The Meandering Social Worker

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Archive for the tag “stress”

HeartMath book reviews

The HeartMath Solution by Doc Childre and Howard Martin with Donna Beech (1999)
Paperback, Published by HarperOne (
The HeartMath Solution combines the underpinning theory and research behind the HeartMath system of reducing stress and living a more coherent life, with self-help style instructions on how to turn theory into practice.

In HeartMath the heart is considered to be a source of intelligence and wisdom, alongside but more reliable than brain intelligence in developing a lifestyle in which stress and negative emotions no longer cause harm. The authors back up their practice with scientific research and short case stories or real life examples of how others have been helped through HeartMath.

Explaining heart intelligence, in the introduction the authors state, “One of the exciting aspects of life at the cusp of the new century is that people are sensing the possibility of a merger between science and spirit … [and] …. the heart is the doorway to this union.” And “… our theory is that the heart links us to a higher intelligence through an intuitive domain where spirit and humanness merge.”

However, although the exercises and practice of HeartMath have not changed, the fact that the book was originally written in 1999 gives a dated feel to the writing and presentational style that does not necessarily do the program justice in the 21st Century. A badly needed second edition would also give the developers of HeartMath the opportunity to provide more recent research evidence.


Transforming Stress by Doc Childre and Deborah Rozman (2005)
Paperback, Published by New Harbinger Publications, Oakland

Published just six years later this book has a more modern feel to it and is part of what has become a series of books from the HeartMath Institute.  “Transforming Stress” gives a good background to the causes and consequences of stress while slowly introducing the HeartMath principles and techniques used to deal with stress and learn how to prevent stress from becoming a problem.

The authors state: The key to transforming stress lies in your power to regulate your emotions and perceptions. That power comes from your heart. You can learn how to engage your heart rhythms to manage your emotions and perceptions….. You don’t manage the situation, …. you manage your reaction to it, gaining a new feeling with new insight about how to best approach the stressful situation even as it is occurring. (p.18)

The first and foundational technique begins with learning to ‘breathe’ through your heart, aligning the rhythms of your heart to your other physical systems in order to access the natural intelligence or brain of the heart. The authors state: this entire book is about building inner security through aligning with the intelligence of your heart. Various short case stories or real life examples demonstrate how others have been helped through achieving this and the subsequent techniques.

Whether or not you practice the specific HeartMath techniques this book provides some useful exercises as well as general information about the development and impact of stress that makes it a useful addition to any library.


Claimants Tricked Out of Benefits, Says Jobcentre Whistleblower

There was a time when the JobCentre was there to help people find jobs. When I went into my local JobCentre in the summer of 2012 to inquire about work opportunities I was pointed towards a computer terminal and told to get on with it. It was made clear this was normal practice, no additional help normally available.

The blog from Beastrabban\’s Weblog below shows comments on a Guardian report from 2011 about the practices of JobCentres. My experience from 2012 and since suggests not a lot has changed.

In my recent voluntary work in the autumn of 2013 I worked with people who are terrified of being sanctioned because they have not met JobCentre demands to apply online for a specified number of jobs every day or every week. Some of these applications often have to be made online via a specific website the JobCentre can access to track claimants’ activity. The website is cumbersome to use and prone to faults. It doesn’t matter if the claimant has never used a computer before, or even if they know how to turn a computer on let alone access the internet, let alone cope with clunky inadequate jobsearch websites. It doesn’t matter that many online applications can take an hour to complete for even the most competent computer user. They still have to achieve the target of job applications using a system with which they are either unfamiliar or not confident. There is no support or sympathy from the JobCentre. Instead the claimants are expected to enlist the help of friends or family who are more familiar with computers and the internet if that’s possible, or find their way to public internet cafes (where these still exist and can become quite expensive); or the alternative option of using UK Online Centres which are usually most easily found in libraries where they are over-subscribed and time limited to an hour (not enough to fill in a job application with ASDA which takes an hour and a half for someone experienced at using the internet – I tried it) and with only the minimum of help and advice available. In larger towns the voluntary sector is filling in the gap with UK Online provisions but funding is poor and dependent on volunteers, many of whom themselves are there because they need the work experience to keep the JobCentre happy.

Meanwhile a whole industry has been created out of this situation. Private agencies who are publicly funded provide work related training, the better ones having offices where clients can access the internet for job searches.

But the greatest damage is in the stress caused by fear of sanctions. In some people their stress levels have become so high it has blocked their capacity to learn even the simplest of things.

Stress can do that. It can block the ability to learn. I’ve been there myself, in a particularly stressful work situation where I was conscious of the fact that while I could continue to function on a day to day basis I was completely incapable of learning from new experiences or even make the best use of ‘reflective’ learning.

I’ve also seen the effect in others when I worked with refugees from war torn countries: intelligent men (and sometimes women) whose terrible memories and experiences were so overpowering they struggled to learn new skills that would help them settle in their new environment (this effect was well known at the time but I will have to find the links to any further evidence and add it here later – in the meantime there is reference to the effect of stress on learning at

Targets and sanctions are the tools of the neoliberal, capitalist, managerialist, society and work environment that has been created over the last couple of decades. But it’s not effective. The weakest and more vulnerable, the already disempowered, are the victims of this society we have created. And it’s time we spoke up about the effect this is having.

Beastrabban\'s Weblog

This is another video from the Guardian’s Youtube channel. It’s an expose of how the DWP has set targets to get people thrown off Jobseekers’ Allowance. These revelations are made by a whistleblower, whose face is naturally shadowed and voice disguised. He states that there is competition between departments and offices to have the most people thrown off benefits. According to the Jobcentre employee, the staff have two option available for getting someone off benefits: either find them a job, ‘which is really difficult’, or have them thrown off benefits ‘which is really easy’. He states that the DWP deliberately targets the young, because of their lack of maturity and experience, the under-educated, and those with problems reading and writing, such as sufferers from dyslexia. They will not try to remove the tough and experienced from the benefits system.

Mike over at Vox Political has described Atos and the Coalition…

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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.


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