Category Archives: social work education

Free Adoption ibook: the journey to finding a birth mother…………..

About a year ago I started the search for my biological mother and shared my experience in a blog entitled ‘The Adoption Files’. However, writing ‘The Adoption File’ became as much about understanding the effects of childhood on individuals as finding my natural family. Whilst my story is related to my adoption much of what I discovered about the effects of childhood and family is the same for anyone, whether adopted or not. The truth is family is central to many of our life experiences and sometimes those are good and sometimes not so good. When childhood has not been so good it can overshadow the rest of our lives, however, it does not have to, we can turn those negatives around to achieve positive outcomes.

Many people spend their lives trying to be the person their family want them to be rather than just being themselves. This often stems from negative experiences in childhood that shape relationships within families. That childhood and family shape our lives is not exactly a startling revelation, however, this much I know, they do not have to define who we are and who we become. As George Eliot suggests “It is never too late to be who you might have been”. We are not bound by our childhoods, forever imprisoned in a world defined for us by others. Throughout life we meet individuals who are equally as important in shaping who we are and what we might become, and of course we also have our own will, intellect, humour to carry us forward into life to become the people we want to be.

The central message from my adoption story can be summed up in the words of Steve Jobs, who, like I was also adopted, and they apply to anyone who might have had a difficult childhood or who is still affected by negative family relationships

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary”.

The ‘Adoption file’ is a free short ibook and provides a snapshot of my journey to finding my natural family, and my reflections on famly and relationships. It is a story of life and hope.

The Adoption File by Diane Galpin
The Adoption File by Diane Galpin
from the introduction

‘Ayaan Hirsi Ali begins her book “Infidel my life” describing a scene with her grandmother when as a five year old she was able to name her family ancestry back three hundred years. In Somali culture lineage is central to belonging, this was something Ayaan had drummed into her as a child. Knowing our cultural heritage, our ethnic roots and family history is important to understanding who we are, they provide reference points from which we can develop an understanding of the factors that have helped shape who we are today. It is easy to over emphasise the importance of these when you do not know them, or under value their importance when you do. However, equally important is the way we are brought up and our relationships within the family. Whether who we are is predetermined by some invisible invention of science called genetics or the highly visible ‘*uck ups’ (as the poet Philip Larkin would suggest) made by our parents is commonly known as the ‘nature vs nurture’ debate and has been the subject of much discussion for decades. The truth is we are probably shaped by a bit of both[…]’

The book can be downloaded here

(You will need an iPad to read it)

Free on-line reflective guide for professionals Safeguarding Adults

Protecting those most vulnerable from abuse and mistreatment in health and social care is central to professional practice

The World Health Organisation suggest for many staying out of harms’ way is a matter of locking doors and windows and avoiding dangerous places, people and situations; however for many individuals requiring care it is not quite so easy. The threat of abuse is often behind those closed doors, hidden from public view and for those living in the midst of adult abuse fear permeates many aspects of their lives. We just have to think of mid Staffs and Winterbourne View Hospital to realise the consequences for patients when staff get things wrong. The role of professionals in Safeguarding Adults at risk of harm from those providing care is an increasingly important, and complex, area of practice requiring a good level of skill and ability. Whilst the media rightly focuses on the failings of the system it is important for us to also celebrate the little successes achieved on a daily basis but never seen by the media or wider society, but which make such a difference to those professionals work with. Its right not to be complacent, but, it is also right to be confident, confident that those caring for the most vulnerable do make a difference.

However, caring is not like any other job, it is not something you can do on automatic pilot. Caring requires staff to continually update their skills and knowledge, and maybe more importantly, to stop and think about what they are doing, to reflect on their daily practice so that practice does not become routine. Otherwise carers can develop ‘bad’ habits and take shortcuts that put meeting the requirements of the system before the care of the patient.

Coming into contact with nurses and social workers on a daily basis I know the majority want to do the best they can. Therefore to assist those who work with the most vulnerable we have developed a free on-line tool for practitioners (SAFE tool) to support their professional development in protecting patients at risk of harm. It takes about 5 minutes to complete and provides those who complete it with the resources to stop and think about their practice, to recognise the good and reflect on areas that might require improvement.

The Safeguarding Adults Framework Evaluation tool (SAFE tool) provides practitioners with an easy to use resource, which they can use to both evaluate and develop their practice.

The development of this tool follows work begun in 2010 when Learn to Care commissioned us at the National Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work to develop a framework to quality assure practice in Safeguarding Adults at risk of harm when in hospital or in need of social care to try an ensure consistent practice across England and Wales. Lucy Morrison (Research Assistant) and I undertook research to identify the key areas of practice which were failing those most vulnerable. Findings from CQC inspection reports, serious case reviews, a review of academic research, focus groups and interviews with professionals and managers who deliver services, along with feedback from service users and carers, was collated to discover areas of practice that required improvement. Drawing on work already undertaken by East Sussex County Council, Brighton and Hove City Council and Lambeth Safeguarding Adults Partnership the National Capabilities Framework for Safeguarding Adults was born. Since its development over 12,000 copies have been distributed across health and social care departments throughout England and Wales.

The resources above are part of our ongoing commitment to supporting practitioners, and the organisations they work in, to continue improving the lives of those in need of care and support from health and social care services.

We must never forget at the centre of health and social care is an individual who is trusting professionals to care for them, and to step in if they see others mistreating them. Doing nothing is never an option, but doing something requires courage and confidence. We hope these resources will help develop these.

How Feminine cultural values can develop compassion that endures in health & social care

Whilst change is required in the organisation and delivery of health and social care to prevent another ‘Francis Report’ Government must not see developing compassion in care as seperate from developing a culture of compassion across society

Whilst Ed Miliband eyes the delights of Swedens standard of living and David Cameron suggests Women have an important role in society and politics as leaders, evidence from Nordic countries suggests their model is worth giving serious consideration to the positive difference a more feminine culture might make in society. Could such an approach help develop a culture characterised by compassion for those most vulnerable in society, especially the elderly.  A form of compassion not learned from a manual, but enduring because it is ‘a way of being’.

There is clear evidence in the UK that poor levels of care, in both the private and public sector, is endemic in our care system.  Whilst the focus currently is on the leaders and professionals charged with developing and delivering care, wider society too has a role in ensuring compassion in care is the ‘norm’ and not the exception, as The Independent suggests

‘For a while we may pause to express outrage.  But we then move on to the urgent business of our daily lives. Spot checks and hit squads may arrest the worst practice…but they will not do much about a society that has hardened its heart against the elderly’

So how could we soften those hardened hearts?  Feminine values  in society play an important role in Nordic countries in shaping the culture of those countries.

Geert Hofstede cultural dimensions theory explores the impact a society’s culture has on the values of its members, and more importantly, how these values relate to individual behaviour, which in light of recent reports may offer lessons to us all on how we develop a culture of compassion that extends from society into hospitals and care homes.  One of the dimensions identified as important by Hofstede is the notion of masculinity vs. femininity, although the concept is not reduced to a male vs female dichotomy rather, this relates to communication and leadership styles underpinned by a particular culture.  Hofstede suggests masculine cultures place more emphasis on competitiveness, assertiveness, materialism, ambition and power, with success measured in terms of ‘winning’, i.e. meeting targets.  Whilst feminine cultures place more value on cooperation, consensus and caring relationships, where quality of life is the measure of success.  Sweden and Norway score highly as feminine societies.  This means valuing the ‘softer’ aspects of culture i.e. consensus and cooperation.

A culture of ‘masculinity’ arguably dominates government, and society in the UK, where ‘value’ is predominantly linked to ‘value for money’, unlike Nordic countries where values such as ‘equity’ and ‘cooperation’ are viewed as equally important.  This has been acheived by taking a whole systems approach to developing a balanced value base across society. This culture has been created by ensuring policy and legislation supports a broader understanding of ‘value’.

Arguably, the new Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 is trying to ‘nudge’ public sector commissioners of care toward their ‘feminine’ side as  Patrick Butler of the Guardian suggests ‘the act requires public authorities to take into account social and environmental value when they choose between suppliers, rather than focusing solely on cost’.  The message appears to be: money is not everything!

For those not convinced, and who would argue money is everything, it’s worth considering the effect of Nordic policies on the competitiveness of their economy.  The Economist reports the World Economic Forum rate Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway as ‘top of the class’ as  well as being probably the best governed countries in the world.  How have they achieved this?  Well it is beyond the scope of this blog to explore this in detail, but it would appear they have somehow managed to successfully blend ‘big government’ with ‘big society’ without compromising either, and I wonder how much of this is to do with the active development of  ‘feminine’ cultural values where equity and egalitarianism over ride competition and choice.

A  previous blog looked at the potential lessons we could learn from Finland,  suggesting public sector provision may be improved if we change our focus from a  market/target driven culture in health and social care to one characterised by equity and responsibility.

The Nordic countries may not have all the answers, but they do provide an interesting alternative.  So interesting that Labour leader Ed Miliband has  visited Sweden to see for himself the Nordic model.  However, to learn from these would involve politicians moving away from addressing the problems identified in the care system in individual silos to taking an approach that focuses on a wider value base to develop a  compassionate society.

In Finland no targets = higher quality provision and attainment

Finlands education system is one of the best in the world, and it does not rely on tests, targets and league tables.  Could this show us a way forward across the public sector?

An interesting article  caught my eye a while ago and got me thinking about the’target’ culture that dominates the public sector.  Apparently Finland’s education system rejects targets and is the best in the world, although this has not always been the case.  Following failure in the 1970’s the whole system was reformed, and the reforms seemed to have worked, and even cost less than when the education system was failing.

Could we learn from this? So what did they do? Introduce additional tests, targets, performance indicators, outcomes, privatise the system to increase competition and consumer choice to drive up educational standards? Well, no, just the opposite really.

Firstly, there are no league tables in Finland, the main driver of education policy is a vision focused on ensuring all children have access to the same opportunities to learn in a good school, wherever the child lives and regardless of the childs economic background.  Cooperation between schools rather than competition underpins this ethos, as does a belief in the ability of individual schools to achieve this without centralised targets from government or regulation.

Teachers/academics are valued as professionals and as such are trusted to assess children in their classroom using independent tests they create themselves.  If they do not feel it is beneficial to the childs well-being they do not test the child. Inclusion in tests are determined by whether it positively affects the students learning, not whether it increases students scores or meets a performance indicator.

The bit that really caught my imaginaton when reading was when the interviewer asked about the accountability of the teachers and those who run the school. ‘Salberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish” later on suggesting “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted” Whether this is true or not I do not know as I do not speak Finnish, however, it is an interesting notion that by acting responsibly accountability is not an issue.  In Finland teaching professionals are afforded prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility, which they evidently fulfil with gusto.  So the question of ‘accountability’ seldom arises. If it does it is dealt with by the head locally. And believe it or not but all of this has been achieved by not privatising education, that’s right not privatising education.

There are no private schools in Finland, only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland but even these are publicly funded. None are allowed to charge fees, and there are no private universities either.  The focus in public sector provision of education is on equity and shared responsibility, not choice and competition.

Hmm can we learn anything from this? At present public trust and confidence in the public sector must be at an all time low, however, to regain trust we need to see real change, a change in direction that is new and imaginative.  One of Finlands key success factors has been a recognition that learning from past experiences can build a better future.  Can we do the same?

Lord Justice Munby,David Hewitt, Gary Fitzgerald and Rob Brown….a dream team, thankyou!

When thinking about whom to invite as keynote speaker for the conference my first choice was Lord Justice Munby, so I rang the High Court and the rest is, as they say, history! It was a good choice, I hope you think so too.  The aim of this conference was always to provide front line practitioners and managers with a day to stop and reflect, space to think and time to refresh themselves.  We hope we acheived this. 

The post qualifying team at Bournemouth University had at the forefront of our minds, when organising this event, that this was a day for you, to thank you for all the hard work you do. 

Safeguarding Adults and Mental Capacity are increasingly important, and complex, areas of practice.  As we progress new issues and questions arise, yet within the midst of that complexity we never forget there is a person, someone in need.  Whilst the media rightly exposes the failings of the system it is important for us to also celebrate the little successes you acheive on a daily basis, which are never featured in the media or seen by wider society, but make a difference to someone’s life.

It is right not to be complacent, however, it is also right to be confident, confident that you do make a difference and that you will continue to make a difference in the future.

We would really like to thank all  of the speakers, who gave their time freely, each of whom was very individual but together provided an impressive line up.  Thank you, attendees, for coming along and participating, people came from all over the country (Edinburgh, Hull, Manchester, Ipswich, Cornwall, Devon, London, Dorset etc).  We hope you keep in contact with us via my blog and/or twitter.  We have already had discussions this morning about next year!  Your ideas are welcome!

All the presentations are on our website now so please have a browse.

Using social media to support learning and practice in social work

‘Trying to find the magic’ in practice or ‘trying to write a classic’ social work assignment can be hard….but help is at hand from Christina Perri, The Manic Street Preachers and Lana del Rey (with a little encouragement from Natasha Beddingfield) …… yes, really

Alongside practical experience developing practice in social work also involves a lot of reading.  The problem is, sometimes academic textbooks, research and journals can be quite difficult to understand and seem remote from practice, this can put you off reading in depth.  If you find text books and journal articles really hard to get into, the chances are  something written in a different style would help.  If that sounds like someone you know, or yourself, one way to support learning and professional development can be through the use of social media, for example twitter,  blogs and YouTube, used alongside more traditional academic materials.

Using social media to support professional development and learning is exciting because it enables you to learn in a ‘virtual’  classroom, the size of the world, but from where you are.  Information contained in blogs and on twitter is up to date as they often respond in real time to events as they happen.  The ability to access relevant up to date information has the potential to boost your learning, and your confidence!  Social media resources are often more concise and much more accessible than tradition academic texts,  giving an understanding of key issues quickly, as well as useful links to follow up.  There are many blog and twitter accounts that might be useful, some written by experienced practitioners, or those who use services as well as others, like me, who used to be a social worker but now work in a university.  Reading a range of authors work can help give a different perspective. Try these to start; The Small Places – with a focus on Mental Capacity, and The Not So Big Society – with a focus on anything and everything health and social care related!  Both are really topical and can lead to other useful resources, such as people to follow on Twitter, like Ermintrude2, an experienced social worker and keen blogger, or,  Clare Horton from the Guardian (editor of Society).  Engage with the people you follow on Twitter, where else could you actually communicate with the editor of the Guardian Society section (a must read for health and social care).  Another favourite of mine is Full Fact, which I follow on Facebook, this helps verify the accuracy of statistical information often used by politicians and the media to comment on social issues, for example immigration is always a controversial topic, has an increase in foreign nationals led to a surge in crime in the UK?  Checking out, rather than just accepting headlines, leads to informed debate rather than dogma.

YouTube and iTunes U are also a good resource to supplement your learning.  For example take a subject like social policy, click here, Youtube has short pieces to full length lectures on a range of social care topics, often given by leading names in the profession, and of course you can watch these at a time convenient to you and replay them when you find something difficult to understand.

It is likely technology will be used more in social work education in the future, for example Leeds Metropolitan University has created ‘Learnscape’ a learning platform that attempts to replicate real social work practice in virtual locations. Some will find this helpful, others daunting.  The thing to remember is these are all tools to support you, and you can control how you choose to use them.

Having fun, after all it is called ‘social’ media: an example of blending blogs with YouTube 

Here are three blogs you might find helpful to get started with, they cover adoption, older people’s services and social policy (privatisation of healthcare).  I often link my blogs to song titles or lyrics, so have included a playlist which I hope will help you, or at the very least give you a break from the boredom of studying!  By linking these blogs, and the ideas contained in them, to the songs you hear you will be better able to remember the key issues, however, you really have to actively think about the points made in the blog and explicitly link them to the song, so when you replay the song in your mind you also kind of replay the blog!  (read someone like Tony Buzan to help develop effective learning techniques).  You could also use social media when meeting with your colleagues, student group, practice assessors, supervisors, mentors or tutors to stimulate discussion and/or debate on a particular topical subject.

Finally, write your own blog and engage with Twitter, retweet what you find and become the one providing information to others. Complete the poll at the end of this blog and be part of research, or even better, do your own research using social media!

More will follow next month if you find these helpful.  Good luck.

Blog 1 Social Policy: Lana Del Rey: If ‘money is the anthem of success’ why do I have no confidence in a privatised health and social care system?

The Health and Social Care Act has opened the way for further privatisation of health and social care provision. ‘Care’ is now a commodity, just like iphones’ and cars, if there is enough demand the private sector will provide and consumers can shop around for the best deal. However, is that what happens when ‘consumers’ (service users) buy care?

Blog 2 Older People: Manic Street Preachers – Dignity in the care of older people – “If you tolerate this then your children will be next”

Poor levels of care for older people is a topical subject at the moment.  Sadly there is a problem with the system, however, improving care provision for older people is not just about today’s older population, it is about all our futures, our own and our children’s.

Blog 3 Adoption: Christina Perri – Jar of Hearts, Lost families: “I can’t take one more step toward you because all that’s waiting is regret’

This is quite a personal one from me. You might be thinking about working in adoption services, finding families is all important, however, have you ever wondered what happens to those adopted children when they become adults and want to know more about their natural family? This is my story.