A study was published yesterday that received a fair bit of publicity, suggesting that almost half of parents support the return to using corporal punishment in schools. The argument goes that since the demise of corporal punishment, children’s behaviour has deteriorated as teachers no longer have effective methods to implement classroom discipline. Teaching has deteriorated as classes become war zones, and education has become a thing of the past as many pupils suffer due to the disruption caused by a few who have no desire to learn. Blah blah blah…

(Let me make it clear at the outset: I’m not advocating corporal punishment. Behaviour management is not considered to be an acceptable defence for violence between two adults in our court system- why should we therefore consider it an acceptable defence for violence between an adult and a child? )

When I was a child and at school, in the 70s and early 80s, corporal punishment was common in homes and schools. I was smacked by my parents occasionally- they did not need to often, and generally encouraged good behaviour by the use of other methods (grounding, removing privileges, star charts, praise etc). I do recall corporal punishment being used at primary and secondary school, but very rarely, as a well established system of sanctions and rewards existed to encourage good behaviour and teachers commanded a great deal of respect.  However, my memories of school were generally that children respected teachers and staff; occasionally rules would be infringed and punished, but generally behaviour was relatively unproblematic. I’m sure this was not the case in every school at the time- but probably not to the extent that it appears to be now.

I wonder why things are so different now? I wonder if it is to do with the whole shift in ideas of parenting and priorities in our society.

Things appear to have changed with my generation- the ‘yuppie’ generation, the children of Thatcher- who are the parents today. Society changed around the time at which my generation was establishing careers and families- Thatcherism encouraged us to have it all, to pursue success, money, home ownership, careers and to live beyond our means. After all, we could pay it back later… Mothers rarely stayed at home with their children any longer; nurseries and child-minding services became big businesses. As did materialism- presents used to assuage parent’s guilt about not being able to spend as much time with their children any more.  Thatcherism also caused one of the largest recessions ever experienced at that time, with home repossessions, homelessness, bankruptcy and family break-down becoming increasingly commonplace. Working hours gradually increased, until today we work longer hours than any other European country.

Simplistic?  Maybe.

But is it that far-fetched to suggest that parents who felt guilty at spending little time with their children also felt reluctant to spend that precious time implementing boundaries and discipline? No parent wants their child to believe that they are only interested in discipline.

But children need boundaries. They respond well to boundaries.  Consistent boundaries and consequences tells children they are cared about and loved. It gives them security. It enables them to fit in with society. Boundaries are essential.

Many children come into care because of poor parenting- their parents beg social workers to accommodate them as they cannot cope with their behaviour. In many of these cases, initially these children rebel against the boundaries implemented by their carers, but eventually begin to adapt and accept them. It doesn’t always happen this way of course, but I’ve seen many children recently where consistent boundaries and sanctions have had dramatic effects upon their behaviour.  The key is in consistency.

We cannot expect that sending children to school with one set of rules and consequences (regardless of whether those are detention or corporal punishment) will have any positive effect on their behaviour if they then  return to homes without boundaries.

Behaviour management starts at home- not school- and society needs to be considering more about the values we promote about what is important.

Is a big bank balance/ car/ house really more important than spending time with our children? Is climbing the career ladder really more important than being there to take our children to school each day and watch Horrid Henry with them after school? Is contributing to the development of the company that employs us really more important than contributing to the development of our children’s potential?

I’m not attacking individuals here- I’m suggesting that this is a structural problem with our society. And until we challenge the dominant thinking and rectify our values and priorities, we will continue to have uncontrollable children, disrupted classrooms, riots, and youth offending. I’m suggesting that the cause of these is not single-parent families or poverty, or a soft criminal  justice system. I’m suggesting that they are symptoms of a skewed sense of what’s important in life.

6 months down…

I’ve been in work now for over 6 months down and this sadly neglected blog has been calling my name a lot lately again… For so long I’ve been too mentally and physically exhausted to be able to compose my thoughts and formulate a post. However I’m now settling and starting to feel more confident in my work, less exhausted and less stressed/ bewildered/ terrified.

The transition from being a student to newly qualified was extremely difficult and traumatic. As a  student I only ever held approximately 5 cases and my hand was held all the way- I was totally protected from any overall responsibility and given supervision every week. I had plenty of time to think and reflect, theory was an everyday concept and time was freely available. Then overnight I had a far bigger and more complex caseload, supervision once every month- 6 weeks, total responsibility and accountability for decisions that have a huge impact on people’s lives, and time to reflect or think theory has become a very rare commodity (if not extinct!)

There is an NQSW scheme intended to smooth the transition between student and qualified status,  hopefully avoiding drastic mistakes and reducing the numbers of new social workers leaving the profession quickly due to stress and burnout. It entitles NQSWs to a ‘protected’ caseload (smaller/ less complex), extra supervision and additional time for peer support, reflection and study. In my experience however, it took 4 months for me to be ever placed on the scheme, has been very confusing and requires the completion of a portfolio of evidence to demonstrate that you are meeting certain standards. I haven’t received extra supervision or a protected caseload, but do get a 3 hour ‘mentoring’ session ever 6 weeks with the other NQSWs in the authority (generally an opportunity to have a gripe about how bad things are and share tea and sympathy).

Although the ideas behind the scheme are laudable, I really feel that it needs to be re-designed. The transition to qualified status needs to be made smoother and less stressful, but without the addition of extra work at a  time when getting to grips with new policies, procedures, computer systems, responsibilities, managing a full caseload is all so mind-boggling anyway. Compiling a portfolio is fine as a student when you only 5 or so cases, but not as an NQSW when you suddenly have sole responsibility for 4 times as many and so many other things to learn as well. Making the extra supervision/ protected caseload a statutory requirement would be far more useful, although this would be more difficult for employers and perhaps result in increased reluctance to employ NQSWs.

On a positive note however, after 6 months I feel more confident now in my role and abilities and don’t feel like I’m sinking every day. I no longer come home and agonise over whether social work is for me and no longer have quite the same continuous nagging sense of fear. I feel like a valued member of my team and have noticed in recent weeks that I’m no longer the one always asking questions of other colleagues- new staff ask me now and I’m actually able to answer correctly too!

I’m still spinning plates on sticks, but it’s getting easier!

Spinning plates

After 5 weeks in my new job in a fostering team, and no longer being a social worker-to-be, I’ve changed the name of my blog.  After much thought about the new name, the last week in work crystallised my thinking very clearly and made the choice quite easy. The week truly did feel like I was trying to keep numerous different plates spinning on sticks without dropping any!

5 weeks in, my caseload is rapidly increasing. I have a full quota of foster carers requiring supervision and support, and am acquiring new assessments on an almost daily basis. My diary is full and time for reflection, thinking and planning, abundant and so valuable as  a student, is now almost non-existent.

In addition to that, the service is due an Ofsted inspection soon. The last one, in 2009, highlighted several points which reduced our rating, such as some case files not having vital information in them such as records of the foster carer’s contracts, children not having had routine dental check-ups and foster carers not being up to date with essential training. In an attempt to improve this situation, the service is now preparing for a planned ‘pre-inspection inspection’ in which an external inspector will come in and look at all the areas covered by the official inspection to give us an idea of areas in which we may be lacking and which may reduce our rating.

This is causing a while load of extra work and extra plates to spin in addition to those I all ready have.

As several of the cases on my caseload have been transferred from a member of staff who has been on long-term sick leave, many of the files are hopelessly out of date in terms of vital information, as the carers have not had a  regular worker or visits for over a  year. Regardless, it is now my job to pick up the pieces and get them perfect in case an inspector should randomly choose to view them. In addition I am phoning each carer sometimes several times in week to obtain lots of odd bits of information. It seems like almost every hour of the day we are asked to ‘ just find out this from all your carers’.

Now I know this is important for several reasons, one of which is our job security. Rumours are being heard that should the rating not be of a sufficient level, then the authority may contract out the fostering service to an external agency, which may also cost less.

On another level it is important to reveal which areas of service provision may be in need of improvement. However there is a counter argument to this- the inspection is purely based upon paperwork and documentation. It does not measure the quality of the actual service provided- simply statistics about recording.  Quality cannot be measured in numbers and paper- it is more elusive than that, defined by people’s experiences and needs.

That said, for me especially this process has been quite revealing. For instance, it has revealed exactly how lacking our IT systems are. It would be so easy for the ICS computer system to send an automated alert to the social worker when a vital check or training course is due for renewal, yet this does not happen. Arguably however, ensuring these administrative functions occur should be a job for the team’s business support section- they are not a good use of social workers’ time and skills. This is not the case though. I spend a lot of time typing and entering on computer systems information that I have all ready handwritten when with the client, effectively doubling a lot of my workload and a poor use of my skills and training.

Thankfully I will be on holiday during the three days of the ‘pre-inspection inspection’. I will probably be working when Ofsted land however, and have been warned in advance that they often like to speak to the newest member of the team- ie. me. I’m all ready weighing the competing demands of corporate loyalty and honesty.

Ah well, Sunday and the weekend will be coming to an end shortly.

Time to start limbering up in preparation for the juggling act that is Monday morning and social work again…




Being a social worker

I began my new job two weeks ago- at times it has been exhilarating, at times overwhelming, at times frustrating and at others exhausting. I can honestly say that this fortnight has made the last two years worth the hard work, but it has made me reflect on the expectations that we place on ourselves and those that others can unconsciously impose too.

Based on the paperwork I was sent by the council, I’d (wrongly) expected a very structured induction period, spread over a four week period and including both formal and informal elements. In reality, my ‘induction’ took about half an hour- it consisted of a tour of the various teams on the social work floor of the building and being allocated a desk and laptop. Then it was straight into the week’s work, with a placements meeting at which the team was updated on all the current ongoing, available and needed foster placements dealt with by the service.

By the end of day two, I had been allocated a small caseload of carers to offer support and supervision, several assessments and some other small but equally important pieces of work. I went home with my head spinning, feeling like I should know everything immediately and had a total crisis of confidence.

While the first few phone calls I made and introduced myself as a ‘social worker’ (minus the previously required ‘student’ prefix) made me feel strangely euphoric, the rest of the week left me feeling quite lost and overwhelmed. The gap between being a student and a qualified social worker may be fairly narrow in calendar terms but in all others it feels like the equivalent of the Grand Canyon.  Instead of having to almost beg to be allocated work, once qualified it is quite the reverse! It’s not so much the issue of allocations though that is different though; it is the expectation that you will be able to just get on with it and deal with it.

Other staff simply see me as a social worker. They do not prefix that with ‘newly qualified’ in their minds as I do- when I remember that actually I’m no longer a student (which I frequently find myself almost introducing myself as). While some do remember that it takes time to learn new processes and procedures, others who have been in the job for many many years, appear to forget that it isn’t always obvious which form is required when and why, or even where it is kept.

By the end of my first week, I was quite simply stressed and overwhelmed. There had been some good times, usually involving service users, but a lot more frustration, usually involving the various IT systems!

My second week has been a more positive experience generally. I have got to grips with several of the processes and procedures, have met several of the carers who are on my caseload and have figured out the intricacies of two of the main computer systems, meaning I am no longer having to call a colleague or the IT desk several times each day when I say ‘please’ and the computer says ‘no!’

On Friday I had my first supervision, in which my manager gave me two booklets- one containing breakdowns of the various processes used by the team, such as the recruitment and assessment of new carers, and one containing various information for new staff, such as how to claim mileage and book annual leave, supervision arrangements and training requirements. It would have been useful to have been given these on my first day, but better late than never!

At the end of my second week, I now have a full caseload of both prospective foster carers for assessment and foster carers for supervision and support. I have monthly supervision sessions booked for the next year. I am provisionally booked to begin the first module of the Post Qualification training structure in October. My moments of feeling confident are starting to outweigh those of feeling terrified.

And I’m starting to enjoy being a social worker- at last!

Part of the coalition government’s passion for cutting expenditure has been to attack the disabled who rely on welfare benefits to exist. It has/ will be made more difficult to claim the range of disability benefits available and the message is clear- those who don’t/ can’t work are a burden on the public purse/ society.

Yesterday I was appalled to discover (entirely accidentally) another aspect of these cuts which will have severe consequences for many disabled people who want to work, but which has received no publicity.

In recent years, there has been a provision known as the ‘linking rule’ for those in receipt of certain disability benefits. This arose from a recognition that many disabled people want to work, but do not know how working might affect their condition. It enabled them to take a job with the knowledge that if they had to later stop working due to their disability, they could reapply for their previous benefits within 104 weeks and would be rewarded for their attempt by being placed back on their previous rate of benefit. (New claimants receive a lower level of benefit initially, designed to discourage long-term dependence upon the state).

This linking period therefore provides a safety net for disabled people (such as myself, incidentally) to attempt working without being financially penalised if unsuccessful. However, this provision end on 31st January. People currently working will no longer be covered by the rule; people wanting to try work will now have no safety net. If they try working and find that in fact they are unable to sustain this, they will be financially penalised.

Of course, the idea is that this will save the government money on the benefits bill. Re-claims will be paid less money. Some may not be paid anything, if they are found to be no longer entitled to benefit (a situation unfortunately becoming increasingly common).

The ramifications of this are obvious.

For example, I have two medical condition which can flare up seemingly randomly. Both can be extremely debilitating and could make working difficult, if not impossible at their worst. I think I will be able to cope with working full-time in a stressful job (social work). I have completed two full time six month placements, without problems. I am reasonably confident.

But, I cannot be certain. Students are relatively protected from stress and pressure; placements are time limited and when ended one can rest and recover. Employment is neither of those things and I have previously been forced to leave work due to my disabilities. The linking rule was greatly reassuring- even if working full-time proved impossible, finding out wouldn’t cost me anything.

In a week’s time, it will. It will cost me half of my current weekly income, should it become impossible to work. I would have to leave my current home and find cheaper accommodation, further from my support network. I would have to relinquish my car and associated independence. Life would be very different which would further impact on my disabilities.

I want to work. I have spent the last 7 years working towards being able to work. Work is known to be beneficial , in terms of self-esteem, income and mental health, and I’ve certainly found this to be true.

Despite this, the professional apprehension I referred to yesterday related to my new job are now accompanied by very real fears.  What if I’m (physically/mentally) not up to it? What if working causes a further relapse?  If that happens, what impact will the additional financial stresses have?

I’ve decided to remain positive.  I’m determined to try and not give up. Some may call this reckless or even stupid, given my past history.  It’s common knowledge that past history is the best indicator of future events.

It’s a risk I’m willing to take (after a lot of careful thought, re-employing my rather fetching rose-coloured spectacles and digging an extremely deep hole in the sand to stick my head into if all else fails).  The extra pressure is certainly weighing heavily though.

I’d certainly understand anybody not being willing to take that risk though. I suspect this reform will lead to fewer people being willing to voluntarily try working, as the risks may be simply too great for them to contemplate. Maybe this is the reason for the lack of publicity given to these changes?


CRB now received!

I wrote in a previous post about the frustrations I was experiencing while waiting for completion of  the CRB checks which are necessary before beginning any employment with children.  I discovered on Monday evening through the tracking service that my disclosure had finally been printed and dispatched.  My copy finally arrived on Wednesday, and so the first thing I did was give the Human Resources department of my new employer a call to ask about arranging a start date.

It was explained that due to a ‘efficiency savings’ that have been implemented within the local authority, mail is now distributed to- and collected from- most of the buildings on a twice weekly basis, rather than daily. For this reason, they often do not receive their copy of the CRB disclosure until several days after the individual’s copy is received. She assured me that as soon as they received it, she would contact my new manager to confirm that a start date could be arranged.

I am obviously now relieved that what has felt like a very long wait is now soon to end and hopeful that I will be sat behind my new desk very soon.  Frustration has been replaced with anticipation but also tempered by a healthy sense of apprehension about the realities and responsibilities of being a fully qualified and registered social worker at last.








A ‘safe’ NHS?

If you follow the UK news coverage, you cannot possibly have missed the fact that another Health & Social Care Bill was published, with massive implications for the future organisation of health care provision. There has been plenty of comment and analysis which I’m not going to attempt to add to as I haven’t anything particularly unique to say.

I, like many others, have a sense of foreboding and suspect that by the time the next general election  occurs, we will not recognise our ‘National’ Health Service.  The proposed reforms will effectively begin the gradual process of privatisation of one of our nation’s most treasured institutions. It is a small step from introducing private health care providers into the system to replacing the proposed system of GP consortia who will commission the needed services in their areas to private commissioning providers too. And another small step to a variety of patient charges for those services.

That said, I noticed a small article in the news today about the difficulties associated with a shortage of flu vaccinations required for high-risk patients in recent years.  Most vaccinations are ordered by the government; flu vaccines however are ordered by GPs, based on their ‘superior’ knowledge of local need. Due to a failure to order adequate supplies however, some patients have not received this vital vaccine, thereby placing their health at serous risk. Calls have been made for this aspect of commissioning to revert to government control therefore.

Ironic really, that this report should come out today- one day after a Bill which proposes to give GPs the responsibility for commissioning the entire range of health services required according to their knowledge of the needs of the patients in their local area.

I don’t blame GPs. They spend many, many years training to diagnose and treat medical conditions. Generally, they do that superbly.

But as far as I know their training doesn’t include modules in business management.  For this, I am glad. I would rather my GP be an expert in medicine, rather than be less proficient in two subject areas.

The government, however, seems to think differently.

Worrying times ahead.

CRB frustrations

I was offered my first social work post almost 2 months ago now and still haven’t started work, to my great frustration. There is only so much daytime TV a person can take and I suspect my brain may be slowly turning to mush. I long for the stimulation of work again.

I have completed the various pieces of paperwork required, my referees have provided their comments, I have been declared fit for work by an occupation health doctor , although he informed me that I should consider myself disabled (even though on a general day to day basis, I’m not disabled by either my medical conditions or the society in which I live) and I am covered by the Equality Act.

The only thing outstanding  is the CRB check. As anybody who has required one will know, the processing time can be unlimited. The online tracking service informs me that they are awaiting results from the police records search- this last check has now taken in excess of 5 weeks. Although targets exit for the provision of this information to the CRB authority, there appear to be no penalties if they are not met frequently leading to delays.

Naturally, if a force requires all available officers to work on a particular case, there should be no question about this use of manpower. However, in normal circumstances this is not the case, yet still these checks are delayed. Despite a target that 80% of checks are completed within 14 days and 95% in 28, my local police force consistently completes only around 70% in 28 days and only 80% in 60 days.  Meanwhile, many organisations attempt to function with key staff missing while they wait for checks to be completed. Service provision and therefore service users are affected, due to reduced staff levels, unnecessary funds are spent to employ agency workers to cover the workload and people like me who desperately want to begin work cannot.

Ironically, many checks may well be delayed because some people may require multiple checks within short periods, for different positions. Each check requires the same full process regardless of the low probability of information changing. Meanwhile, each further check  in the processing queue waits a little longer.

I must make clear that I wholeheartedly believe in the need to ensure those who work with vulnerable people are suitable. However, I do think the system is not currently working effectively. I don’t have all the answers; however it does appear that some small changes could make a huge difference.

Firstly, attaching (financial) penalties to failure of police forces to complete their checks within certain time limits.

Secondly, reducing the numbers of disclosure applications- in recent months, employers have been enabled to accept previous checks. However, this is done at the employer’s risk and may not be palatable to many.

Thirdly, the ISA, currently being reviewed by the coalition government, would register relevant information as it arose and circulate it to those employers or organisations to whom it was relevant.  This would seem to me far more appropriate- one registration would be required by individuals, one query made by an employer, relevant changes to information held would be notified as necessary. This would use labour more effectively, save public funds and prevent unnecessary delays in the recruitment process, enabling newly appointed staff to take up employment as soon as possible, benefiting everyone.

I’m sure there must be compelling reasons why these, or similar, changes have not been made, other than moral panic, the media uproar, and apathy. If they occur to me as a lowly social worker-to-be, I’m sure they must have been seriously considered by those with the power to actually make them and rejected for very good reasons.

Meanwhile, I think there’s an episode of Jeremy Kyle about to start… (as good a place as anywhere to develop my assessment and critical thinking skills, being that I’m not yet able to practice my chosen profession).


I felt I had to comment on this political hot potato eventually, especially as I have only just left student status behind.  It is also extremely relevant to a social work blog as the effects it may potentially have on the training of the future workforce are massive.

For anybody who has somehow managed to escape the news, the coalition government, in an effort to save more public money, is proposing to increase the current threshold that universities are able to charge for tuition fees to a maximum of £9000 a year, in the form of a loan to students which will then be paid back at a percentage of the individual’s income. They propose to raise the threshold at which these repayments will begin slightly from the current but also propose to change the current ‘wipe- out’ provision from age 60 to a set 30 years.  The Institute of Fiscal Studies has said that these proposals will basically act as a 9% graduate tax.

The basic arguments many people make against student tuition fees are that education should be a right and that it is wrong to saddle young people starting out on their working life with huge amounts of debt. It is also frequently argued that the government and the country benefits hugely from having well-educated people who then use their education to attract more revenue and investment into our country and provide essential services such as health, banking, education etc.

Personally, I have no objection to students being partly responsible for the costs of their higher education. It is a personal choice to go to university and they will usually benefit financially from that choice through higher salaries in their future working lives.

That said however, I am opposed to these proposals. This puts the burden of their education onto the student and limits the shared aspect of the cost of higher education significantly. I believe it will also significantly limit the number of students choosing certain courses too in favour of those which lead to more lucrative careers- and this will have significant negative effects upon the country.

Had I been faced with a debt of possibly £30000 at the end of my social work training (assuming I had chosen the 3 year undergraduate route and taken tuition fee and living expenses loans)  and future repayments of 9% of my income, as a mature student, I would have to think very carefully about my commitment to social work. I have really wracked my brains this last week, asking myself what I would have done and I have to conclude I would not have chosen this career.  (Although currently social work student receive an additional bursary which can be used to soften the effect of tuition fee debts, there has been no comment on the future of this arrangement as yet).

Social work is not a particularly lucrative career- with a Masters degree, my starting salary will be just under £24,000. I was earning this previously with only A levels as a specialist welfare rights officer.  9% of £24,000 would hurt a social worker’s pocket far more than 9% of a much larger salary, such as that of a doctor or banker. Many social work students are also older than other students and start their careers with far more financial responsibilities; they may also be leaving behind larger salaries to begin their social work career.

I only wish to comment on the effects of these proposals upon social work and  can only foresee a negative effect, sadly, unless other provisions are put in place to soften the blow on recruitment. I do think that those who benefit personally from higher education should share the cost of receiving that benefit- however, social workers do not benefit in the same way as other graduates due to the lack of professional status, reflected in the level of salaries.

First social work post!!!

Last week I had an interview for a social work post in a local authority fostering team, the same one in which I spent some of my first placement.  I felt I did well on the written test- an assessment based upon a case study- but not the interview itself. I felt like I was getting my words mixed up and repeating myself constantly, but can’t have done as badly as I thought, as ten minutes after leaving (I was the last candidate seen) they rang me to offer me the job!

I’m sure it did help that I had worked in the team as a student as the manager was familiar with the quality of my work, my approach to work and the way I fitted into the team. However, this interview, unlike the others I’ve had, contained a lot of questions which asked about specific case work experience which enabled me to demonstrate what I have done and am able to do and the way I think about work. All these things may have contributed to me scoring highly and getting the job.

Today I received a welcome pack with lots of forms to be completed and returned, including the CRB form. My plan is to take that back on Monday with the relevant documents, to avoid any unnecessary delays to the process as much as possible- I cannot start work until that is received so the sooner the process starts, the better.

I don’t expect to begin work until the New Year sometime, but the relief of having that offer is unbelievable. I did not realise until afterwards just how stressed and worried I was about not having a firm employment offer. In a time of difficult employment prospects for newly qualified social workers, I recognise how lucky I am to have been offered a permanent, full time contract too.

So now I plan to relax and enjoy the next few weeks, read lots of novels, watch lots of films, spend lots of time with friends and enjoy being a lady of leisure while I can as it won’t last for much longer!