Monthly Archives: March 2014

Re- visioning Social Work Education

The other review of Social Work education was commissioned by the Department of Health but I think this was from the perspective of adult Social Work. Again, I am not comfortable with this split; especially since Social Work is a holistic professional with a base of core skills needed to undertake Social Work in any environment. However, what’s done is done. There is no reason to dwell on what should have happened.

The review was undertaken by Professor David Croisdale-Appleby. As with the other review I don’t disagree with the need for revising Social Work education. Personally, I think there needs to be two years of solid Social Work education that incorporates teaching those core skills that are needed to undertake Social Work with a variety of client groups. I think teaching a Social Work degree as a generalist degree, exponentially expands the candidates choices for employment. They don’t have to choose adults or children’s unless that is what they want, not because of the pressure of not being able to secure a position if they do not.

I will now tackle the recommendations of this review as I did the other.

1. We are educating and qualifying too many social workers for the social worker roles available. So we need to devise a new strategic workforce planning system which takes account of major strategic drivers in the system of social work…

I would need to do some research on workforce supply and demand; however, if this is true then this recommendation makes absolute sense. Workforce planning is undertaken in many other professions to the benefit of the profession.

2. The selection of students for qualifying courses needs to be more consistent nationally, using methodologies similar to the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) used in selecting entry to Business Schools,which measure attributes such as analytic ability, critical reasoning and quantitative skills.

In the US there are some Masters level programs that require an entry exam. It is called the GRE – Graduate Record Examinations. The exam aims to measure verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills that have been acquired over a long period of time and that are not related to any specific field of study. All of which are necessary in Social Work. Making this a national criteria will improve the academic calibre of students entering Social Work (which is another shared recommendation among the reviews); however, it doesn’t measure interpersonal skills which is critical in Social Work. Excelling academically would work well if graduates were interesting in going into research, or if this was even an option, but maybe this needs to be coupled with an interview to assess their “people” skills.

3. Individual HEI’s entry selection processes need to be more rigorous and based on assessing candidates’ qualities in relation to a new framework of the social worker as a practitioner, the social worker as a professional, and the social worker as a social scientist, and to the domains in the PCF.

I agree with this but it needs to be a multifaceted approach. There needs to be some indication of the courses they have undertaken prior to entry (and I argue this education needs to include both social and behavioral sciences) and completing these to a high degree. There needs to be some indication of their verbal reasoning, critical thinking, analytical writing and judgement skills. There needs to be some indication that they can interact, to a high degree, with the public. The latter can be done through requiring a reference from a previous employer or volunteer supervisor.

4. Entry standards to the profession should be raised significantly. Minimum entry level at undergraduate level should be 300 UCAS points and at Masters level at least a 2:1 should be mandatory.

This one is difficult to assess for me as I was not trained here. I know as an undergraduate we had to fulfill pre-requisites prior to entering the Social Work Program and had to keep our grades at a certain level, not just for entry onto the Social Work program, but in order to keep our funding/scholarships. I believe standards are critical, at all times.

5. Student numbers should be rebalanced towards postgraduate entry, in line with the evidence from international comparisons as well as in recognition of the challenging nature of both qualification and practice.

I think this recommendation would depend on the need of market. If there is a need for more specialist Social Work, for instance in clinical settings that required more in depth study, then yes this would be appropriate. However, Social Work here is primarily from a Casework based model. With a solid and holistic base of Social Work skills, I believe Social Workers can be prepared at the undergraduate level to undertake the duties to which they will be assigned. However, should the scope of Social Work practice change and there is more of a need for extensive skill development beyond foundation then this would be appropriate. As I have mentioned, i believe there is scope to have the third year of Social Work education be a specialisation year.

Comparing what is happening internationally to what happens in England is irrelevant especially if there is no need for that level of skill, practically. That is, there is no reason to teach things that would make someone over qualified to practice in the area in which they live and would like to work.

6. Practice placements settings should be with a wide range of user groups including where there are integrated care pathways that draw on wider community services and resources.

I completely agree. I think Social Workers should be able to do placements in human rights agencies, community development organisations, international organisations, wherever their skills are needed. In an age where practice educators can be contracted there is no reason they cannot be. Even students in statutory placements have to be creative in how they meet every aspect of the professional capabilities framework. I think students in varied placements will be able to do good work.

7. Stakeholders…should be encouraged to play a greater part in the selection of students and the design and delivery of education, and I recommend an increase in funding to HEIs to achieve this engagement.

I think it is vital to have a range of professionals on the boards that select Social Work candidates. However, I don’t think they should be heavily reliant on employers as they have a particular agenda. I completely disagree with Social Work education training Social Workers for a particular track of Social Work. I believe undergraduate degrees should be generalist to provide a basic set of skills. However, there is validity in having a varied stakeholders contribute to the development of curricula, the selection process, placement evaluation and even the regulation of Social Work programs.

8. Knowledge about the capabilities and perspectives of other, related professions should be introduced into both curricula as a clear signal of this direction of travel of the profession in utilising the skills of other professions in social work and contributing social work skills to working in inter-professional partnerships.

I agree and again, I believe that the entry requirements for Social Work should include social and behavioral sciences. Having this background has been invaluable to me. It has allowed me to begin conversations with other professionals from a place of confidence. It has allowed me to ask the right questions in order to get the resources I need for my clients. It has aided in my ability to advocate for my clients.

9. All educational routes to qualification must demonstrate authentic pedagogical evidence that they will provide an in-depth knowledge of the fundamental conceptual frameworks for social work, to ensure that they equip students with the basis for a career in social work with all service user groups and in whatever settings they choose to work.

This has been my argument from the outset. There needs to be a clear set of core skills taught in universities that equip students to become Social Work Professionals.

10. All qualifying education should equip newly qualified social workers with the capability to engage in research throughout their career, inculcating an understanding that the ability to carry out research is an essential component in their future professional capability in practice.

Absolutely! I stated this in response to the previous review. Both my undergraduate and graduate (post graduate) education incorporated Social Research. As an undergraduate I had to complete a social research project from conceptualization to implementation and through to analysis. This was yet another invaluable experience. It allowed me to challenge information and my own hypothesis. I believe this was definitely part of the development of my professional judgment.

11. The current Practice Educator Professional Standards (PEPS) should be strengthened, and all practice educators and practice supervisors should have formal qualifications as educators, and in the case of practice educators as formal assessors: the formal training for which should be cited in the proposed new comprehensive continuing professional development (CPD) framework.

I don’t think practice educators need to be qualified as educators. I believe the course I undertook at Kingston University prepared me, to a degree, for contributing to the education and development of student Social Workers. I do believe that practice educators need to have a background in Social Work I think they should definitely go the on-site supervisor/work based supervisor route before undertaking the practice educator course, but they should definitely have a stable background in Social Work. Practice educators should also have some experience of managing Social Workers. I do not believe a background in education is needed explicitly.

12. Bringing together the standards of the HCPC and the endorsement criteria of TCSW into a new, single regulatory regime in which both the rigour of the regulatory process and the stringency of the levels assessed in regulation must be substantially strengthened. HCPC should continue to regulate social work education to these new standards.

The previous review recommended that The College of Social Work should be the regulatory body for the profession and I vehemently disagreed with this assertion. I believe regulation of any profession should be undertaken by an independent body with sufficient input from the professions members. I proposed in the above post that there should be representation from Social Work students, newly qualified Social Workers, a senior Social Work professional or manager, and a representative of a body that employs Social Workers.

13. Encouragement should be given to provide innovative routes to social work qualification, such as the fast track routes, and high expectations should be set so that they will enhance the overall quality of students at the point of qualification. Any such initiatives should be subject to a rigorous evaluation process in which action standards are set before such alternative routes are given approval and funding. As an underlying principle, social work education requires a thorough understanding of all stages in the life course, so this should be mandatory for all courses without exception. It is imperative that the opportunity that innovative course structures and content can provide are not invalidated by providing, and being seen to provide, a stripped-down form of social work education – a sort of “social work lite”, but seek to achieve higher learning outcomes than other routes. Their focus should be as a quality-enhancer, not a faster-provider.

I have been vocal in my disagreement with programs like Frontline Social Work because the reigning view was that the current standard of Social Work education was inadequate. I mean. how can you fast track someone through an education that is failing? However, if it goes as stated above then my concerns will be addressed. The above recommendations, if put into practice, would alleviate my fears of the types of professionals we would be bringing into the profession as well as the fears that their experience wouldn’t prepare them for the reality of Social Work. In addition there was the concern that the education they were provided wouldn’t equip them with the appropriate skills. However, I believe Professor Appleby is correcting in asserting that these types of programs need to ensure they are NOT “providing, and being seen to provide, a stripped-down form of social work education – a sort of “social work lite”, but seek to achieve higher learning outcomes than other routes.”

14. A key condition of the regulation of all courses leading to the professional qualification as a social worker is that all social workers should have the capability to work with all individuals, families, groups and communities and to do so in all settings and situations likely to be encountered, so that generic capability is not sacrificed on the altar of early specialism.

Yes! Yes! Yes! I said it before and I shall say it again. A Social Worker who is trained with generalist (or generic skills)) to work with a range of populations, can be a Social Worker anywhere. I am a product of such training and education. It has made me more confident. It has given me more options and it has given me a holistic view of my clients and their lived experiences. This is by far the most poignant recommendation and one which I stand by wholeheartedly. It is crucial not only for Social Work professionals but for the Social Work profession. There is nothing wrong with offering a specialisation if someone has figured out this is what they would like to do but specialisation should not be a mandatory part of Social Work education. It should be a choice.

15. The first year of post-qualifying work should form a probationary year, at the end of which a Licence to Practise will be awarded to those who pass as a result of a process of independent scrutiny and formal assessment of their capability to practise in the workplace.

I can’t say I agree with this one but then the initial years of my Social Work training incorporated more than is required here to enter a Social Work program. I stand by the education I received with 2 years of pre-requisites including behavioural and social sciences, algebra, statistics, and elective; however, I realize that this is not the way the education is structured here and there may be a need for this. I don’t think it is. Especially when practice teachers are required to do so much by way of proof for them to pass. And, if we’re saying they are not doing enough they they need to be assessed themselves. Personally I believe it is up tot he student to prove they are capable and this should be assessed by contributions, placement related papers/assignments etc. I think we should work on improving what is already in place. Having a year of probation is unnecessary. Licensure may by a good idea but I think the terms around which you need a license would need further exploration. What does it serve? What would distinguish licensed from unlicensed?

16. The current ASYE programme should be extended in scope to include all NQSWs entering practice. The requirements asked of employers engaged in the ASYE programme should be subject to a much more exacting and auditable process than is presently the case.

I say scrap the program altogether. If we are looking at doing things differently, the last things we need are more processes. Throwing policies and procedures at everything is not the way to ensure you’re getting quality. They have their education, they have their placements, they have job specific probation. Why would you add another process? Especially along side another program where they are shortening an already struggling education to get more bodies in seat better known as Frontline Social Work! ASYE does not need to exist. What needs to exist is a curriculum which is designed to assessed the skills, knowledge and abilities of Social Work students. What needs to exist are assignments that reflect the work being undertaken on placement so professors have an inclination as to the types od professionals that are developing. What needs to exist is a continuity of assessment in terms of those assessing learning on placements. There should be an advisor that is with the student throughout their education. Someone who can speak to the growth that is or isn’t happening which would feed into a final assessment. I don’t agree with the Assessed and Supported Year of Employment (ASYE) and I don’t agree with Frontline Social Work. I think they are irrelevant processes that complicate matters that already need attention.

17. The overall quality of the educational experience in practice placements must be improved, through the imposition of a much more rigorous audit as a requirement of eligibility for receipt of future ESG payment.

What exactly would constitute a more rigorous audit? I agree that there needs to be more investment from the organizations who are taking on students. I think they need to be more accountable for what the students are learning on this placement and I believe part of this learning should come from a central source (a dedicated Practice Educator or team of Practice Educators whose only job is to manage, supervise and support placements and students within the organization). I think organizations need to see students as students and this can be difficult when Practice Educators are also balancing an over extended work load. As far as the quality of placements determining payment, I don’t think it is a bad idea. Maybe it will serve to motivate, or maybe people will just become better liars. OR maybe I’m being a bit cynical. Hmm?

18. The quality assurance processes of the HEIs should be more consistent, and where different sources of information are utilised, a systematic methodology of triangulation of evidence should be pursued in order to have reliable Quality Assurance processes throughout social work education.

I am not in a position to comment on this because I don’t know what the internal processes of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) is, but I think they need to rethink the way they assess student ability.

19. Priority should be given to increase significantly the ESG funding support to employers to ensure the provision of high quality placements. This funding should include support for the 30 day Developing Skills for Practice module; the involvement of service users and carers in all aspects of educational provision; and the training of practice educators and practice supervisors. As a condition of this financial support, inspection of placements must be much more comprehensive and rigorous than at present, including inspection visits to placements, as well as inspection of the quality assurance processes.

I am not sure if this is a priority but I do think the funding provided to employers should cover the training of practice educators and practice supervisors. I think this education needs to cover completely the expectations of the university in terms of the evidence needed to pass as well as all the policies and procedures for students who may not be on target to pass. I think this should also fund the ability of practice educators to support students on placement including support groups and dedicated skills workshops. Inspection of placements is imperative to ensure that students are able to get and are getting the experiences they need to fulfill the requirements of their degrees. I believe a checklist of organizational characteristics should be drawn up and every organization applying to take on students should have everything or access to learning resources to ensure that students can get a full experience. There should be regular reviews of placements to ensure that practices continue to be such that students are able to have a fulfilling experience that equips them with the opportunities to develop as professionals.

20. There is a pressing need for a new comprehensive continuing professional development, CPD, framework for the profession. CPD should be based on the social worker as a practitioner, the social worker as a professional, and the social worker as a social scientist, and related to the domains in the PCF.

Personally, I believe that continuing professional development is the responsibility of the practitioner. My approach to CPD is filling the gaps and refreshing my knowledge base. There is always new research on domestic violence, substance misuse, mental health etc. Not to mention the fact that these issues become more and more complicated. Furthermore, the population trends change so rapidly that as professionals we need to know what skills we should possess to address what is going on in the community. Now, this could be in the way of training provided directly by an organization or the organization forming partnerships with those who specialize in various types of work to educate its workforce. In order for this to be effective however, Social Workers needs manageable caseloads so there is no guilt in attending development activities or training. Managers also need to be willing to step in where a Social Worker is out to ensure they have that dedicated time to learn and assimilate what they have learned so it can become embedded in their practice.

21. Once the recommended Licence to Practise has been introduced, then there should be a process of revalidation by which licensed social workers are required to demonstrate that they are fit to practise. Revalidation aims to give confidence to service users that their social worker is being regularly checked by their employer and the professional organisation responsible for awarding the license. Licensed social workers should have to revalidate at least every five years, by having comprehensive formal appraisals that are based on the social worker as a practitioner, the social worker as a professional, and the social worker as a social scientist, and the PCF as the core guidance for social workers.

If I had to do this I would never have become a Social Worker. Is he proposing that on top of your yearly performance appraisal we have another appraisal to keep licensure? In other words, yet another process? I don’t think licensure is warranted here if I am honest. However, if these recommendations are taken on board then why not just develop a tool which focuses on the practice of the Social Worker? They have to be appraised in any organization in which they work, why introduce something new? Employers are certainly going to have to make changes if this becomes practice just make sure they are trained to use and are using the appraisal developed by whichever board is going to be looking into this piece of work? Then, when it is time for revalidation, the employer sends in the most recent appraisal with a development plan. They need to stop with all the processes. It’s too much.

22. Investment should be increased in Strategic Workforce Development, the Education Support Grant, the ASYE programme (to prepare for instigating a Licence to Practise), and in Continuing Professional Development. The Student Bursary funding for postgraduates should be maintained but made subject to a means test, and undergraduate bursaries should be reduced in numbers and amount, or gradually phased out.

I agree with his initial statement. Strategic workforce development is a must. We need to stop throwing Social Workers into the economy where they are not needed and hold those who are practicing accountable for the work they are doing. They need to be taken to task for the shortcomings in their practice. Where they are not they need to be moved on. Managers need to take responsibility for documenting efforts to assist and where plans are not being adhered to or met with resistance then disciplinary procedures need to be followed and the individual needs to be asked to leave. The Education Support Grant (ESG) I talked about early. The ASYE program I talked about early as well as CPD. I don’t believe undergraduate bursaries should be phased out. I think there needs to more market analysis and the number of bursaries given should be equivalent to what is needed by employers so there are no more Social Workers than is needed. There needs to be regular market analysis and workforce planning happening in Social Work. Of all the professions from which we borrow, business needs to be one of them to avoid some of the pitfalls we’ve seen in recent years.

Overall, I saw this as a more comprehensive review of Social Work education as well as an unbiased review. There is work to be done and one can only hope that Sir Narey and Professor Appleby are able to come together and jointly work with all applicable stakeholders to develop a coherent plan as to how to go forward.

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Posted by on March 31, 2014 in The Social World


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Support for Student Social Workers

A student reflects on her experience within a statutory Social Work setting here. And I am warning you now, this post will be a rant, not a reflective, scholarly written piece of prose because I find this abysmal. What is this about? How can employers want quality Social Workers but treat students this way??

There are two modes of reflection as identified by Schon. There is reflection in action, where you are thinking about what you’re doing as you are doing and making adjustments. Then, there is reflection on action where you take the time after an interaction to look at what you did, how you did it, what you could have done better and what you will do next time you’re in a similar position. At least this is the way I understand it.

Now, reflection in action I feel is learned and comes with practice although I am sure there are those students who are able to reflect on their own thoughts and behaviour in the moment. Reflection on action is what should be happening in supervision. Social Workers should be challenged on what they believe. They should be challenged on how their beliefs impact their behaviour. They should be challenged on how they felt their actions assisted their clients and reflected the mission and goals of the organization. Social Workers should be challenged to ensure they are not only doing what is best for the client but also representing the organization. Without these things how do we grow? How do we learn?

I am actually proud of this student. Too many would have given up. But not only did she persevere, she has been able to take away positive lessons from her experience. In addition she has spoken out and recognized that this isn’t the right way to go. I hope she goes on to become a Practice Educator in her own time and be able to pass her learning on to others.

Unfortunately hers is not an unusual occurrence. Students all over are saying they are not given the space and opportunity to reflect and are not learning as much as they would like on their placements. I can’t speak to what is going on in the private sector placements but definitely within statutory this is all too true. I understand with the pressures that Social Care are under on the frontline day to day it can be difficult to guide someone through a process you may not be able to do yourself. However, learning is a two way street. Supervisors/managers should be preparing for supervision sessions. They should make the time to ensure they and their supervisees are getting to most out of sessions. Professional development should not be a tokenistic topic. I question how well the Social Workers in this setting are being supervised if this is the experience of a student. I question the motivation of the practice educator to become a practice educator if they were not going to put in the time and effort needed to effectively guide a student social worker.

Where you have someone who wants to learn and is eager to learn, you have  someone who is capable of development and success. It is a slap in the face not to give them the full extent of your knowledge and experience. If you’re not committed to helping someone develop you shouldn’t become a practice educator and if you did this years ago and are now feeling like you can’t be asked or that it is a bother – don’t do it for the money because you are more of a liability than an asset.

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Posted by on March 28, 2014 in The Social World


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Children at risk of radicalisation should be in care

The Mayor of London believes that the radicalization of children should be considered child abuse and I am not so sure he is wrong. However, I think on subjects like this where there needs to a clear line, we also need to be sensitive in how we address things. Let’s go first to his point.

I think any child forced into believing and behaving in a way that could put not only themselves but others at risk should be subject to an intervention. But we need to consider where the radicalization is coming from and how we can address it. If it is coming from within the family then I understand that it would be pointless doing this while the children remain in the family where they are being radicalized but realistically do we have placements that will be a good match for these children? I believe families from different backgrounds can positively raise a children who is racially and or ethnically different from them but as professionals we have a responsibility to ensure that these children are introduced to and are learning about who they are in positive light. We are already sending a message that something is wrong by intervening but to appropriately address their identity needs and ensure they grow up with a view of the world that incorporates tolerance and acceptance we need to ensure that they are being mentored by or have some connection to those like them who are not part of the radical movement. I think it is very easy to say put a child in care but how much preparation would go into that? Isn’t this the beginnings of a cultural scare that could lead to local authority panic attacks?

Like a lot of societal ills a knee jerk reaction would not be the best way to manage a concern. But we also have to balance this with the amount of time we allow these children to remain in toxic environments. If the Mayor feels so strongly on the issue I would like to see what kind of support is being offered to local authorities by way of cultural, ethnic and racial education to ensure the children who may come into care are being treated equally; that even though radical views are being drilled into their heads, they are still viewed as children, they are still viewed as individuals who can learn. I find that inflammatory statements like this are put out into the public and they do exactly what they are set out to – inflame. And this isn’t inflammation with understanding, oh no. This is sheer inflammation with previous tragic events fueling the fire – even being used to stoke the fire and make an argument. If we are saying the children are the concerns, then I say we need a plan of action. We need people from their own cultures and ethnicities who are willing to come forward and work with the government in order to re-educate them and ensure they are able to succeed and excel without bias. They should be able to grow without prejudice from others or to others.

I think politicians and professionals have a duty to be more careful with what we say and how we say it. I think it is socially irresponsible (though it may be well within their rights) for politicians and professionals to make inflammatory statements without a fair and balanced view of the statement’s effects on the wider public. There is a large enough population of Muslims in England for us to find more understanding ways to address problems. There has to be a way to work with communities to address the issues within them. Releasing statements to the wider public about the problem and a proposed solution without a well thought out plan as to how to protect the innocent who may experience backlash just isn’t good enough. Make a proposal without considering the professionals it will affect isn’t good enough.

Has Mr Johnson been working with Social Work professionals on a way to address what he sees as the issue? Has he had discussion about putting out guidance and educating professionals on how to do this. Is there a government initiative to assist professionals in re-educating the children of radicals? Or are they meant to languish in foster care with a good christian family until they forget who they are?

I believe Mr Johnson is right, there is a reluctance to address this because we’re not sure if they safeguarding laws support such an action. I believe it is also a slippery slope because there are so many questions: are the families who take these children in at risk? Are professionals at risk? Do we have the adequate tools to assess how deep their, for lack of a better word, programming is? Do we have adequate community links to help re-educate these children? Are we investing in programs to ensure that professionals (social workers and providers) know how to manage providing the assistance that is needed? Is it even clear what these children will need?

As Social Workers we are not only concerned with the children we bring into care, we are also concerned with the impact these children have on others. Some of them come from horrific backgrounds, they are dealing with their own issues as well as trying to manage living in a new environment, in addition to being thrust into a new culture and way of being. How much consideration is being given to what happens once they leave their families? How much consideration is being given to the policies that will govern what happens when these children are in placement (i.e. – running away/absconding, impact on other children in the home, impact on other children in their new  school environments, mental health and stability of the children taken into care)? Do we place siblings together? If not, how are we accounting for the mental trauma that will cause on top of taking them from their families everything they know and this doctrine (however risky and dangerous) that they have been trained to follow?

As with any incident that raises concerns which are then filtered down to Social Workers, I have to ask – Are We Asking the Right Questions? We have to remember that risk is multidimensional with dual pathways. We have to balance the risk to others as well as the risk from others. I wholeheartedly believe that any initiative address issues arising within a group of people should include people from that population who stand against the issue being addressed. Again, I think it is imperative that politicians and professionals consider their words and the facts with excruciating care before revealing them to the public. These revelations should also be accompanied by blatant disclosures regarding the ACTUAL scope of the problem. It is one thing to educate the public it is another to inflame them and provide those who are already even slightly biased a reason to fully engage hatred. Do we know that a significant portion of children who are being radicalized are getting this from the home? Do we know the percentages by local authority or area? Do we know how many are exposed to this kind of doctrine in the home? If not, then we need to look harder. Where are the messages coming from? Are they from community groups? Are certain types of children being targeted? Are children being groomed? Are there dangerous radicals operating in the communities that need to be targeted and apprehended? Who are the adults that are recruiting these children? Are the families even aware that their children are being radicalized? Or is it happening under the guise of some innocuous activity?

What do we know about the ACUTAL problem? Mr Johnson mentions that “many of those involved in counter-terrorism that there should be a clearer legal position.” What is being done to apprehend the adults who are radicalizing the children? Does law enforcement even know who is doing it? Do they have even an inkling? Why are they not gathering intelligence and evidence of this then shutting them down? Following that they can find the children associate with these people and provide an intervention to re-educate them. I hate the idea of people using children to fight adult battles. But what I hate even more are children as casualties of adult interventions that should have first looked into the adults causing the problem. No one is born racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, atheist, sexist, or anti – anything. These are things they learn and if they learn, they can re-learn.

I oppose statements like the ones made by Mr Johnson because as a Social Work I am aware of the possible fall out and backlash of such statements on the communities they effect. These statements are socially irresponsible. They are morally questionable and they are highly inflammatory. Nothing good can come from them. As one person said, they are “easy headlines”, fodder for talk show hosts and shock jocks. None of this serve to bring us any closer as people how does it hide the inherent insecurities in the pseudo majority population. People fear what they don’t understand and most don’t even venture to find out.

I urge all Social Workers to get to know the people with which they are tasked to work. Know what is considered “normal” and what isn’t. Find people in the community that want the best for their communities and make them your allies. Be genuine about your desire to continue the fight for social justice – the banner we all pick up when we sign up to be Social Workers. Don’t allow political agendas and propoganda to be the defining foundation of your work. Challenge, question and be heard. You are not standing on your own. There are so many doing the same. Educate yourself so you can provide the best possible service to the most vulnerable of us. There is pride in this profession. There is strength in this profession. We need to embrace our ability to influence so we can make positive definitive changes.

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Posted by on March 23, 2014 in The Social World


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Role of Management in Children’s Social Care

managementAs we are all aware there are multiple management styles (directive, authoritative, affiliative and participatory), each of which has its benefits and disadvantages. (I won’t go into a full description of different management styles but if you are interested in an overview you can find that here and many other places online just by doing a search.)

I think it is important to understand each of these management styles because as a manager there will be a time to use each. If you are aware of them and how to use them appropriately you can ensure that you have a non-oppressive work environment. Conversely, using them improperly can lead to a disloyal, unmotivated, burnt out and down trodden workforce. Many argue that being authoritative is the worst of the management styles however, depending on what is going on in your organization, this may be completely appropriate.

In addition to being able to maneuver through the different types of management styles and knowing when it is most appropriate to use each and how, I think it is crucial for Social Care or Social Work mangers are able to exert certain roles. These being:

– Enforcer (yes this may be a harsh word but it is true nonetheless) of policies and procedures as appropriate ton ensure we are doing the work that safeguards both clients and workers

– Compassionate change managers: being able to implement change management programs that may be driven by legislative or policy changes but that is planned, taking into account both the skills, needs and capacity of the workforce they directly manage.

– Holders of accountability: both their accountability to those they manage as well as the accountability of those they manage to those with whom they work

– Containers: effective managers need to be able to contain their staff during periods of change, crises, anxiety provoking and stressful situations. They need to be able to maintain calm and make decisions in the best interest of the organization, the client base and the individual workers.

– Decision makers: as stated, managers need to be able to maintain calm and make decisions in the best interest of the organization, the client base and the individual workers.

– They need to be able to offer guidance to ensure that work is moving on and progress is being made with the work a practitioner is undertaken with his/her clients.

– Balanced safeguarder: Managers need to understand their duties to safeguard not on vulnerable clients but also members of staff. There needs to be on going and accurate assessment of staff capabilities as well as on going risk assessment of individual client circumstances for the benefit of all.

– Managers, at all levels, need to understand they are part of an overall structure where each part has its purpose but on one part is exclusively more important than the others.

– Managers are responsible for development of their workers (and themselves in order to stay relevant and make informed decisions). Managers need to ensure development is pitched at the level of the worker to serve the needs of the clients.

– Managers need to engage in balanced measurement. As officers of an organization, manager need to be able to judge the efficiency of their staff against established standards. However, they also need to ensure that the interventions staff are implementing are effective. It is about more than just meeting performance targets. we need to ensure that we are making a positive impact.

There’s my two cents.

Having said all that though, I do believe there is a distinct difference between managers and leaders. Managers can be leaders and vice versa, but not all possess the ability. We shall leave that for another day.

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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Social Work Practice


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Boy who raped sister transitioning home

A young man who was convicted of raping his younger sister is due to be returned home. Apparently he committed his crimes after watching pornography and had a desire to try it out. They report that he is disgusted at what he has done and an impact statement by his younger sister states that she would like her brother to return home and she loves him and misses playing with him. The young man is currently living away from home.

He is only 13 at present and I agree that locking him up would “expose him to “hardened and sophisticated” youth offenders, Judge Prowse said.” Having said that, I desperately hope that he has received counselling around sexually harmful behaviour and not just why it is wrong and inappropriate but also the impact on the victim. He needs to learn the impact of what he’s done, not just the physical consequences but also the emotional impact.

I desperately hope his younger sister is receiving counselling regardless of the circumstances but especially if the young man’s sexual offences were committed under the guise of playing games. I would hope that someone is working with her to understand her feelings, emotions and distinguish between the feelings evoked by what she and her brother were doing and those feelings that she should be feeling toward her brother. This incident interrupted her development. It is a definitively critical moment in her development.

Both children need counselling, in depth counselling that will ensure they can forever distinguish feelings and emotions and boundaries in their relationships. We want to ensure he never commits another offense and that she can develop positive, healthy relationships where there are no blurred lines, abuse, guilt, shame or distinct awkwardness that would prohibit any of those things. We need to understand how she viewed the incidents. We need to understand how she views her brother and how she views herself. We need to understand how she sees her parents and other adults in her life. We need to understand what she understands about sex and or sex games. It is imperative that we understand all these things if we are to minimise the impact of this on her development. And where there are discrepancies or misunderstandings in her relationship paradigms these need to be “rewired” and restructured to ensure that she has the appropriate messages.

I hope the professionals involved have thought of the above and are providing the interventions necessary to limit the impact of these events on both children. I hope they will be monitored. I hope his sister has gotten a talk about “good touch” and “bad touch”. I hope their parents are being supported in having these conversations with their children. I hope their parents will monitor their interactions from now on; not to be intrusive but to prevent anything like this from happening again. There was no way they could foresee this but they can help prevent it from reoccurring.

Not to be a cynic, but as much as the young man has said he is “disgusted” with his own behaviour, it remains to be seen if he is just repeating what he’s heard or if he is truly remorseful. I don’t want to hear about this young man in 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years having repeated his crimes because the only intervention he received was removal from the home and a referral order (which doesn’t stop young people from reoffending). There needs to be real therapeutic assessment and intervention so we understand both children’s relationship paradigms following this as well as at what level to pitch intervention to rectify any damage that has been done.

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Posted by on March 14, 2014 in The Social World


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Developing a solid Social Work Workforce

In the simplest stated form, developing a quality driven, solidly founded Social Work workforce requires four very important components.

1. Demand. When looking at regulating or endorsing Social Work education programs there needs to be an established workforce assessment. It is crucial to know how much staff employers are going to need. We need to be better at workforce projections so we are not flooding the market with newly qualified staff who cannot find jobs.

(I believe the aforementioned problem would be less of a problem with a more holistic but generalist Social Work education as graduates would have a greater arena in which to work. I also think partnerships between HEIs and local authorities for specialist training programs – either children or adult – would help because they can have a group of dedicated staff upon completion of a program.)

I found this definition on Leicestershire council’s website and it says it exactly how it needs to be. “A definition of workforce planning involves achieving: the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time for the right cost.”

2. Quality of education. By proving Social Workers a generalist education with the option of specialising in an area (i.e. – children’s, adults, family work, international) you are providing them with the basic foundation needed to succeed as a Social Work professional who is versatile and can manoeuvre throughout Social Work gaining a diverse skill set. This is an ongoing debate that needs to be given priority attention to ensure that we are addressing the needs of the students. This means that if HEIs are providing a generalist education then employers need to invest in that knowledge needed to ensure positive clients for their own client base.

3. Changing how Social Workers are hired. If you have an idea of what the work force needs you can take advantage of hiring multiple numbers at the same time. A comprehensive induction program which incorporates the practicalities of Social Work within a particular organisation is crucial. This will equip their new workforce with the confidence, support and practical skills needed to be productive and strong members of the teams in which they are placed.

4. Quality of employment. By providing a generalist education, you create a workforce that can be, for lack of a better word, manipulate to a greater degree. This is not manipulation in the sense of using them for one’s own agenda through suspicious or morally questionable techniques. It is manipulation in the sense that they can move through children’s social work, adult social work, voluntary etc. By having an employee with the right skill set, employers can ask they move to where the skills may be needed. It also gives employees the opportunity to broaden their knowledge base and to work in various sectors. This can improve loyalty and commitment to an organisation as employees are aware that they can move to other areas should they feel need for change. It may also help those staff members who may be underperforming. Once their skills are identified they can be encouraged to apply their skills in other parts of the organisation.

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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in Social Work Practice


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Social Work Education in England Part 2

In Sir Martin Narey’s review there is commentary from himself and students alike about the lack of preparation of students to undertake statutory Social Work. I do not believe it is the duty of a university to prepare students for a particular track of Social Work. I believe an undergraduate degree should provide a generic or generalist view of the profession and present students with options. I wholly disagree with this job training track that seems to be present in Social Work education here. Yes there are particular skills needed to work with children and those to work with adults. However, these skills can be largely categorised and the basis for each taught within Social Work education to be honed and specialised depending on where a Social Worker chooses to work. It is more than possible to offer a generic agree with an additional certificate in statutory Children’s Social Work of Adult Social Work (which I think should be funded by local authorities as they are asking the universities to prepare their workforce). But there definitely needs to be a generic set of transferrable skills taught to anyone seeking entry into the Social Work profession.

Not every social worker strives to be a child protection or adult social worker. Those who have read my blogs have seen my support of 101 Social Work Careers because it encourages Social Work in various settings, which is what I feel the education in England does not. The Social Work degree here doesn’t prepare you to be a Social Worker; it prepares you to be a child protection Social Worker or an Adult Social Worker. They are not training Social Work professionals they are trying to build a workforce and I do not agree with this. There is no lack of Social Workers. There is a lack of Social Work professionals with quality skills and experience that can do the work employers need them to do without further development before they undertake the full scope of their job duties.

In England there are a high proportion of international Social Workers. As I said, they are not training students to be Social Work professionals. They are training social worker to work in specific segments of the field. My social work degree prepared me to work with various groups of clients; which is why I was more than prepared to be a Social Worker in England. There is speculation that there isn’t even a shortage of Social Workers. What are missing are social workers in whom employer can place their confidence. It isn’t quantity that is missing, it is quality. My alma mater has even started a separate specialism for Child Welfare Education for Baccalaureates, an educational opportunity for undergraduate social work majors to prepare for employment in one of Pennsylvania’s 67 public child welfare agencies.

Basically, Social Work education should cover those universal skills that would be needed on any Social Work job. More specific training (court skills, form f assessments, partnership working, lone working, case management, etc.) should be taught on the job. I must reiterate, Social Work education should cover transferrable skills present in Social Work and job specific skills should be taught on the job.

Any education program needs to include a written statement and interview. I would also argue that there needs to be psychometric testing as part of the assessment, specifically verbal reasoning as this specifically relates to analysis and a written exercise to evaluate their abilities.

As someone who was trained at both the Bachelor’s level and the Master’s level in the US, I argue that an undergraduate degree should be a generalist degree, providing prospective Social Workers with generic skills to be able to work in either children’s or adult’s Social Work. I think the next step could be certificate training in children’s or adults if a Social Worker chooses. Masters level courses in the NY follow the trend of Clinical Social Work, Administrative Social Work, Community Organizing which gives the student more specialized skills to progress his/her career.

In my view Bachelors level Social Work, should provide students with the knowledge and skills mentioned in the links above. I think this would be the start of a more robust Social Work workforce. I think giving them generic skills and allowing them varied placements would take some of the anxiety out of where to work after they graduate. They would have the confidence of knowing that there are more opportunities to choose from, they would not be “pigeon holed” into one area and have the freedom to not only move around but also get a varied professional tool kit bolstered by dynamic experiences. There is much to be learned from working with adults that would help work well with families; and there is much to be learned in children’s services about some of the complex difficulties that confront adults and impact their ability to function “normally”. Being able to move freely within Social Work also has the potential to minimize burn out. Sometimes working with the same population for a length of time can cause one’s brain to atrophy; having time away can bring not only a fresh perspective but also new ideas. Being able to move between children’s and adults Social Work also gives workers a greater appreciation for and a better understanding of the work of the other set of professionals.

The development of Social Workers needs to be a coordinated effort between educational institutions and employers. When I did my undergraduate placement it was in Pennsylvania’s child welfare (child protection) organization. Everyone who wanted to do this placement was asked to give up 6 weeks of their summer, prior to the start of the placement, and we were given the same training new caseworkers get when they join. As a matter of fact, there were some days when it was just us students but for the most part each of our sessions included newly hired caseworkers (in NY even with a Bachelors in Social Worker, no one can hold the title of Social Worker until they obtain a Master’s degree). The topics included Basic Caseworker safety, Casework Process and Case Planning, Risk Assessment: PA (Pennsylvania) Model, Child Protective Services: Legal Issues, and Child Protective Services.

In addition, my one first Social Work (casework) positions after getting my Bachelors was with the NYC equivalent of an Independent Fostering Agency. I still have my training program. We had to get it dated and signed by the trainer when completed. This training included Working in Partnership, Child Development, Child Abuse, Communication, Appropriate out of home placements, Documentation Safety & Risk, Documentation & UCR** Risk Assessment, Service Planning & UCR, Legal Issues in child welfare, Homestudies & subsidies (for adoption or perspective foster carers). Again this prepared me to do the job for which they hired me. It was a great top up to my training from my placement and gave my a NY perspective in terms of NYC policy and procedure.

What both of these employers had in common is they made an investment in us as students and potential workers. This is what is needed in creating well rounded, Social Work Professionals or if you want ot reduce it, this is what makes good Children’s Social Care Social Workers – an investment and commitment from employers. Training your workers from the outset provides confidence, knowledge and skills – developed in a safe learning environment.  This is what is missing. Employers are expecting students to learn absoultely everything at university. University is there to teach theory, history, intervention methods. It is there to give you a foundation for practice. Employers are should teach the practicalities of the job. Just as I need a new set of laws, policies and procedures when I went to NY because some of the laws (not all) were different. The one thing that Local Authorities have over that is once a Social Worker is made aware of the legislation, they will only need the occasional top ups for legislative and policy changes.

This can work if we do it right.

**UCR = Uniformed Case Records

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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in The Social World


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