The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

A Tory Bill of Rights? We should be asking what could possibly go right?

I remember when the Human Rights Act was brought in, in 2000. It was a landmark piece of legislation, and one that caused quite a lot of excitement in the world of social work. This is no at risk. This article by Kitty Jones raises some issues about how the abolition of the HRA will not only affect the vulnerable but could have wider national and international implications for the UK.

Politics and Insights

cce1c37e7556eac34d5a5f5b35c181bdLast year I wrote about how the government has quietly edited the ministerial code, which was updated on October 15  without any announcement at all. The code sets out the standard of conduct expected of ministers. The latest version of the code is missing a key element regarding complicity with international law. 

The previous code, issued in 2010, said there was an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations and to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life”.

The new version of the code has been edited to say only that there is an“overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law and to protect the integrity of public life”.

Conservative party policy document had revealed that the ministerial code will be rewritten in the context of the UK withdrawing from the European…

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Poor white kids fail to get the most out of school

There has been enough anecdotal evidence that children from certain ethnic minorities do better in our education system than poor white kids (and good for them too).  Now we have the evidence.  And it might be worse than we thought.

The Centre Forum opportunity think tank has published it’s first annual report, “Education in England Annual Report 2016” showing that poor white kids who start school above average and with good achievements still leave 11+ years later with below average attainments.  By comparison, pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) make significant progress during their school years.  Three groups do worse than white poor kids – they are White Irish travellers, White Roma and mixed-heritage Caribbean children.  Four groups do better: Black Caribbean, White Irish, Chinese and Indian children.  Two other features also leap out of the report: there is a north/south divide with pupils in the north generally achieving lower standards and pupils in coastal areas are also similarly disadvantaged.

But why?

Paul Mason, writing in the Guardian, makes some very relevant observations as he tries to make sense of the causes of this trend.  Referring back to the messages of the 1969 film Kes, about a working class boy learning to love and train a Kestrel, and the purpose that gave to his life, Paul Mason describes the annihilation of the ‘life story’ of the working classes in British society that started with Thatcherism and continues today.  Mason writes:

“It was not always the case that ethnic-minority children did better than white English ones, but the reason why some of them do now is pretty obvious: their problem – racism – is defined; their language skills tend to be well-developed; their culture is one of aspiration; they have social and religious institutions that promote cohesion.

By contrast, the problem of poor white kids cannot be properly defined: not in the language of freemarket capitalism, at least. It has nothing to do with being “overtaken” – still less with any reverse discrimination against them.

It is simply that a specific part of their culture has been destroyed. A culture based on work, rising wages, strict unspoken rules against disorder, obligatory collaboration and mutual aid. It all had to go, and the means of destroying it was the long-term unemployment millions of people had to suffer in the 1980s.

Thatcherite culture celebrated the chancers and the semi-crooks: people who had been shunned in the solidaristic working-class towns became the economic heroes of the new model – the security-firm operators, the contract-cleaning slave drivers; the outright hoodlums operating in plain sight as the cops concentrated on breaking strikes.”

As I look back over my memories of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and since, I recognise the changes Mason is describing.

But what is the answer?  If you agree with Mason then it’s not entirely in the education system.  The education system has been tinkered with in so many ways over the years, and the debate between selection and non-selection continues in some parts of the country.  Academisation (or privatisation) has been declared as the way forward, even though many academies continue to ‘fail’.  University education for all has been heralded as the answer, even though clearly that cannot be achievable.  The raising of school leaving ages to the point of legal adulthood is considered by some to merely infantalise our young people and delay emotional and experiential adulthood. Our children have been ‘tested’ beyond endurance over recent years, resulting in league tables and a different kind of segregation.  Our education system has had so much attention lavished on it, yet still the ‘problems’ are not going away.

Mason concludes his piece with these words:

“To put right the injustice revealed by the CentreForum report requires us to put aside racist fantasies about “preferential treatment” for ethnic minorities; if their kids are preferentially treated, it is by their parents and their communities – who arm them with narratives and skills for overcoming economic disadvantage.

If these metrics are right, the present school system is failing to boost social mobility among white working-class kids. But educational reforms alone will barely scratch the surface. We have to find a form of economics that – without nostalgia or racism – allows the working population to define, once again, its own values, its own aspirations, its own story.”

We can’t go back, and for plenty of reasons we wouldn’t want to.  We have to find a way forward that enables ALL our children to have a decent education and access to opportunities.  As Mason says, it’s not about league tables, as useful as they are as measures.  Having taken the time to travel in other cultures I can step back and see what our society has lost, and it’s not education.  Identity and narrative, through culture, work, family and community are what gives children the framework on which to build their lives.  It’s what social workers do for individuals they work with.  It’s what society now needs to do for itself.

A Warning For People on Medication for Depression

Warning and Alert to anyone needing repeat prescriptions for depression – sounds like you need to make an appointment to see your GP as automatic repeat prescriptions are being cancelled.

Beastrabban\'s Weblog

This is a warning based on my personal experience. Like many people, I suffer from depression, for which I am, thankfully, on medication. However, the government, David Cameron, George Osborne, the head of the health service, Jeremy Hunt, and their corporate paymasters seem to resent the fact that so many people in Britain now are on medicine to treat this condition. So they’re doing their best to throw people off it. About a year or so I had to go to my doctor again for an examination after I had a repeat prescription turned down. I was told that because the government was concerned about the mental wellbeing of sufferers like myself, they were stopping automatic repeat conditions in order to make people see their doctors. It is, I was told, a condition that can get worse, and so it had been decided that sufferers like myself had to be…

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Poor paying for profligacy of the rich

Fierce Writing

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It seems our MP voted against a House of Lords plan for an impact assessment into cuts to Employment and Support Allowance to the work related activity group.

To translate that into normal English: Julian Brazier has just voted to take £30 a week away from disabled people.

Yes, you heard that right. Some of the most vulnerable people in society are now being picked on by our government in order to cover up their mismanagement of the economy.

Employment and Support Allowance is money provided to disabled people on the recognition that their disability makes it harder for them to go about their daily business.

The government’s reasoning for the cut is that it will “incentivise” them to find work. That would be funny if it wasn’t also so tragic. It’s like saying that in order to incentivise homeless people to find a home we should…

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Was decision to expel social work student for Facebook posts draconian or deserved?

This was recently discussed by Community Care who summarise some of the key arguments surrounding Sheffield university’s controversial decision

Source: Was decision to expel social work student for Facebook posts draconian or deserved?

In a nutshell, Ngole, a Christian social work student posted on his facebook page something that indicated he did not approve of gay marriage and said that homosexuality was against Biblical teaching.  Another student complained to the university and Ngole was expelled from the course.  The university said that anyone could have Googled his name and discovered his beliefs and that might mean that person would not feel that they could go to him for support.  It doesn’t seem to have been considered that on discovering Ngole’s belief there might be someone who felt more able to go to him for support, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

There are a number of problems with the university’s decision.

As a society we have absorbed many of the beliefs of Eastern religions without even realising it.  Western psychology long ago adopted Mindfulness from Buddhism.  What in the West we call ‘alternative’ health and fitness practices, such as acupuncture and the martial arts, and their various derivatives, have become so mainstream we tend to forget their origins in Eastern faiths.  We live in a society awash with ‘spiritual’ messages, if only we open our eyes to recognise it. Many of these practices rooted in Eastern philosophies have found their way into the practice contact books of today’s social workers.  Yet we don’t condemn them for promoting spiritual beliefs – because the profession is not as ‘secular’ as we like to think it is.

The argument about only having to Google Ngole’s name to discover his beliefs is weak.  I only have to look at a traditionally dressed Muslim (male or female), Sikh (male or female) or Jew (male) to know the belief system they follow.  Sure, I don’t know to what extent they adhere to their specific teachings, but I don’t even have to Google their name to start making some assumptions.  We wouldn’t dream of discriminating against someone wanting to become a social worker because of belonging to one of these religions (and I know perfectly capable practicing social workers who do belong to these faith systems).

We live in a society with a wide range of beliefs, attitudes, expectations and opinions.  The reality is that we work with people from that wide range of belief systems.  That person who is Googling their social worker’s name might just be looking for reassurance that their social worker shares their own belief system.  Or they might be reassured that their social worker has not tried to influence them with a different opinion.

What if the service users asks us if we are a Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist or whatever?  What if they ask us if we are married or have children? Or where we live, or what kind of house we live in?  There are a myriad of personal questions that can come up.  How do we respond to them?  In the same way – we generally avoid giving a direct answer.

Social workers, like the eclectic mix of people and beliefs they work with, are not an homogeneous bunch.  Thinking of the diversity of the characters, lifestyles and beliefs of the people I have worked with over the years, it would be a great loss to the profession if we were to try and become homogeneous.  We are all different, as are the service users.  We all have deep rooted prejudices (try the online Implicit Association Test if you don’t think so).  We have all been influenced by the cultural norms of our societies and families.  Class, beliefs, values, experiences – good and bad – we bring them all into our professional role, and absorb new and changing experiences as we go through life into our beliefs and values.  Some hold to easily recognisable religious belief systems.  Others have a more eclectic mix of ‘spirituality’.  Few are truly a-spiritual.  The test should be: can we practice in a manner that adheres to the professional codes of conduct?  Can we accept that others are also able to practice in a manner that adheres to the same codes of conduct?  Can we accept diversity among ourselves?  Because it is that diversity that enriches our profession, enables us to debate issues and pushes at the doors of the dangers of professional and systemic ‘wilful blindness‘.

Did his university give Ngole the opportunity to prove he is capable of becoming that social worker, able to practice in accordance with professional codes of conduct?  How have the rest of his student group been enabled to come to terms with working with difference and diversity following the expulsion of one of their number for being different and diverse?  I don’t know the answers to these questions, but surely social work training is about training to become, not evidencing that we already are.  Has Ngole been denied that opportunity?  He has made mistakes: firstly in believing that his private facebook page was truly private but secondly he may have thought he could trust his peers or educators to be open minded when it comes to diversity and trust. Ngole is not the first student to find out the hard way that that is not, sadly, always the case. To get the most benefit out of social work training students need to be able to feel safe enough to open up their vulnerabilities in order to challenge them.  Fear of expulsion, such as cases like this can cause, do nothing to promote that important part of training.  If social work is not the right profession for Ngole he needed to be able to come to that understanding for himself.  Instead he is now to be embroiled in a legal challenge supported by the Christian Legal Centre, and his opportunity for personal reflection and development is at least on hold if not ended.

I have expressed here my opinion.  I have made it public, as is everything I post on this blog.  I am very conscious of what I post publicly here and on Facebook, and on comments on other people’s blogs.  I am happy to be open to challenge and debate.  I may change my mind.  I may not. You may not know who I am in real life because this blog title is anonymised but available to employers – and those who already know me personally will have no difficulty recognising me; that is not the case for service users.  Like many social workers, my facebook page is in a different name to my registered practice name.  That is as much for personal security reasons as it is because I want to be able to express my opinions without fear of it influencing my work.

I have friends who are Christian, and many more who are not.  I seem to have missed out on having any Muslim friends but I have, and have had, colleagues who are Muslim and Sikh. I have friends on different continents.  I have friends and colleagues who are in gay marriages.  I have friends and colleagues who are not. I have one friend who thinks Donald Trump is ‘on the button’ for his views on Muslims and immigration.  I have many more friends who are seriously worried by the prospect of President Trump.  I have friends who are members of the Labour Party and others who support the Tories.  Although I work cross culturally most, but not all, my friends are ‘White’, but that’s because my birth family are ‘White’ and I live in a predominantly ‘White’ area.  Should I be condemned for any of these things?  Do they make me any less able to be a social worker and adhere to professional codes of conduct?  I hope not.  Just as I don’t condemn you for your beliefs, background, experiences, culture or lifestyle choices.  We preach tolerance and diversity.  Let us better practice it amongst ourselves.  Otherwise we just become afraid of each other in an environment where we are unable to challenge ourselves in order to develop and grow.

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