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Monthly Archives: May 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Report Writing by Daisy Boggs

I was asked to write a review of this book and I thought I would just share a piece of it for anyone looking for resources.

I think this book is useful for professionals throughout their career but specifically for students and newly qualified social workers who are starting out and may be just getting used to information gathering and report writing.

the main competing books to this one?

From an American perspective, “Where to start and what to ask”, “The Social Work Interview”; though I don’t think these are used here in the UK. From a UK perspective, the “Framework for Assessment of Children in Need and their Families”, “Report Writing for Social Workers (Post-Qualifying Social Work Practice Series)”, “Writing Skills for Social Workers (Social Work in Action series)”

advantages over other books on the market?

This book is compact and can be carried daily. It is easily accessible and readable. I can see the good practice points being valuable to newly qualified Social Workers and student Social Workers.

key strengths of the current edition?

It is relevant in terms of good practice points, having a standard of writing assessments, it is accessible, it is portable without weighing someone down, it breaks down the key aspects of Social Work reports and incorporates key elements (such as the voice of the child) that have been found essential by inspectorates.

How easy do you find it to locate the information you need in the book?

Because the table of contents was laid out in such a clear and useable way, it was easy to skip through and find the information. The headings in each chapter and the sequencing of information helped as well.

Would you recommend the book to other social work professionals? What would you say about it?

I would. I would say that it is a good resource to have when conducting initial visits as a reminder to review on the way. I would say that it is an integral resource if they are supervising students or managing newly qualified Social Workers. I would say it can be used with practitioner who struggle with assessments. I would say that it is a good resource to have as part of an organizational Social Work library.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2014 in The Social World

 

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Social Work versus Bureaucracy

nureaucracyWhat I hear on a regular basis is the need for less bureaucracy in Social Work. I tend to agree. I think one of the issues we face is where there is no “form” that would explain an entire situation when something happens, a new one is introduced. Then we realise there is too much to fill out so we roll back quite a bit of forms, something else happens and we put them all back in. I want to look at what we actually need in Social Work from an open and honest perspective. I will do this from my knowledge of systems and ways of working I have experienced thus far. I think it is important that the decision makers are clear about the hindrance of masses of paperwork and the reluctance of decision makers to repeal these for fear that something might be missed.

The role of Social Work is to intervene where there may be difficulties. At times this may be to prevent escalation; at other times it may be to deconstruct complex issues and reduce crisis. Social Workers give support. The International Federation of Social Workers defines Social Work as

“The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.”

To this end we need to consider what tools we need in order to do our jobs effectively. We definitely need ways to evidence the work being undertaken by Social Workers with clients. Enter the life of documentation. So what’s the most important document at a Social Worker’s disposal? I would argue it is the assessment. During the assessment phase of Social Work, Social Workers are building relationships with clients and associate professionals (which includes explain your role and its limitations), gathering information from them and corroborating information with the professionals in their lives.

As such the first document Social Workers need is an assessment that is fit for purpose. The assessment we use needs to fit with the remit of the organization and needs to affords us the opportunity to record the information we need to make a determination as to whether or not our particular service is the most appropriate to provide assistance. (Wow! That was a long sentence wasn’t it?!) Once you understand where the gaps are, what type of assistance is warranted and that your organization can meet these needs it’s time to create a plan. I don’t think this should be done in isolation. In “Tiffany’s good practice guide” (stop checking amazon it doesn’t really exist – well at least not in print), a Social Worker would take the findings of their assessment back to the family and agree the goals for the plan. The Social Worker would inform the family of where they see gaps and why the organization is best placed to help the family fill them and the family can inform the Social Worker of those areas where they feel they need help. A deal can then be struck – if a Social Worker is working for a statutory agency there are some tasks that are going to be required however, this doesn’t mean you cannot help alleviate some of the concerns of the family. It is called cooperative working. They need to understand the ramifications of not undertaken certain tasks but as a professional you also need to understand that their concerns and worries are just as valid as your own, in some cases more so because quite frankly, no one cares what you want. As individuals, our primary concern is getting what we want. If you as a Social Worker can broker meeting the need I identify, I am more likely to look at what you view as a problem (not always the case, but on average most people are amiable).

*Just a note to say that assessment isn’t a singular event. Another of Tiffany’s good practice rules is to keep your eyes open. You need to be taking account of the client’s environment every time you’re in it. You need to be aware of those things that trigger changes in your clients behaviour. You need to be constantly challenging (respectfully) what you see and hear, where appropriate, when you are working with people.*

The next document we need is a plan (service, care, intervention – don’t really care what you call it) that can document the goals we want to achieve during our time working with a client and the tasks we need to complete in order to achieve those goals. The plan should afford the opportunity to record small successes so as to give our clients a “hand up”. It is difficult to go to meeting after meeting where it is said you haven’t achieved the things on your plan. It is also disheartening. We need to create as many small wins for our clients as possible so as to empower them in the process.

I would say we need a review plan as well, but I am of the opinion that would work better is a running document able to record where tasks have been completed and goals reached as well as allow you to add and amend goals and tasks as needed. (I know, that was another long one.)

As Social Workers, by the time we have gotten to formal interventions we have already done so much work with a client. Hence the need for case notes. We need to be able to record all of the interactions we have related to a client or case. This provides an evidence base. Admittedly, these are more for inspection bodies and organizations but in the age of austerity we all need to justify our existence to the powers that be. I am not one who believes that a case note needs to be verbatim. I think just the gist of the conversation and possibly any important quotes (defined as those statements you cannot paraphrase or if paraphrasing takes away from the intent of the actual statement). Your case notes are to document the contact you have with others on behalf of or about your client and maybe a few with your client between your sessions.

For your sessions, I think it is important to have an intervention/session or visit record. I think it is important that Social Workers begin to record in ways that exemplify the work we are doing. Our sessions need to be focused and addressing the plan and the referral behaviours. This will help minimize drift among cases and help us to reach goals. Part of this should also include planning for your visits. It isn’t good enough to go into a home and discuss the same issues time and again. Visits/sessions should be active with both you and client(s) participating. They should have a particular focus and finish with an outcome. Whether that outcome is that the intervention was success or that more work needs to be done in a particular area, there should be an outcome. Just to mention, interventions don’t need to be grand shows of professionalism and expertise. These will be based on the needs of your client(s). This should all be documented. So, these records should include: the purpose/goal of the session/visit, the intervention (what is it you’re planning to do in order to work toward the purpose), and the outcome including the response of your client to the intervention. Interventions can be those tasks that need to be completed in order to achieve one of the goals in the plan.

The final very important document is a transfer/closing summary. The closing summary should include the reason the case was referred to yourself, the work that has been undertaken, what has been achieved, what still needs to be achieved (if applicable), what is being done to assure the remaining needs are met (if applicable) and why it was deemed appropriate to close the case. This document can be extremely helpful. Incidentally, it works for both a transfer to a new worker or team as well as a closing summary, so you don’t need 2 different forms.

Now I know somewhere in that huge analytical brain you’re thinking – what about core group meetings, looked after children reviews, child protection plan meetings? You’re probably shouting about how I don’t know what I am talking about, but alas, you’d probably be right. However, I have a great sense of what should beand this is based on my own practice as well as the collective voices of those with whom I have worked. If you have a plan that is ongoing and amendable, then that could be your report to the chairs of any of those meetings. The only time when there would be a large difference is if there is a large change in circumstances for your client and you are looking to complete redo your assessment. At which point you’d take the assessment and the new plan. If your plan is kept up to date with all the achievements of tasks and goals, the addition of new goals as identified, the amending of current goals as needed, etc., then there would be no need for yet another report. It is about looking at the way we work and changing it to fit how we would like to work as long as it benefits the client base.

There will reports that you will have to do such as court reports, parenting assessments, care orders, etc. but for your day to day work with clients I think the above – completed and recorded properly – would serve to satisfy any organization or inspectorate. It is about the quality of what you have done, not the quantity. I think there needs to be an overhaul of the way we are working to allow us the time to do the work we would like to do. I know this is nothing new and people have been saying it for ages but I am unable to see what the barriers are to working in the simplest way while ensuring quality.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2014 in Social Work Practice

 

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Improving Practice through Supervision

As Social Work continues to be scrutinised here in England and the numerous initiatives put in place to address perceived skill gaps we see the continuation and implementation of programs to “fix” the problems in Social Work for those who are starting out. We have the Frontline programme aimed at fast tracking “quality” candidates through Social Work training to get them on the frontline and working with vulnerable people. We have the Step Up program, which is “a training programme which enables trainees to work towards a qualification to practise as a social worker at the same time as gaining intensive hands-on experience. It has been designed to enable high-achieving graduates or career changers who have experience of working with children and young people to train to become qualified social workers.[1]” They are also looking for proposals for innovation in Social Work to improve child protection outcomes in failing local authorities. What I don’t see in these initiatives, and maybe I need to do more research, are those geared at frontline management. I don’t understand the purpose of training new workers in new ways but allowing management to continue in the way it has always been. What I see as lacking is the way we train workers who are underperforming of doing just enough to get by to be better practitioners.SUPERVISION

Of course, me being who I am, I have an idea as to how to manage these workers and help them improve and I think the answer is modelling. I think as managers we need to model the behaviour we want our practitioners to be exhibiting with clients when we have supervision. These are very simple things we can do as examples.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the work, we can get into some very bad habits including spur of the moment supervision, allowing interruptions during supervision, being late for supervision or rescheduling consistently, allowing supervision to be unstructured and various other issues. These bad habits are mirrored if you look at the practice issues identified through case reviews and inspections. Admittedly, practitioners need to take responsibility for their work and their practice, but it is difficult to reprimand someone who is mirroring the behaviour of a manager. There needs to be some consistency in the way Social Workers are managed and the way they are managing cases. We can look at parallels in parenting or in pro-social modelling but what it comes down to it teaching those skills which appear to be missing or not up to standard and where this isn’t being proactive enough and confident enough to manage people out. The latter is harder than it sounds but this is definitely where, as a manager, you need to be aware of your role and your organizations procedures on how to manage underperforming staff. I want to deal with the former.

Looking at the literature there are three main functions of supervision, each with their associated topics and tasks that go into more depth and relate to practice. These functions are educational, supportive and administrative[2]. If you think about it supervisory relationship mirrors the relationship we have with our clients. On a basic level Social Work is about task assistance and social and emotional support facilitated by a positive relationship. This is true of the supervisory relationship between frontline manager and frontline Social Worker as well. The core tasks of Social Work are assessment, planning and intervention. Supervision is about assessment, intervention and planning just in a different context.

Assessment/Administrative

In assessment we are trying to ascertain where our clients need assistance, where are the gaps in functioning and those places where we can realistically effect change. In supervision we are looking at the practical work of the Social Worker in terms of responsibilities and organizational accountability. Here we are discussing our policies and procedures and ensuring that practice is mirroring the vision and responsibilities of the organization.

Intervention and Planning/Supportive and Educational

Intervention is about how we are going to address the gaps and areas for change. The educational function is about confronting the gaps in knowledge, skills and practice. It is about looking at how Social Workers are practicing. We are getting them to reflect on what is happening and figuring out those areas for improvement. The supportive element of supervision looks at worker morale and job satisfaction. This is where we would have conversations about where a worker might want support. This is also equivalent to professional development. How can we take those areas identified for improvement and turn them into skills? How are we going to address them? How are we contributing to high worker morale and job satisfaction?

Mastering these skills is the reason, sometimes, the best practitioners make very good managers. Obviously there are other key personality traits and characteristics that make a person suitable for management but here I am just talking about the key tasks of the Social Worker, whether in direct practice or in a management capacity. Being able to undertake these tasks is crucial for optimal functioning in Social Work.

There are things managers/supervisors can do with their supervisees that would begin to change the working relationship and begin showcasing those skills we expect to see in practitioners. This list is based on what I have seen and experienced in supervisory relationships but is by no means exhaustive.

–          Setting appointments: it is crucial for supervision to be planned in order for it to be effective. It gives both practitioner and manager a chance to prepare for the session. When we work with clients, appointments are our time to implement interventions, get an update on tasks, or just check in. It is important because you recognise the importance of planning in the achievement of goals.

–          Keeping appointments: I had a manager who was constantly rescheduling our supervisions then questioned why they were so long when we finally met. When I raised it, what I got was a statement akin to “you should see how often [my manager] reschedules my supervision.” This is modelling at work. The practice of her manager was filtering into her own practice. Sometimes rescheduling is inevitable but if this is constant I would say the nature of the supervisory relationship needs to be evaluated. We should always be respectful of our clients’ time. We are always quite scathing when we have a client who is consistently late for appointments or chronically missing them. We should, as practitioners, be able to live up to the expectations we have of others.

–          Setting an agenda: When working with clients having an agenda or, more appropriate in that context, an intervention plan, allows a practitioner to make the most of every session. You know from your plan what needs to be achieved with the family and you would have had conversations about how to achieve these goals. Intervention plans for each session keeps it focus and moves you toward case progression instead of stagnation. if supervision is haphazard and without focus how do you know when tasks are complete and whether they are being completed on time? How do we know if policies and procedures are being followed? How do we know what concerns have arisen? How do we know where our supervisees are struggling? You can talk for hours without coming to any conclusions or making any progress. There needs to be a structure.

–          Using authority appropriately: As people we tend to fall back on authority when we feel, threatened or challenged or frustrated. Not that this isn’t appropriate or needed at times, however, as I recently read “if you want honey, don’t kick over the beehive.” Getting the best out of someone rarely happens because we puff out and beat our chest as a show of power; that does not facilitate lasting change. Our clients may acquiesce to get rid of us but we are no closer to effecting lasting change than we were when we met them. I know a decent manage that, because she felt threatened by the challenging behaviour of an employee, missed the opportunity to grow at a critical stage in the supervisory relationship. So instead of working through the particular issue and getting beneath to the core issue, she exerted her authority and pretty much said “what I say goes and you need not challenge me,” which then shut down the worker’s momentum after having built up the courage to address those underlying issues. Their relationship is functional but limited. You have authority and those you supervise as well as our clients are well aware of that fact. We rarely achieve genuine positive results because we are powerful. It is usually because there is a quality inherent in the relationship that allows us to feel positive about that which is asked of us.

–          Documentation:

Being a manager/supervisor is not just about the functions of the organization; you have to know how to get the best out of your workers. If you’re not giving priority to your relationship with your supervisees how can we expect them to be interacting with clients? It isn’t impossible and you have those workers who thrive no matter how good or bad the supervision they are receiving. However, modelling behaviour can be crucial if you have someone who is under performing. You can use the supervisory relationship to draw parallels to their practice. You can build the relationship by engaging the practitioner which is what we would expect them to do with clients. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen training for “working with difficult/hard to reach/hard to engage clients/families”. What I don’t see are trainings on how to work with difficult professionals; however, the skills are similar.

Just a note on managing people out; a key component of supervision is documentation. If as a manager you are having difficulty with a staff member who is underperforming, it is mandatory for you to have documentation that explicitly states the identification of the issues as well all the efforts made to assist the staff member to improve with time frames so they have a realistic view as to when tasks and activities need to be completed. You will need to document exactly what needs to be improved as well as what you have asked to be done to evidence the improvement. As stated, you will need to put time frames on these. You will need to document the workers response to these and ensure that this is signed by yourself and the worker. If, based on your organizations disciplinary procedures, you have reached the limit on the allocated time for improvement and there has been no improvement these will be needed by management and human resources in order to justify someone being removed from their post. This is best done as openly and honestly as possible. It needs to be, as it would with a client, based on the behaviours that are inhibiting the work rather than on the person themselves. You need to be able to relate it back to their job description and they need to understand what is at stake. Every organization should have policies and procedures to govern this process but it starts long before you get to that stage. All of your supervisions should include a discussion about practice, those things being done well and those that aren’t. Formal processes should not be a surprise to a staff member. But I stress, keep tasks, comments and documentation focused on the work and not on the person. It may be that they are suited for another aspect of working in your organization but necessarily for your particular area.

 

[1] Department for Education (2013) Supporting social workers to provide help and protection to children https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/supporting-social-workers-to-provide-help-and-protection-to-children/supporting-pages/canparent-trial

[2] Infed – The Functions of Supervision http://infed.org/mobi/the-functions-of-supervision/

 

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2014 in Social Work Practice

 

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