Thursday, April 24, 2014

Never Giving Up

Over the past couple of months I have wondered why I continue working to have people heard and regardless of the knockbacks and rejection. I have often wondered about the toll it takes on my emotional and physical well-being.

What I have come to realise is that if I give up on clients I will be giving up not just on them but on everything I believe in. It is important to be true to your beliefs and to those whom you believe in. Change doesn't come about by idly waiting for it. History tells us that those who have brought about social change have had to fight with determination and an ingrained belief that the fight has value and will bring about the required result.

Change is not about getting what you want. It is about changing ingrained beliefs and systems which have remained often impenetrable. It has been important to resist the negativity one receives from other colleagues and to make a stand for the sake of the client. I think many of us give up because the battle wearies us and we would prefer to live a life which is free of the struggles associated with fighting against a system which conflicts with our own values. I fail to see how so many Social Workers can have the same training but yet fail to understand what it is that we do and how working for our clients is based on a simple but not understand standard of social justice.

Yesterday a client called stating that she was feeling bullied by a worker who objected to her attending access with her brother. There were valid concerns about the brothers history of Domestic Violence but there should never have been any concerns about the brothers violence towards the clients daughter. It is this idea that we must categorize, label and place in a box everyone who has acted badly. I fail to understand how berating my client and causing her to distrust her own judgement regarding the welfare of her child is good social work. It is reasonable for someone to have concerns based on his history but it seems more prudent to explore this with the client rather than destroy the relationship with her. This is an example of the lack of empathy, the refusal to engage appropriately that I find extremely frustrating.

The pervading issue is whether this type of social work needs to be challenged? How do you confront it? Is anyone going to do anything about it anyway? Probably not. However, it needs to be challenged for the sake of the client. This, though, presents another problem. That is the isolation and negative impact it has on the client by other workers. I have mentioned in other posts that if I believe that my intervention is damaging to the client then I would need to withdraw. What I have come to realise though is that these days my very presence can present as a conflict for other workers because of the reputation I have developed. Not that this is my desire. I would rather work collaboratively with other workers. The resistance is not of my making - it is a symptom of their belief system, the belief that they will be made accountable for their actions and their failure to accept responsibility for how they behave. I also believe that many Social Workers view criticism by an "outsider" as intrusive and lacking insight. Perhaps this is true. However, when it comes to social work practice I am as well informed as anyone who values their profession and understands the principles from which we work.

So should we give up. The answer is NO. By giving up we are letting our profession down we are being silenced by unjust beliefs and inequity. We are not demonstrating what it means to be a social worker. Above all we are letting our clients down. We have to remain focussed on what it means to be a social worker and for me it is vital that I maintain my integrity by never giving up on my profession.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Reflective Practice as a tool for organisations

Recently I had the opportunity to work with a corporate client where we discussed Reflective Practice in supervision. It was an opportunity to discuss social work concepts within a corporate structure. Over many years I have worked with organisations discussing conflict resolution or acting as a support when staff were being retrenched or providing therapeutic services. This was the first time though that I had the opportunity to present to a staff member the concept of working at a more in depth level.

There was one particular staff member who was causing some difficulties. The staff member had a sense of entitlement around what he thought could be done and what he believed was within his job description. For some time the organisation had ignored certain behaviours because he was doing the principle work for which he was employed, but he was failing to do some of the more minor tasks which made it difficult for management to report on the activities within his department.

In my experience, organisations generally don’t understand what good supervision should look like. This not only applies to Corporations but also applies in Human Services and Government Departments. For the most part supervision comprises of a set of tasks which were to be met by the employee and moving through those tasks with a manager or supervisor.

This is not supervision this is case management, micro management or activity review or something else but it is not supervision. Supervision is not just the opportunity to reflect on the work someone has completed or not completed but it is an opportunity to reflect with the employee how they are functioning at work. Most managers, and I feel confident in saying “most”, are reluctant to explore anything beyond the work load and the tasks assigned. However the workplace is more than this.

When exploring this recently with the manager I asked him if he knew what “work” meant to this troublesome employee? He could tell me that this staff member had few interests outside work and viewed his colleagues as his “family”. It became evident that the meaning of “work” was extremely significant to him. I wondered how significant it would be for the manager, and “supervision” in particular, to contemplate what “work” meant to this staff member.

The next question which needs to be explored is how, in this new found context, could questions be constructed which gave further insight into why this person chooses to behave in a certain way which would put his employment at risk. It is possible that his application to certain tasks is about building and establishing relationships and anything which doesn’t feed that notion is seen as less valuable. We maybe able to see why building relationships are important, they represent “family”, so through a reflective practice model we may find the way to explore the significance of family. It may be possible to understand and therefore explore how this person would feel if they were separated from the “work family”?

By understanding the importance of work and family for this person we may be able to develop a strategy to help them meet the managers needs to have the paper work and other tasks completed.

In essence this process allows the manager to see the employee in a different context which changes the problem solving technique. Solutions when seen from the other persons perspective offer us with an opportunity to develop a win/win. Granted, we have to be a little more creative when we focus on meeting the needs of others as well as out own. Meeting others needs as well as our own is a little more complicated.

What I love about Social Work is the application it has to corporate solutions.

Mental Health and Patient “A”

While in my car today I happened to turn to a radio station and found myself listening with a great deal of interest to a segment called background briefing. You can listen to the broadcast here.

This is an interesting analyses of the power of the Psychiatric profession and how once in the mental health system a person can become lost, devalued, mis-diagnosed and dehumanised.

It is somewhat scary to hear how the psychiatrists justify what they do. Listen how the profession justify “capacity”. One wonders who has the mental illness.

Please comment on what you think after you have listened to the program.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Discovering adoption

Yesterday I just finished attending a conference at which my wife was presenting. She is the academic so she is the one who is likely to attend a conference and do all the presenting while I tag along as the partner of Dr what’s her name. I am more than happy to be he insignificant other. As always it is an absolute pleasure to support her in the work she does. This time though we had to travel half way around the world for her to deliver a paper to a very small audience. An indicator that they were not interested in what we as Australians are doing. The conference was on “adoption” and my wife was presenting on “fostering”. However it was great to be part of a movement which something to say about an industry which I have never considered to be – well I have just never considered it. It isn’t as if I haven’t heard of adoption but I have never considered in any meaningful way eg what it means to be adopted.

What was discussed was a range of interesting issues such as the cost to adopt and the lack of accountability for the money being charged. That much of what happens in this area is now inter-continental and inter-racial. What does it mean for a white person to adopt a Nigerian child? What does it mean for this child as they grow up? Were they legitimately placed for adoption or were they kidnapped? Does adoption provide a new and better opportunity for a child? What views do I hold which colour my views of adoption?

Before this conference I considered adoption was probably a good thing because it provided homes for kids who were living in poverty or were unwanted by their parents. This may be true but it isn'’t always the case. How do we know what is true and what isn’t? The truth is that we don’t know. There are very few checks and balances that can determine if a child is a legitimate adoptee.

What concerns me is, who are we to judge whether a life in a different country is going to provide a better outcome for the child. Because we may offer a more material and educational environment doesn’t mean that we are have the answer to happiness and that we are going to provide joy and mental well being for a child. Far from it in fact it is more likely that a child living in poverty in some countries is going to be better of mentally than in a western society. For us to assume that we are “saving” these children is a judgement which is not correct. I notice that this notion was raised but wasn’t debated nor is hotly contested. I guess that is because those that have an investment in adoption would find those ideas particularly challenging. It was evident that a reasonable percentage of academics attending this conference were adopters or adoptees – either way their was not discussion on the merits of adoption vs the disadvantage of adoption.

May important questions were raised but none more so than the notion that if large amounts of money are being generated per adoption then how open is this system to corruption. This is like the elephant in the room and certainly no one spoke to this issue. One presentation I attended talked about the amount of money exchanging hands but refused to take a moral stand on this issue. Within this system there is considerable concern for the trafficking of children, the abuse which is likely to take place because of this trafficking. There is virtually no legal authority across borders who can control what happens in other countries.

I doubt that I will take this issue up as I have other child protection issues but when I meet with someone who is adopted I will be better prepared to ask more probing and in depth questions.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Reflections of 2013

It has been an interesting year. As I look back I am left wondering what I have accomplished and how any of my work has benefitted my clients. I have discovered that I often become so lost in the immediacy of the problem that I forget about all the good outcomes that have been generated over the year. I am sure that of the hundreds of people I have seen this year that there were a few who benefited from the experience.

I do know that I have limited the impact of “burnout” this year, primarily by playing as much golf as I can. I have had a few very sad periods where I wonder about the efficacy of my work. I often feel tired and resentful because the social issues with which I am confronted seem to become more unresolvable. I have become tired of seeing my colleagues practice Social Work as if it is a third rate profession relegated to something similar to an insurance salesman.

I have become tired of hearing from Child Protection Social Workers that the work they do is SOOOO complicated. The little voice in my head wants to shout “the only person who makes this complicated is your inability to practice Social Work”, I usually follow this with a few expletives.

There is no doubt that this year was very tiring and I can only hope that next year will be less so. I have worked with some interesting people and organisations this year. There is a mining company I work with who have demonstrated that they value the work I do with them. For that I am very grateful. I have worked with some of the most amazing clients this year, from you I have learnt so much. To my EAP colleagues I just want to let you know that I love the work we do together and how much I appreciate the way you have continued to support me over the years.

Without my wife and family none of what I do would be possible. My wife is very busy with her career but always has the time to listen to me talk about my work. For over twenty years Dee has supported me with what I wanted to do, and I know for her that always hasn’t been easy. There have been many low points. My youngest daughter told me recently that she had put down as her University preference, Social Work. This has come without any encouragement from me, but is a nice way of recognising the value she gives the work I do. To my beautiful daughter I thank you for finishing of my year with this wonderful acknowledgement.

To those of you who read my blog, I hope I can contribute to your understanding of Social Work and that you continue to participate in my journey. Have a great 2014.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A critique of Social Work

Recently I attended the AASW Social Work conference. An event attended by over three hundred Social Workers. As a lonely private practitioner I have always valued the opportunity to attend gatherings where there are other Social Workers. It has always been a time where I can gather with like-minded people and talk about practice in an environment where I feel safe and accepted. To have the space to discuss the unique problems associated with the practice of Social Work has always been liberating and caused me to feel accepted and given me a direction has regenerated me. After attending meetings where practice is discussed I have become buoyed by the commonality we have shared the fact that we may have differing approaches but in essence have the same goals and objectives. I love the idea that we can challenge each other and yet have a sense of professionalism which gives credit to the uniqueness which is an integral part of us all.

I attended the conference hoping that again I would find within this large body of professionals the same feeling I have when I attend my local branch CPD sessions or other activities where Social Workers have gathered. However on this occasion I left feeling something very different. This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t anything to be gained from attending because I did score an autographed copy of Hugh Mackay’s latest book.

What is disappointing is that the issues which confront us all are never discussed in detail. Even though we did have some discussion on registration there wasn’t a passionate plea for recognition because it appeared that the AASW were doing all they could to advocate for change. My guess is that there are many Social Workers who don’t care whether we are registered or not or believe that registration is going to add further cost to being a Social Worker. I also wonder if there are those who see registration as an imposition which would make them more accountable. If there were any dissenting voices they were silent. When I think of our ineptitude in fighting for what Social Work means I wonder if we are worthy of obtaining professional recognition through registration?

I attended a session where the topic was private practice. To hear two of the speakers massaging their egos was extremely painful and offered nothing to the debate about what it takes to be a Social Worker. One of the speakers was so obsessed with Mental Health diagnosis that one wonders if he was a Social Worker at all.  He presented as a voice for the DSM V.

Perhaps I attended the wrong sessions but I rarely heard anyone talk about Social Justice or the struggle against social and organisational change. Where was the talk about clients and the inequities in our organisations and society which disempower the most vulnerable. At what point did we highlight the great work done by Social Workers or are we bereft of those Social Workers, or are we simply not doing anything worth celebrating?

At the end of the two days we were asked to make comments about the symposium or aspects of Social Work. One of the questions asked at the beginning of the Symposium focussed on what we could be doing as Social Workers that would make a difference. No one had the answer or at the end of the two days were too tired to make their way to the microphone at the front of the auditorium to make a comment. I know I didn’t. I feel somewhat guilty that I am criticising others for not presenting their voice when I didn’t present my own. I guess I didn’t believe that I would be heard or that anyone would care.

Basically we are a pathetic bunch who struggle to understand our professional identity. I was reminded of who we are professionally when some time ago I was counselling a Social Worker who was faced with a particular work conflict. I suggested that it may be helpful to read through the AASW Code of Ethics to help her understand where she stood professionally in relation to the conflict. She asked me if it was possible to download the Code of Ethics from the internet. She obviously didn’t have a copy of her own and therefore hadn’t read it for some time, if at all. It is a little like being a Christian Minister and never having read the Bible. Regretfully, the connection between who we are suppose to be professionally and who we actually are is a giant chasm.  The exploration of that gap, at this conference, didn’t occur.

There is a need to challenge who we are. Why we do what we do and our efficacy. According the the AASW Code of Ethics “In all contexts, social workers maintain
a dual focus on both assisting human functioning and identifying the system issues that create inequity and injustice.” During the conference I didn’t hear a discussion on the way we are assisting human functioning nor the systemic issues which create inequity and injustice. We could have been offered the challenge to talk about our practice and how our practice produces the outcomes our profession demands. Where are our stories about the impact we have on clients or the challenges confronting us from a government or organisational perspective? Are we so unclear of what we represent that we are fearful of challenging others with what we believe for fear of being discovered a fraud?

When you are asked what you, as a social worker, do, what do you say? Do you hesitate because you haven’t worked it out yet or simply don’t you know? Look for a creative way to describe who you are as a Social Worker. This is not about what you do, this is about working out a definition of your version of a Social Worker given who you are. It is these basic understandings we need to discuss and articulate.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Child Protection and the Court System

Over the past few months I have been working with a client towards having an eighteen year Child Protection order revoked. I was aware that the legal system is not designed to provide fair and equitable outcomes for the poor, disadvantaged and dis-empowered people in our community. It is perhaps my sense of social justice that drives my belief that if you have a valid and reasonable case you will be heard and justice will prevail. Regretfully, if you are fighting for a child to be returned to her mother after some years in care, regardless of the changes the mother has made, the chances are so slim it hardly seems the effort is worth the emotional distress.

What makes this worse is that the child protection system is so distorted and narrow that the social workers are unable to give up their power for the sake of the child and the parent. It is therefore unfair to lay the responsibility for this totally at the feet of the legal system, but at the intransigent nature of the system which believes that under all circumstances it is not possible for a parent to change or that a parent will never change enough to satisfy the workers. I believe that if my client was Mother Theresa she wouldn't have her child returned to her. I have spoken about this issue in many other forms over the years but I am still incredulous as to the negative way in which Social Work is practiced in this setting.

I would have thought that having significant change occur in a persons life needs to be celebrated. As Social Workers it is our role to acknowledge change and when possible demonstrate the benefits it presents. When talking to my client today we talked about out first meeting and she admitted that she didn't trust me because I was a Social Worker and it took her some time to understand that I was there to help her. To hear this saddens and angers me because it is the work of other Social Workers which creates this image. I spend much of my time confronted by the negativity which surrounds our profession because of the incompetence of many of the Social Workers who work particularly in Child Protection.

In this case I can remember a meeting with a newly appointed Social Worker, not too sure if he has a social work degree or not (not a member of the AASW), and he convinced me that he was not like all the other Social Workers we have worked with over the years. He acknowledged all the wonderful changes my client had made over the years. He even commented on the room my client had set up for her daughter, stating that he is going to work to have her returned to that "beautiful room". It was over twelve months ago that he made this comment. Overnight visits were promised but have never eventuated. He told us that he would never focus on her past but it was only how my client is managing now that is important. This is the same man who has never delivered on one of his promises. He is the same man who in a recent report for the court focused on the reasons for the removal rather than on all the changes the client has made. In fact this very obliging and critical man of other social workers (his own colleagues) opposed the return of the child based on the fact that the mother hadn't informed the department of the improvements she had made regarding her mental health.

A few years ago the client had received a favourable report from her psychologist. At that meeting the Social Worker and her Supervisor ignored the report and told her they were not interested in any report written. Three years ago they were given information referring to her mental health by a professional but ignored it and discounted the client's need to have her improvements acknowledged by FSA. Since then I have spoken many times about her improvements but none of this has been considered nor acknowledged. As an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker one would have thought that my assessment would have been valid. Stating in a court document that they knew nothing of the improvements in her mental health is a blatant lie.

The question all of this raises is how does a person with no money and confronted by a system which is bent on destroying the relationship between a mother and a daughter have and chance of being heard? I wonder under what circumstances could a parent have her child returned to her when the child is on a GOM 18 order?

I am certain though that if her parents were middle class and supportive of her that the situation would be different. Her father is the carer along with his partner but he is far from supportive of his daughter. This is a class issue which needs to be rectified or adequate funding arrangements be provided for people such as my client so that justice can be upheld.

I am unable to understand why it is not possible for all parties to get together and work towards a solution which gradually works towards re-unification? What is it that makes a group of social workers so entrenched in their views that they are unable to see that there may be a different outcome which is in everyone's best interest?