Tag Archives: family

Social workers to learn how to earn ‘public trust’ from Politicians … Really!

Politicians to lead task force that will guide social workers in earning back public trust …… Really!

Forgive me, I almost choked on my coffee whilst reading a piece entitled ‘Social work needs to earn back public trust‘ on the Guardians Social Care Network.

The government has set up a task force to guide the social work profession on how to earn public trust. A stellar line up of politicians which include Michael Gove, Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith, those well-known advocates of social work and those they work with. When did Politicians earn the right to pontificate on how a profession might earn public trust I wonder? I must have missed this whilst reading about the numerous promises this government has reneged on since the general election, and which clearly must have enhanced the publics trust in them …..

I am a tad perturbed the government seems to have ditched the comprehensive Munro Review, which provided a very balanced approach to reform that focused not just on social workers and their education but also the political and organisational contexts which also shape social work practice, and arguably go some way to explaining the current problems that bedevil the profession.

The piece suggests the new task force will focus on robust assessment of qualifying social workers involving employers, academics and those who use services …. ummm sorry to mention this, but I do not know of a qualifying social work programme that does not already do this. Social work programmes across the land expect students to pass a number of academic theory assignments and law based exams alongside practice based assessments which involve numerous observations of practice and a plethora of meetings and reports provided by employers, those who use services and academics commenting on the student’s performance and fitness for practice over a 2 or 3 year period.

The article goes onto suggest the social work profession needs to ask itself ‘why the college failed’ and ‘why the public mood’ supports changes in the law where social workers can be prosecuted for wilful neglect. In response to the first question, from my perspective, the reason I did not join the college is that I felt it represented the voice of the government not social workers. To the second comment I would hazard a guess that 30 years of inaccurate reporting in the media, oft-repeated by politicians, and flawed serious case reviews have played a part in the general publics perception of the profession.

Just read the book by Prof Ray Jones which looks at why politicians and the media were so keen to blame and vilify social workers and Sharon Shoesmith, Haringey’s then children’s services in the case of Baby P, to gain some insight into why the profession is held in such low esteem by the public, aided and abetted by the media and government I would suggest.

I was surprised the piece did not mention the problems with inadequate IT systems, how social work now operates in a call centre environment where workers hot desk and have limited contact with their peers, or how workers work in their cars, making phone calls in lay-bys on their mobiles because they cannot access secure office space. Nor does it mention the failing court system, or the outmoded model of fostering and adoption which is no longer fit for purpose and in many cases just adds to the trauma of already traumatised children’s lives, it fails to mention the knock on effect of welfare reform, the lack of affordable good quality housing or the deterioration in mental health support services to both adults and children, it does not dig deep into the effect on frontline service provision of high levels of stress related sickness and social work vacancies, or the impact of temporary agency workers in providing important continuity when working with children and families.

I have worked with hundreds of hard-working social work students, many of whom are accruing debts of up to £40,000 to become a social worker in children and family services. Despite public and government distrust, and potential imprisonment, they are committed to being the best social workers they can possibly be …. because of this I believe in social work. Time for another coffee I think …..

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Free iBook: #LongLostFamilies (ITV) and the search for my mother…..The Adoption Files

(A free ibook of the complete ‘adoption file’ story can be downloaded here)

Who Do You Think You Are? producers, Wall to Wall, began making a series reuniting long lost relatives in 2010 for ITV called ‘Long Lost Famlies’. At the end of the first series I completed an on-line application form for the second series, and to my amazement I was selected for the 2012 show! But I had to remember, I was told,  the purpose of the programme is to ‘entertain’ the nation, not re-unite me with my natural mother…

“The strongest principle of growth lies in human choices” (George Eliot)

Whilst not keen on conducting the search for my mother in front of millions of viewers I knew this could be my best opportunity yet of finding her. After the excitement of finding my sibling the trail had gone cold.   Over the last 3 years my partner and I have flown to New Zealand to meet cousins who might have more information, they didn’t! We travelled to my mothers last known address (from 1964) knocking on doors and accosting strangers in the street showing random people her photo asking if they recognised her. I sent swabs to America to establish my mtDNA, incase anyone else was on file as a relative.  The closest I got to my mother was confirming we both probably derived from a female who lived in South Asia 60,000 years ago! We spent hours in the British Library tracking down my grandfather in ‘Thackers’ directories, these list Europeans who lived in India up to the 1930’s, as well as searching for my mothers birth/death certificate, which we have never found, (we have a lot of death certificates of women with a similar name and of a similar age!).  Passenger lists have been searched to find out when my mother travelled to the UK from India, and of course we spent several thousands of hours on Ancestry websites, google, 192, People Finder etc, etc…….but we were no closer to finding her.

The 'certificate' confirming my origins....
The ‘certificate’ confirming my origins….

Initially a researcher from Wall to Wall made contact requesting a meeting between us, where she would gather information whilst filming me.  This would then be viewed by the production team and a decision would be made as to whether our story was ‘in’ or not.  One of the first questions I asked was how many applicants were there, 7000!

The initial interview was very tiring, and something of a marathon. All the questions obviously related to my adoption.  However, what took me by surprise was the focus on how I ‘felt’ about everything. For example I went to Somerset House to see my birth certificate for the first time in 1978, “how did it feel to see your birth name for the first time?”, ummm it was 34 years ago I’m not sure I can remember. “What did it feel like when you saw your adoption record for the first time?” Ummm, ditto, it was over 30 years ago! In the end I just had to describe how I thought I might have felt in hindsight. Not sure how accurate this was but, I was as honest as I could be.  It did bring into sharp relief how emotional this journey has been and gave me an indication of just how emotionally draining this process might be.  It was sobering to say the least.

On receiving the phone call confirming our story had been chosen I was absolutely elated.  One thing that stuck in my mind was the researchers warning “this is an entertainment show not a family reuniting service”.  This was said in a positive sense to remind me of what I was letting myself in for (we would only appear on TV if there was a ‘result’ i.e. we were reunited and my mother agreed to appearing or if she were dead and I agreed to appear).  The whole purpose of the programme is to entertain viewers.  We as a nation seem to love watching such programmes if the viewing figures are anything to go by.  But in reality it’s more than entertainment, a ‘soap’. It is actually about real peoples’ lives, people like my mother and I, whose secrets could be laid bare to the whole of Britain!

This can get lost when watching. From my limited experience I can tell you it is an extremely hard and emotionally draining experience, and that for many involved it is through desperation rather than a desire to be on TV (I begged the programme makers on my application to include us). There is a cost to all those involved.  Those at the heart of the ‘story’ have to re-live highly disturbing events, giving up your child for adoption must rank as one of the most difficult things you face in life.  The consequences of  revealing such events and reliving long buried feelings remain long after the production has ended.

Although, I can not fault Wall to Wall in the support mechanisms they have in place. They arrange for a psychological assessment and provide an ‘intermediarry’ to act a kind of go between should a family member be found. Mine proved very supportive, keeping in contact right from the beginning to check all was okay.

People have mixed feelings about these types of programmes, so do I.  Participation should not be taken lightly, the potential to make a life ‘worse’ is definitely ever-present, so realistic expectations and the support of loved ones is vital.

Several months after my last contact with the intermediary, and after several non-committal e-mails from the interviewer at Wall to Wall, I receive a phone call.

There is good news and bad……… to find out what happened next click here to download a free short ibook (you will need an iPad to read it. The free ibook contains all the ‘adoption file’ blogs along with some extra details and a few more photos. Previous blogs are here, here and here)

The ‘Big Society’ will not necessarily lead to better elderly care treatment by @dianegalpin

A fantastic blog by our senior Lecturer Di Galpin for LSE Policy and Politics Blog a recommended read!!!

The ‘Big Society’ will not necessarily lead to better elderly care treatment.

Di Galpin looks at the Big Society from a philosophical standpoint and questions whether it can be achieved without encouragement from an active state.

Adoption:A ‘good’ adoption is not just about being faster

 As the government seeks to speed up the adoption process with Michael Gove highlighting the value of a stable and nurturing environment, an adult adoptee suggests the actual adoption is just the beginning and more support post adoption is needed.

On this, Michael Gove and I agree, adoption has to be better than a child languishing in the care system, farmed out to a multitude of foster placements that may break down.  Just as Mr. Gove’s personal experience shapes his thoughts on adoption so do mine.

What I think the government and Mr Gove fails to understand is the change in reasons why children are adopted today compared to when we were both adopted.  In my case I was adopted  because I was illegitimate and my mother did not have the means to care for me in terms of a home, cash or family support, I think this is less the case today.  The reasons for adoption today are far more complex and involve problems such as mental health issues, substance mis-use, domestic violence and child abuse, these along with the knowledge gained from neuroscience means that some of the children who need to be adopted now may have far more complex emotional and psychological needs than I did, and thus require adoptive parents  able to cope with whatever this might bring.

Whilst the system does require reform, lets base it on facts and evidence not personal experience.  Yes personal experience is important, it can act as a motivator to improve the system, lets just make sure its the right change, otherwise we are in danger of letting down the next generation of adoptees.

An adult adoptee and ex social worker describes how it feels to be a ‘service user’ as she attempts to access her adoption file

Adult Adoptees and Identity: the adoption process is currently under government scrutiny, getting it right is so important for adoptees futures. However, getting it right is not just about policy and procedures; it is also about social workers being professional and flexible in their approach. An adult adoptee, and ex social worker, describes how it feels to be a ‘service user’ as she attempts to access her adoption file.

(this is the 1st of a series on the ‘adoption file’, read ‘Lost Families’  if you want to see what happened next)

Whether who we are is determined by some invisible invention of science called genetics or the parenting skills of our parents is commonly known as ‘nature vs nurture’ and is the subject of much research. The truth is we may never know the exact ratio of influence, it may well vary from individual to individual, but it is fair to suggest both play a role in making us who we are. Whilst for many this is just an interesting debate for some, like me who have been adopted, it is a significant factor in shaping my understanding of who I am and how I feel about myself.

This blog is not written by me as a social worker or academic but as ‘adoptee me’. I was adopted over fifty years ago and have been trying to find information about my genetic family and my birth mother for thirty four years. Many years ago I accessed my adoption file in the hope it would provide me with information that might lead me to her. Unfortunately, it did not, although it did give me some useful information regarding the circumstances of my adoption.

Fast forward thirty years to August 2011 when I decide to have another look at my file in the hope that being older (possibly wiser?) it could still hold something useful that was missed before and might take me a step closer to finding my birth mother. And so with high hopes I contact the local authority where my adoption took place, hence forth known as ‘Never Never Land’. After being diverted to several departments I eventually reach the right one and speak with someone. The first question asked at this point is “why do you want to see the file?” Although taken aback, and to be honest rather annoyed to be asked this, I answer “because it’s about me and who I am, my family history”. The social worker explains the process to me. No I can not contact ‘Never Never Land’ direct to access my file I have to go through another authority, hence forth known as ‘La La Land’, and they will request access to my file on my behalf. Okay, why a third party needs to be involved is not explained. When I asked if I can have a copy of the file the response is guarded “possibly, but no third party information would be shared unless the third party agreed”. Okay, what if the third parties are dead i.e. my adoptive parents…..no reply, it felt like the worker was following a script and this question did not appear on the script, we end the conversation with one last question ”why do you want to see your file?”, “because etc etc etc……”.

My main concern at this point is who is going to decide what I am allowed to see, and will they leave out that one vital piece of information that might lead me to my birth mother? I feel powerless.

To say my first contact from the other side of the fence, so to speak, was unsatisfactory is an understatement, even after one phone call I felt frustrated and disempowered. It was clear there were hoops to be jumped through, and I was going to have to jump! I felt I had to fit the system regardless of whether it fitted me, or was appropriate.

Next step, phone call by me to ask how long the process might take, “No idea!”, followed by explanation they only worked part time, was going on leave and this was non urgent so would not be prioritised, expect a minimum of 6 months, that’s not including any delays in ‘Never Never Land’ responding. Further contact with social services is equally unsatisfactory, and still they asked “why do you want to see your file?” ………….”because…etc.etc!”

I eventually meet my adoption social worker and am pleased to report they are experienced and professional, they do not appear to stick to any particular agency approach and make me feel I am listened to as an individual, I do not feel like a service user with this social worker, this is an equal partnership.

So, have I seen my file? To cut a long story short the file is still in ‘Never Never Land’, however, it is going to arrive in ‘La La Land’ soon. Reasons for delay range from workers and mangers going sick, people working part time, supervision being cancelled and window repairs (don’t ask!!!). In all honesty, I am not interested in knowing any of this it only serves to heighten my annoyance and sense of powerlessness.

I do understand the pressures in practice, and of course the protection of vulnerable children must always come first, however, whilst not urgent it is actually very important to me. Seeing my file again is a desperate measure on my part because I’ve exhausted all other avenues, my mother is approaching eighty years of age, time is not on our side. An acknowledgement of how important this might be for me on my first contact with services would have been nice.

How does all this make me feel? Angry, powerless, frustrated, sad. My contact with services is minimal and time limited, unlike many others. The professional social worker in me knows the pressure systems, and people, are under and how my request is insignificant in the scheme of social work practice with Children and Families, but, it is important to me. Whilst at an organisational level it is just an old file, for me it is my life and about who I am. This process has made me reflect on my own social work practice, I’d do things differently now!

(This is one of several blogs, if you would like to read the complete story of what happened in my search for my natural mother you can read it in a free ibook here <a href="here“> You will need an ipad to read it)