Assessing Single Parents

Posted on April 18th, 2010

An article in The Times newspaper by Ms JK Rowling, celebrated author of the Harry Potter tales and much publicised single mother who lived on state benefits in rented accommodation spoke about the two leading political parties’ polices in relation to single parents.  Ms Rowling champions this family makeup as she was left to care for her four year old daughter whilst teaching part-time after she separated from her husband.  Ms Rowling claims to have been clinically depressed during this period of her life as well as it being the time when she wrote her world famous novels.

Ms Rowling points to the Conservative party’s historical dislike for single mothers, having declared them the ‘worse social evil’ and the root cause for the breakdown of British society.   Interestingly single fathers finding themselves in the same position are often hero worshipped.

Avocet Independent Social Workers frequently undertake assessments with single parents, particularly young parents who seem to create more anxieties amongst professionals and also stimulate outward pouring of scorn from older generations. These single young parents, often living on or below the poverty line find themselves in a situation that the Labour party claimed it intended to rid society of when they swept to power. Today these same single parents are seen as voters and all parties are selling themselves as their champions, signing up to the Gingerbread campaign.

Avocet is actively involved in assessing young parents who have often lived in large families or with step-parents and siblings in a tense, volatile atmosphere. These young people recreate their own home lives, misinterpreting sexual intercourse for love and attention and the cycle of breakdown begins again.

During our experience of assessments with young single mothers, to date none have held Ms Rowling up as a role model. These young people aim to be hairdressers, beauticians or employed in the childcare business. The roles these young parents seek are usually low paid and it is often due to a lack of confidence and low-self esteem that these young people are not aiming higher.  Young single parents need to be encouraged to try to achieve and a starting point needs to be the education system. They require stimulation in order to be valued for their minds, personality and not solely for their looks or wiliness to participate in unprotected sex. This is not a new mantra, but it is one that still can not be resolved by either leading political party.   

These young women need to understand that education is the way for them to develop a lifestyle free from poverty. Ms Rowling is a primary example of the education system rescuing a single mother from a life of poverty. The difficulty comes when low educational achieving young women become mothers and their only reading material is fashion magazines that display their worth through being associated with clothes that attract the attention of males. This point was highlighted this week when a well known high street retailer padded the bikini tops of 7 year olds. This attitude does not help solve the issues of young single parents coming in to contact with Childrens Social Care departments across the UK and requiring assessments by Independent Social Workers.

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Social Workers Criticised by High Court Judge?

Posted on April 13th, 2010

Lord Justice Wall will be sworn in today as president of the High Court’s Family Division, and The Times heralded his arrival with an interview that criticised and undermined Social Workers across the UK.

The Times’ creative reporting skills showed a quote from Lord Justice Wall with ‘Arrogant Social Workers’ in the headline, somewhat misrepresenting the original sentence. Lord Justice Wall’s statement did indeed criticise the actions of Social Workers, but the comment in question appears to have been taken out of context.

Lord Justice Wall said that Social Workers are ‘Perceived by many as the arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system, and as trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process.’ Taking the sentence as a whole gives a different insight into the personal views of Lord Justice Wall, who it seems, was actually making an observation of public perceptions.

Lord Justice Wall did precede this however with the startling comment, ‘What Social Workers do not appear to understand is that the public perception of their role is not a happy one.’  In our role as Independent Social Workers we come across others in our profession on a regular basis, and have found that Social Workers are acutely aware of the public’s perception of their work.

The comments from Lord Justice Wall, coupled with those by Lord Justice Aikens in recent days, in which Lord Aikens likened Social Workers in Devon to ‘Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China’ can only be of further detriment to those already demoralised Social Work professionals.  Recent months have seen Social Workers criticised and ridiculed for not acting and removing children from their families, and now criticised for doing the opposite. If Lord Justice Wall is to make a difference in his new role then it might be prudent for him to offer some support to Social Workers, rather than providing ammunition for the media to continue their battering of Social Workers in the UK.

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Blame in Social Work

Posted on April 6th, 2010

Blame in Social Work is not a new agenda; it is something that most Social Workers discuss on an almost daily basis as the threat of making a mistake sees managers and colleagues taking a step back and leaving an individual Social Worker isolated, in the line of fire from the media and often their own managers. I have worked in Social Work for over twenty years and believe the blame culture is at an all time high or should I say low, as it reaches new depths. With this in mind, I read the story in The Times on Friday 2 April 2010 which reported on Ed Balls allegedly influencing the Ofsted report into the death of Baby Peter to be changed to shift blame on to Ms Sharon Shoesmith’s management.  This claim by The Times will come as no surprise to members of the Social Work profession, particularly those on the ‘shop floor’ completing assessments and working directly with difficult families.

The role of Ed Balls in the dismissal of Ms Shoesmith has been called into question following accusations about deleted emails and re-written reports and the focus of attention being Ms Shoesmith’s management style.  Do Social Workers have sympathy for Ms Shoesmith’s position? It is possible that most Social Workers would feel that Ms Shoesmith’s experience mirrors their own daily struggle to maintain their ability to practice in a profession that is criticised from outside and internally seeks an individual to blame – this time it appears to be Ms Shoesmith.

We wait to hear the outcome of Ms Shoesmith’s claim for unfair dismissal and the potential impact on Social Work in general of this protracted and high profile case of apportioned blame.

I wonder now if the media has a greater understanding of the blame culture within some Social Work management structures, including the voluntary sector – something that is undoubtedly exacerbated by the media obsession for finding and reporting in negative terms on any Social Work story. The Times only needed to look at the Integrated Children’s System  (ICS), which in reality is a management tool that monitors Social Work tasks to ensure Local Authorities obtain the required ‘stars’ awarded by the government.

Target setting instigated by Ed Balls’ government and implemented by senior managers such as Ms Shoesmith has shaped the blame culture in Social Work – interesting that these two are now involved in a public and legal dispute about Ms Shoesmith’s unfair dismissal for poor leadership.

Whoever wins this legal battle can not help Baby Peter now and if the blame culture continues, eroding the confidence of the Social Work profession then children like Baby Peter will continue to be inadequately safe guarded.

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Vatican’s ‘Just Petty Gossip’ statement highlights the problems with investigating child abuse and safe guarding children.

Posted on April 6th, 2010

This is not an attack on the Catholic Church or the Pope, although we do not support the actions of the individuals involved in representing the Church’s interests.

The situation demonstrates that child abuse is not just an issue for British society, as the cases involving Catholic priests abusing children occurred in America and Germany. These incidents of abuse by adult males in a position of power reinforce information found in many pieces of research. The children who suffered these traumatic acts of violence by adults were vulnerable due to their age, their disability and there were in turn isolated from society.

The Church’s acts of ‘covering up’ abuse reflex the behaviour of families and other sections of society, who choose to deny that child abuse takes place. The investigation into child protection allegations by Social Workers can be hampered by a partner who refuses to communicate their concerns to Social Work professionals, due either fear of physical violence or the risk of losing their partner. This leaves Social Workers in the situation were families in a similar manner to the church refuse to report incidents of abuse to Local Authorities.  This allows children to be sexually exploited for years not just by Catholic priests but by other powerful members of society, who destroy the lives of children and affect their adulthood.

These children need the Catholic Church and the Pope not to blame lower ranking officials for the decisions of people with the responsibility to protect them from harm.

Within our own society neighbours refusing to report incidents of domestic violence are colluding with the perpetrator of the violence and should been seen supporting the actions of the aggressors.  There should be a consequence to the lack of actions by the Pope and other adults who fail to protect children from abuse.  Children rely on adults to make them safe and secure.

The Catholic Church acts as a role model to society and its current crisis highlights how difficult it is for Social Workers to investigate incidents of child abuse when met with a wall of silence and lack of co-operation. The abuse of children will continue if adults in power refuse to accept their responsibility to protect children, particularly those who are disadvantaged through poverty or disability. These issues and others keep some children on the edge of society and they become targets for adults, wishing to hurt them for their own gratification and pleasure. Whether it is the Catholic Church, the Pope, a partner or a member of the public that walks past a small child being hit hard by an adult, they are all failing to protect children from harm. The abuse of children can be reduced if adults control their inappropriate actions and people report child protection concerns to the authorities, supporting and  respecting the role of Social Workers whilst they investigate the complex issue of child abuse.

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