Tag Archives: social services

Power, Reward and Responsibility

Another chapter in the aftermath of the desperately sad case of Baby P was concluded today when the High Court in London found that Haringey Council was within its rights to dismiss Sharon Shoesmith from her post as the head of children’s services, in consequence.

Shadowy figure
An example from our new illustrations category addressing difficult subjects
I’m not going to debate the rights and wrongs of the case here, that’s what the courts are for. I am however going to note that this was a woman who was paid around £130,000 a year to do her job. An oft-used explanation for such extravagant salaries in public service is that these levels are needed to attract the quality of staff necessary to fill the posts. But that is, and always has been, a load of rubbish. High salaries are paid to people in senior positions by other people in senior positions to justify their own inflated self-worth and quite simply because they have the power to do so.

Now, depending on your point of view, your aspirations, and possibly your level in the pecking order, you might say there is nothing wrong with that, it’s merely the capitalist system at work, fuelled by human greed. But then something like the Baby P incident happens which shines a light on the ‘quality of staff’ aspect. There is a perception that the higher the salary, the higher the responsibility. In practical terms this perception is often misplaced, since the heavy burden of day-to-day responsibility more usually falls of the shoulders of the poorly paid at the bottom of the pile; the people with commitment and desire to do their best, but not enough hours in the day to tackle everything and starved of proper funding. However when the case is serious enough, as it was here, then the power brokers need to lose one of their own, if only to protect the rest of their positions.

So, to return to the beginning, I don’t have an opinion on whether Haringey Council was within its rights to dismiss Sharon Shoesmith. But I do believe that there is a whole tier of ‘public servants’ in this country above a certain salary level that should do the decent thing* and resign today, before the next inevitable tragedy.

*a fanciful concept which may only exist in the movies.

Why you won’t see Harry in the Sun

Reading the gutter, and indeed occasionally the pavement press, you get the idea that social work is not exactly flavour of the month. Every social services chief in the country must be dreading a phone call from the Sun newsdesk before having to trawl the media centres explaining why a youngster in care has….

I know a few social workers and all of them repeat the same mantra; ‘why do we only hear about the tragedies?’ And so to redress the balance here’s a little tribute to a friend, let’s call him Harry, who at 60 is starting a very happy retirement after 35 years outstanding service to social work.

I first encountered Harry in 1979 when he interviewed me for a basic grade residential social work job in what became one of the pioneer horticultural model units for adults with physical disabilities. Due to our shared passion for football, we became good friends and I had the good fortune to be deputy to Harry in another pioneering project in Hackney where we opened a residential provision for adults with learning disabilities and successfully helped former Hackney residents who had been shipped out to dreadful institutions in the infamous ‘mad Surrey’ region to rebuild their lives.

Harry never climbed the management greasy pole, he remained a basic grade social worker all his career (although he was top of that basic grade early on). He worked in a variety of settings, for the last few years of his career he was on the front line of provision, working as a forensic social worker in one of the most difficult inner-city areas on the UK.

There are thousands of Harrys in social work; more importantly, there are tens of thousands of people in the UK whose lives have been enriched and even saved by the intervention of social workers. We know the Sun will not be bothered about you Harry, so this blog entry is for you. Happy retirement!

Shooting stars

An interesting visit this week to Hollybank Trust (www.hollybanktrust.co.uk) an educational and residential facility in Yorkshire for children and adults with profound learning and physical disabilities. Fabulous facilities are matched by real passion and commitment from staff who are backed by active trustees and parents. The school is mainly residential and its graduates then move on to small residential facilities in the community.

All very impressive, and nothing more so than the Vision Project in which Hollybank service users engage in a range of activities including sailing, drama, interactive art and…photography. You would not readily expect people with profound learning and physical disabilities to be producing eye-catching images but a combination of specially adapted cameras for disabled people and dedicated staff the people in the Photography Group have really excelled.

All of this of course is a far cry from the infamous ‘day centre’ model where service users would spend day after day labouring over a wicker basket filled with goodies, the only benefit going to a local company who got a great deal on cheap labour. The Hollybank model – like all progressive and creative philosophies – strives to accentuate ability and not ‘contain’ disability.

And at Care Images, we are interested to make contact with photographers who have a disability and who are looking to showcase their work and talent. Please contact us through the website.

Is your local authority managing to care?

The economic climate may well be making a lot of people suffer but its effect may be far-reaching in terms of how care is structured and administered over the next few years.

Houses of ParliamentWould anyone involved in social care – service user or practitioner – trust the Conservatives? David Cameron was getting all sentimental last week in using a very non-Tory approach to issues like poverty and education. Ahead in the polls, Cameron was making sure wavering voters would not get the wrong idea about the Tories; that they really will make sure those who need help will get it. The speech even had the Guardian stating that traditional left-leaning voters may have been nodding in agreement in parts.

For me, the issue is not a philosophical one; after all, who would ever have believed that a Labour government could allow the gap between rich and poor to be so marked? Or that witless bankers (no, that’s not a spoonerism) would be ‘excused’ for their ineptitude?

And herein lies the problem; it’s not about a difference in philosophy between Labour and the Tories, rather a difference in ability to effectively manage complex government. And here both the main parties are not exactly blessed with talent in the crucial area of social care. Both parties know they cannot alienate voters in key marginals and have to make the right noises about care. And in the current economic climate that means more effective management within tighter budgets.

So for starters, might it not be an idea for local authorities to be looking at whether they are really getting value for money in the following areas before the new administration (of whatever colour) does it for them:

Out-of-borough adult residential placements
Block contracts with Community Care suppliers
Advertising and marketing of services and jobs.

If I was a betting man, I think we could find considerable savings in these areas alone.

Why care in the community may be detri-mental

What price do we pay for enabling people with mental health problems to live in the community?

The case of the convicted killer and paranoid schizophrenic being allowed to study “the knowledge” to become a black cab driver was all over the media last week. But I ask the question from a selfish perspective as our small, quiet street with beautiful Victorian houses undergoes a demographic change. First, a housing association has placed a woman with a violent criminal record in a property it owns in the street. Over the weekend outside the property there was an ugly stabbing (not fatal) which left neighbours extremely worried. And earlier this year a private company that provides residential care for people with mental health problems got planning use for the terrace adjoining us as a residential facility for up to five people.

And before mental health providers and charities get precious about me not having the needs of their service users at heart, they need to understand that already in our area, three similar terraces have been bought for the same purpose with some worrying incidents of service users walking the streets having not taken their medicine and one instance where a woman was approached in an inappropriate fashion by a resident of one of the homes.

Care in the Community is the mantra of policymakers who would think twice if the same kind of service they espouse was the terrace next to them (how many architects of comprehensive schools sent their kids to the one they designed?)

I understand that people with mental health problems are as entitled to enjoy the benefits of living in the community as I do; but you know what, I am entitled to as much as they do and if it means my lifestyle is curtailed because of problems then what has been achieved? All I can say is that I hope myself and my family do not incur mental health problems as a result of the experience. What was the line from the song by Madness in the 80s? “Our house, in the middle of the street…”

Baby P’s right to l-i-v-e was mirrored by the e-v-i-l that killed him

Today, anybody who had not managed to find out the information online was able to read pages of information online or print. The horrific circumstances behind Baby P’s tragic death, including details on his mother Tracey Connelly and the two men involved in the mayhem, were presented to the British public.

I was disappointed in this article in The Guardian: A monstrous evil? No, an all too familiar duplication of abuse

I can see where Anna Motz is coming from here but expected more from a practitioner armed with a sizable collection of theory and case studies. The article represented society’s drift to a philosophical liberalism in ‘understanding’ perpetrators of crime. But this kind of theorising has done little at best and nothing at worst to prevent abuse continuing. The liberal broadsheets’ obsession with explaining such ‘dysfunctional’ behaviour so that their readers will feel better about why it all happened is actually no different to the tabloids’ approach of ‘flog and hang ’em’. I would find it far more enlightening if Ms Motz had written an article about people who had been abused in childhood but who did not then go on to abuse. I would wager that this group far outnumbers the group she so eloquently describes in this article.

An interesting book that I am reading at the moment is Commandant of Auschwitz by the notorious commandant Rudof Hoess. The allies ordered Hoess to write the book between his trial and execution and despite the original manuscript being semi-illegible, the book gives a valuable insight into how evil transcends social norms. In a superb introduction to the book the late Primo Levi wrote: “This book…………is filled with evil……it has no literary quality and reading it is agony. The author comes across as what he is: a coarse, stupid, arrogant, long winded scoundrel. And yet …..it is one of the most instructive books ever published.”

And herein lies the problem with educated people like Ms Motz trying to ‘understand’ and ‘explain’ evil; it simply does not work. How ironic that the words live and evil mirror each other.

Welcome to the UK in 2009 where child labour is rife

I like to listen to late-night phone-ins to help me get to sleep; but one recently on BBC Radio 5Live certainly kept me awake.

To mark National Carers Week listeners were invited to ring in with their stories and as the evening unfolded, so a pattern emerged of people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicity basically saving the government millions by caring for relatives and friends and not being paid for the service. Radio is excellent for graphic imagery; we were asked to picture a businessman moving from the boardroom to his mother’s bathroom and talking of losing the plot when she wet the floor of the kitchen.

Disabled person and carerI have been around care a long time but only from the point of view of a paid carer; either as a residential social worker or social worker/commissioning manager. More latterly, since changing careers and working with helping care organisations with publicity and marketing, I have come to realise that this army of unpaid social workers is fighting an unjust war. Stephen Nolan’s programme highlighted the flaws in a system that allows teenagers to spend leisure (and sometimes school) time looking after a disabled relative instead of enjoying a youth they will look back on as empty.

And as the programme presented Stephen Nolan pointed out, he has run this story on a number of occasions and nothing much seems to have changed, other than potential tax breaks for adult carers. Carers organisations are doing fantastic work helping carers with respite breaks and support but it does seem absurd that a country as rich as the UK has to rely on what is little more than child labour to care for its disabled and elderly population. But then I read today that the chief exec of British Airways is asking staff to follow his lead and work for a few weeks gratis to help the company out of its financial difficulties. That’s really nice of him to give up £61,000 (one month of his annual salary). Presumably, if one of his relatives was in the unfortunate position of not being able to control their bowels he would still be able to pay for luxury care, despite his noble gesture of giving up a month’s salary.

Why social work needs to get PRoactive

I enjoyed reading this article;
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6122296.ece
Anything coming from the keyboards of journalists working for the UK’s most revered newspaper must surely be worth listening to; or should they? If you read the comments below the link you will see that all is not as the writer suggests. And you can be sure that following the recent media witch hunt against care as a profession that next in line for ridicule are social workers.

At social gatherings I have heard it said many times that social workers spend all day reading the Guardian, or get paid for poking their noses into people’s lives and we could easily manage without them. Weknow the reality, but the point is this, does the general public? One of the biggest problems social work has is getting the right message across to people who have negative views about the profession.

The answer to this problem of course is to take the doubters on at their own game by a rigorous PR and media campaign and getting the likes of the ubiquitous Max Clifford on board. As it stands, social work is like a boxer who keeps getting up after a nine-count for another dose of pummeling from the blue corner. I don’t care how laddish, thuggish or insensitive a white van man is; you take him on the beat with a social worker dealing with a daily dose of child protection and that will be enough to sway his views.

Elaine from London sums up the above link very well in her comment: “I am a voluntary breastfeeding peer counselor. The woman that coordinates the breastfeeding peer support in our area does magnificent & valued work in a very difficult job.” If one wanted to be cynical, one could argue how valuable to society are the writers of the tosh in the Times. But I’m no cynic.

The man from the ministry of disinformation

Interesting article on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/12/lord-laming-baby-p

I’ve written before on the Care Images blog about Baby P and I think this Guardian piece by Andy Sawford is a tad ‘stating the obvious’, as in:
"At the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) we believe the key is to speed up the integration of children’s services so that children don’t fall through the cracks in the system. We must stop playing pass the parcel between agencies and instead make sure there is shared responsibility and clear decision-making, so that urgent interventions are made”.

Violence in the homeAll well and good, but people who abuse children are very savvy in getting round ‘shared responsibility’ and intercepting the parcels. Good practice in social work goes unreported and you can be sure that many thousands of children who would have suffered the same fate as Baby P are alive and well because of the skills and expertise of social workers. But in this kind of case, collective bad practice led to tragedy and the press lynch mob.

I’m getting tired of the platitudes and buzzwords spouted from ministers and public body representatives. They are mere puppets under the controls of media-training companies hired by local authorities and government agencies who need to quickly react to a crisis.

Mr Sawford believes the government have in some ways failed the social work profession. But nowhere in his piece does he explain how the profession let down Baby P. Maybe Mr Sawford needs to get better information from his interestingly named Local Government Information Unit.