social Work Practice


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Supervision in Social Work

I mentioned previously how important I feel supervision is and has been in my practice thus far. I venture to say that good supervision is one of the corner stones in developing a stable and solid Social Work practice. There are many books on the subject, many books that expound on the importance of supervision in Social Work. For myself, I have found the following as qualities of good supervision:

  1. Guidance: a supervisor/manager who is able to offer assistance in case management/progression when I have been stuck as to how to help a client
  2. Processing/reflection: a manager who is able to ask the right questions and get me thinking about the decisions I have made and others that need to be made
  3. Development: a supervisor/manager who is able to seek not only my strengths but my weaknesses and is able to provide suggestions as to how my weaknesses may be developed into strengths through training, shadowing, opportunities to work in other teams or sectors of the organization.
  4. Performance management: This is closely linked to development but more around practical areas such as time management, work prioritisation and quality of work
  5. Empowerment/support: Someone with whom I can discuss those personal things that may be impacting upon my ability to do my job who will not see my sharing as a weakness but as a strength and a call for assistance to manage before things get out of hand. Someone who can help build upon my strengths by allocating work where I can be of the greatest use.
  6. Regular: Supervision needs to be planned for and held on a regular basis. They need to be reliable so that each party can create an agenda and be able to inform others of when decisions can or will be made regarding key issues
  7. Prioritised: Supervision needs to be seen as a critical part of practice by both Social Workers and managers. It needs to be a reciprocal process that provides both parties with what they need to continue to function in their specific capacities.

I have found the following as detrimental to good supervision and grossly counterproductive:

  1. Rushed
  2. Persistently rescheduled
  3. Task Driven
  4. Unsupportive
  5. Disorganized
  6. Irregular
  7. Disempowering
  8. Unconstructive
  9. Blaming

In addition to the above I have had the misfortune of experiencing managers who are also:

  1. Dictators
  2. Micro mangers
  3. Unclear
  4. Passive Aggressive

As someone who does their best to be self aware, I find all of the above severely limiting. I cannot function in a management regime that is distrustful of its workers and thereby needs to be looming over them to ensure things get done; especially where there is evidence that this would be the case if they were to back off and allow people to work.

Supervision should be something that Social Workers look forward to because they know at these times there will be support and assistance provided to them to help do their job better. It should not be seen as a chore. This is one of the means by which, as Social Workers, we are able to exhibit our skills, knowledge and growth. This is a time when we show that we are ready to progress as professionals. Supervision should give the necessary validation to a Social Worker’s skills and decisions. It should also provide constructive criticism and a clear path for the Social Worker to follow in order to develop those areas identified for improvement.

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Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Social Work Practice


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The Social Work Chronology

Prior to coming to the UK I don’t remember there being such an emphasis on completing chronologies. However, since coming here I have learned the value of them. There has been, and continues to be debate as to what information actually goes into a chronology.

As I stated in my previous post, I think the first entry should be the day the Social Worker was allocated the case. This shows from which point you assumed case responsibility. The other things I feel should be a part of a chronology are:
– Dates of allocations to Social Workers
– Reason for current involvement
– Any police/medical/education reports held
– any significant health changes/hospitalizations etc.;
– any changes in education such as expulsions/exclusions, transfers, suspensions, important meetings like education plan reviews or behavioural meetings;
– changes in legal status such as a child going into care, termination of parental rights, court decisions, child being released for adoption, etc.;
– for children who are in care this should list any placements and placement changes or any other statutory meetings that take place with professionals;
– any case conferences, case coordination meetings, professionals meetings, reviews, strategy meetings, legal planning meetings, hearings etc.;
– history of social service involvement and the outcomes;
– significant events or changes to the family circumstances (i.e. – evictions, moving, births, abortions, new family contact, new partners, etc.);
– professional interventions;
– evidence of discussions with children/young people;
– proof that chronologies are being used in decision making
– evidence of discussions with parents

Personally I believe the format of a chronology should be quite simple with two basic columns, date and what happened. I don’t think there should be excessive detail in a chronology as there would usually be documents or paperwork linked to a particular substantial event which would outline exactly what happened. I think chronologies should be accounts of significant events in the life of the case and the life of the client.

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Posted by on July 8, 2013 in Social Work Practice


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Social Work and the Business of Change

When I was doing my undergraduate degree in Social Work, all of my professors referred to Social Workers as change agents. We were supposed to work with individuals, groups and families to effect positive change. This has always been the motivation for my practice. This has always been the reason I wanted to be a Social Worker. However, as much as we may learn about the process of change, as much as we are told that “we need to meet clients where they are,” I think we have some over inflated, over exaggerated expectations of clients when it comes to change.

Just to revisit it quickly, the stages of change from the Transtheorretical Model (Prochaska, 1977) are pre-contemplation (not ready for or considering change or seeing a need to change), contemplation (recognising the need for change and considering it but not sure), preparation (ready to change and trying to change), action (actively taking steps to change), maintenance (staying on track; maintaining changes that have been made) and relapse (regression to previous stages; falling back into old behaviours). You learn that, as a Social Worker, you have to assess at which stage your client finds himself/herself and actively try to move them through the stages. There are websites that give prompts as to how to support clients at each stage of this process. I think it is important to understand that relapse is part of this process and what is needed is support at this time as well as encouragement to start again, empowering them with the fact that they have done it before.

I think, as practitioners we forget 2 very important facts when working with clients. First, we forget that our clients are human. Second, we forget that we are human. In so doing, we begin to think of our clients as “the other”. I am in no way advocating crossing professional boundaries. I am saying that we need to understand, especially when it comes to change, that life is hard when you are entrenched in a way of living or behaviour that has survived everything else that has come and gone in your life.

Let’s do some self-reflection for a moment. Think about all of your bad habits and consider the following:

          How many times have you tried to change?

          How many times have you failed?

          What worked to help you stop?

          What helped you change the behaviour?

          What hindered you? What were the triggers to this behaviour or habit?

          Did having someone harp on and on about how much you need to change help you at all?

As professionals we have the privilege of knowing that there are numerous tools or techniques out there designed to help us kick bad habits and change behaviour. Our clients may not; or there may be a reason they are not seeking help. It doesn’t help when Lord or Madame Social Worker enter their lives and make them feel even worse for not doing the things that they know they should do. Change is hard. It is made even harder when you have people telling you to make changes and you have no idea where to start.

And I can hear all the Social Workers out there saying “we do the referrals all they have to do is attend the appointments.” Really??? Really??? Most of the problems we deal have been in existence for our clients longer than we have been involved so they are changing an ingrained behaviour. Not to mention the fact that these behaviours or habits may be coping mechanisms. Trust me, I am an emotional eater and an emotional shopper and yes I know I need to change but I just LOVE shoes and carbohydrates!!! So we are asking people to stop doing things that make them feel better at the worst points in their lives without giving them anything with which to replace it. It is a lot more beneficial to teach them more appropriate coping mechanisms alongside the changes. It makes them just a tad more palatable.

When you practice, remember your own experiences with what you are asking of your clients where applicable. Where you do not have the experience, and even where you do, ask them what it is like for them. Find out when the behaviours started and what they mean for the person/family. Find out what else can be used to replace the behaviour that needs to be changed. Find out what the current triggers are because these may be different from what contributed to the start of the behaviour.

We need to work within the client’s exiting life circumstances. I’m not saying be naïve; you need to challenge your clients and their excuses as to why they can’t or aren’t changing. They also need to understand where there are consequences to not changing. What I am saying in we need to get back to the original person-in-environment and strengths based models.

We need to see clients as individuals no matter how many times you have seen a similar set of circumstances or addressed the same issue(s) previously. Every problem is different because every person is different. Every person brings a different set of beliefs and circumstances to your desk. See your clients as people who need help. Some may need more help than others, where you’re not sure, ask.

Change is a process. It doesn’t happen quickly and it doesn’t happen easily. It may even cause more problems. But, as the professional, it is your job to be monitoring the change process and having regular input to address whatever may come up.

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Posted by on July 6, 2013 in Social Work Practice


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