The Meandering Social Worker

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Archive for the tag “practice”

Book Review: Evidencing CPD

Evidencing CPD: A Guide to Building Your Social Work Portfolio by Daisy Bogg and Maggie Challis, 2013, Published by Critical Publishing Ltd, St Albans, £15.30 (on Amazon), ISBN: 978-1-909330-25-2


The book opens with a succinct and clear summary of the history and development of social work education, training and registration and the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF). Beyond this brief introduction Bogg and Challis do not discuss the link between the politics that have brought about changes in social work education and the impact on the professional social work role.

Bogg and Challis see the expectations of Continuing Professional Development (CPD), which focus on the relevance of training and learning to practice, as a significant improvement on the PRTL (post registration training and learning) that preceded registration being taken over by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).  They provide evidence as to the value of using a portfolio-based learning as both an effective method of engaging with and managing adult learning as well as being relevant to the evidencing of CPD as part of the registration requirements of the HCPC.

The authors engage the readers with their easy to read style and Reflective Activities, working through what portfolio based learning means, what goes in a portfolio, as well as assessing your own learning style, skills and learning needs.  There are separate chapters for those at different stages in their career, from developing portfolios for workers in their first year of practice (ASYE); using portfolios for CPD; to using portfolios for career development.

Appendix 1 gives a useful breakdown of the PCF domains and capabilities across all levels of learning and experience, from end of last placement through various levels of qualified worker status to strategic level.

The remaining appendices include useful exercises and templates to support the previous chapters, although unfortunately these do not appear to be available in a downloadable format.

The book is engaging and easy to follow.  It contains useful guidance on what can be included in a portfolio and makes it clear that it is not just a record of learning achieved but an all round tool that can be used to plan future needs and development.  This book will be a useful reference for practitioners at all levels from the first year (ASYE) through to senior social work staff, supervisors and managers.

Although portfolio based learning is not mandatory it is clear that maintaining an ongoing (electronic or paper) record of learning, experience and practice fits well with HCPC registration expectations and will make it easier for the 2.5% who are called upon at the two-yearly registration renewal to quickly provide the required evidence of CPD.


Fitness to Practice?

A female social worker struck off for faking conversations with a vulnerable child during an assessment had been qualified for 17 years.  Included in the hcpc report is the statement that she seemed not to realise the potential consequences of her actions for the child and his family.

A male social worker struck off for having an inappropriate sexual relationship with, and supplying drugs to, a service user, to whom he had been allocated as the social worker, had been qualified for 36 years with no known previous concerns regarding practice.  A lack of remorse and insight into the impact of his actions was a significant factor in his being struck off the register.

An experienced social worker who had undertaken diversity training made a shockingly racist comment to a Zimbabwean colleague.  With no known previous concerns regarding practice she claimed the comment was meant to be lighthearted, when in fact other staff also found it offensive.  The social worker who made the offensive comment “has shown no meaningful insight or remorse, nor has she indicated that she appreciates the seriousness of her conduct” according to the hcpc.

A male residential social worker responded with excessive physical actions against a child, shocking his colleagues and despite de-escalation training.  His claim of self-defence was not accepted and he too was considered to have refused to acknowledge the seriousness of his action.

A male social worker had sexually harassed female staff in at least two different workplaces.  He had not shown any remorse or apologies for his actions.

Each case is concerning in its own right.  However, what is worrying about these cases as a whole, is that out of five at least three involved experienced social workers, and all showed no apparent awareness of, or willingness to acknowledge, the inappropriateness of their actions.  In at least two cases the worker had an apparently unblemished record; in only one case was it noted that there had been previous similar behaviour.


A safe working environment?

Community Care regularly provides links to further information on the outcomes of hcpc fitness to practice decisions, which can make for interesting reading.  As well as making one wonder at the absence of professional common sense in some people.

Of course, a news reporting, or even a report from the hcpc only gives the information that is publicly available.  Perhaps its the social worker in me, but unable to speak to the individuals themselves I always hold back a small portion of reserve in any judgements I make.

One social worker who garnered a little of my sympathy was struck off for faking a conversation with a vulnerable child in an assessment report.  Of course, there is no excuse for doing this and it absolutely should not happen.  The social worker pleaded on the grounds of stress and sickness, but as the panel stated, these are no excuse for poor practice, and that “A social worker has an obligation to report any personal difficulties that might affect their ability to do their job competently and safely.”

The trouble is it’s too easy to say that a social worker has an obligation to report personal difficulties.  In this case the social worker was working as a locum in Harrow.  She presumably didn’t have a permanent contract with the local authority and sick pay and provisions can vary for casual/locum work.  Who should she have reported her ‘personal difficulties’ to, what effect would that have had on her ability to work, would she have lost her agency placement in Harrow and would her agency have continued to place her in other roles in future?

Front line social work, particularly in children’s services, can be one of the most stressful jobs going.  With high caseloads, government targets, deadlines and rigid timescales, it’s inevitable that some people with resort to taking unacceptable shortcuts.  Front line social work is a job in which there’s no emotional space for coping with non-work difficulties: a partner who leaves or an acrimonious divorce, a child or parent who is sick, the death of a friend, moving house, financial worries.  But perhaps most damaging is a tendency among social work departments towards a culture of ‘coping’.  It’s not done to admit that you, a carer, in a caring profession, with a professional and responsible image, are struggling, especially with stress.  It’s just not done.  Having worked in front line child protection I know that there is a distinct lack of sympathy: everyone is too busy trying to manage their own coping skills most of the time.  Where the pressure is greatest management can often be unapproachable, similarly under stress and not able to admit to the extent of it, and certainly not wanting to hear that someone needs a relaxing of their caseload or might be going off sick.

We all need to be prepared to speak up when we are in difficulty and we need to be prepared to work alongside our colleagues to support them when they face difficulties in and out of work.  Government and the profession’s leaders need to recognise the pressures that are exacerbated by shortage of staff, the administration of deadlines and targets and the managerialist culture prevalent in social work for much of the last 20 years.

The social work environment is not always a safe environment to work in.  While the hcpc is there purely to control registration and take disciplinary actions it would be better if they could consider and campaign for a safer working environment and atmosphere, taking on a more supportive role with the profession, such as that offered by BASW.

In this case there appear to be two primary factors that clinched the decision to strike this social worker off the register: the deliberateness of her deceit and her lack of recognition of the potential serious consequences of her actions for the child and his family, something that is particularly concerning considering she had been qualified for 17 years.


Power, Poverty, Politics & Values

Author: Martin Sheedy

From the Core Themes in Social Work series

Published in paperback by McGraw Hill Open University Press (ISBN: 9780335244553)

Starting with what is probably one of the most lucid explanations of the current neo-liberal political climate, Sheedy presents the reader with a compelling argument for the need for social work to defend its role in society.

Sheedy shows how inextricably linked are politics and the development of social work values and Codes of Practice, along with theories and methods of practice from both the modern and post-modern eras.

Demonstrating the capitalist system’s need to maintain inequality and disadvantage for its own continuation, Sheedy builds the evidence of a social work profession increasingly trapped in enforcing the uneven power struggles between a ruling elite and the disadvantaged, in a system that makes inequalities seem natural by focusing on pathologising the poor and individualising responsibility.  He shows that as social workers are frequently called on to police neo-liberal/capitalist policies, little space remains for challenging the structural causes of oppression, disadvantage and inequality.

Although the initial chapter on politics would probably benefit from one or two explanatory tables or diagrams, Sheedy writes in an engaging, easy to read style, without losing any of the academic rigour needed for his subject.

Death Threats and Dogs – Book Review

Published by Community Care for Kindle and available from Amazon, Death Threats and Dogs is a compilation of social work anecdotes from practitioners working with children and families, young people, elderly services, mental health teams and disabilities teams.  Some are funny, some are sad.  A frequent theme is dealing with increasing bureaucracy and financial constraints.  With the voices of the front line practitioner through to the social work manager a wide range of stories and scenarios are told and there’s something in there for every reader.

One of my favourites is the social worker trying to persuade a mum of an 8 year old boy that it’s not appropriate for him to sleep in the same room as his sixteen year old sister and her 25 year old boyfriend.  With mum completely unable to understand the concerns, the worker begins to question her own sanity and ask “am I in a comedy sketch?”

Another anecdote is of the social worker visiting a man whose father has just died.  Finding the man’s father sitting in his wheelchair in the middle of the room, “stone dead”, the worker muses, “I struggle to recall the bit of training that advised on how to deal with such situations. I conclude that I must have been off that day.”

These stories remind me of some of the old characters of social work, from way back in the days of working in generic teams (in England), who could relate with measures of humour and compassion events from their days.  It feels as if a lot of the sharing of those stories has been lost under the weight of managerialism in recent years.

Donovan, Sally (2013-05-16). Death Threats and Dogs: Life on the Social Work Frontline (Kindle Locations 744-745). Community Care. Kindle Edition.

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