Monday, November 10, 2014

Child Protection and Better Outcomes

I read with a great deal of interest the following article in the local paper.

I agree with the writer that the work Social Workers do is not recognised by the wider community and I certainly can understand that they must feel aggrieved by the negative press they receive. No one can argue that the work they do is without merit and is difficult most of the time. This article features the worst possible cases, but to be fair, there are many other cases where children are removed when more appropriate interventions would prevent this from happening and families would be able to remain together.

My issue has never been about removing children from care when they are starving or in a violent household or the children are suffering from severe neglect. As a community we should be concerned about these children and we should celebrate the fact that an organisation such as Families SA is there to ensure their safety and physical and mental well-being. We need Child Protection Services as we need the police, but what we don’t need are interventions that hinder the development of children and are focussed on blaming parents rather than finding solutions to the problem.

It is interesting to note that Minister Rankin in her portion of the attached article is talking about a service which now is focussed on keeping families together. By implication this means that this aspect of the work of the department was somehow lacking in the past and therefore needs to be fixed. Solution Focussed Casework is certainly a means of addressing this issue. Any Social Worker who understands what it means to be a Social Worker will understand the value of this work. However, on two occasions I have asked Social Workers what they think of this way of working and on both occasions I have been met with a very dry response. One person commented to me that it is “Social Work 101”. Comments such as this dismiss what this work is really about and for some reason they think they are better than this elementary version of Social Work. I wonder if they even know what Social Work 101 looks like. I must remember to ask them next time I am met with this response.

I have seen Solution Focussed Casework applied and it is streaks ahead of any other intervention I have encountered by workers in the department over the past 10 years. The reason why this program is being rolled out is that the department realised that many Social Workers either had no idea as to how to manage cases within the child protection system or those that had been doing the work for a while needed to refocus their practice. The real problem is how are you going to create change amongst a work force who believe that the way they are working is fine and that they are the ones that govern their destiny not bet practice principles. I wonder how many people are prepared to embrace the new way of working without being threatened by the change?

As we read the above article we are confronted with the reality of the work Social Workers do. I understand how the deluge of work can cause a worker to feel overwhelmed, unsupported and distressed.  I also know that this distress is often caused by poor outcomes that are not determined solely by the removal of a child from the parents. Does this mean that Social Workers, such as the writer above, are not focussed on the positive outcomes they achieve which could come about by working with families and having children remain with their parents because of sound and professional interventions?

Without the appropriate Social Work interventions and skill set the outcomes will always be negative.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Golf–The Philosophy of Life

I never thought I would be passionate about playing a sport such as golf. I was never interested in it when I was young nor found it interesting to watch. I thought it was a sport that was beyond me, something I could never become proficient, it seemed too hard, something I could never master. Well what do you know I haven’t mastered it, I am not good at it, but I am passionate about it.

Some years ago a friend and I would hire a few clubs and hit many balls randomly around a par three course. I found it frustrating and didn’t consider playing on a regular bases until only a few years ago. I am a terrible golfer, and probably always will be (will talk about that later), but I am in love with what I believe golf represents. It is more than what it represents but also what it means to me in in the light of my version of the world and the work I do as a Social Worker.

Before I begin my description of “golf” and what it means I wish to explain another aspect of golf which is about an interesting way I use golf to control how I respond to the work I do. For many years I had periods where I would burn out, usually every six months. I found I would become exhausted and very emotional. I wanted to hide from the world, retreat from the problems of others and cry. It was a very uncomfortable way of  being and I tried many ways of confronting the problem. I discovered that much of the way I was feeling and behaving was associated with the ruminating that cluttered my tired old brain cells. I needed to find a way to stop the continual thoughts about work, clients and the challenges I had confronting a world which seemed unjust. I used visualisation to interrupt these thought processes. I began to visualise playing golf. I would play over and over again the perfect game. Hitting the ball sweetly and accurately. I would focus on my swing, body positioning and club selection. You need to know that in my head I was the best golfer you could imagine. Adam Scott didn’t come close to my performance on the golf course.

Now lets talk about the wider meaning of golf. The principle of golf is very simple. You have a stick, a hard small ball, a hole somewhere in front of you that you have to reach in as fewer strokes as possible. It seems so simple.

Lesson 1. Often we look at life as if it should be as simple as a stick and ball. I have a goal and I am going to meet that goal as easily and systematically as I can. If I hit straight and maintain my focus I will reach my goal.

Lesson 2. If I haven’t addressed many of the issues that present before I even hit the ball I will never attain my goal. Golf teaches us that there is a great deal of learning that has to take place before we even place the ball on the tee. I need to understand why am I here, what is it that I have yet to learn? I have to learn how to stand. I have to learn how to hold the club, how to move my body and hold my arms. There are many considerations before you even hit the ball. This reminds me that there are many things I have to learn about myself before I am able to do the basics. Professionally there are many things I had to learn before I could even do the basics in Social Work.

Without the basics in anything we do we will not be able to function or become proficient at anything. If we fail in the basics we are never going to accomplish our full potential. At first though we have to work out what the basics are. For years I thought that hitting the ball as hard as I can would result in the outcome I desired – to hit the ball as far as I could. I had to realise that unless I worked on the basics my desired outcome would never be reached. Golf has taught me to never lose sight of the basics, to remind myself everyday what they are and to ensure that I don’t deviate.

Lesson 3. It has only been in recent times that I have learnt that if I slow my stroke I will hit the ball straighter and with greater distance. Last week I drove the ball a record distance for me. I reached a section of the fairway that no one I play with has ever reached. I have learnt that hitting the ball in the correct position on the club and having a a good stance and swing will produce the best outcome. It is important to be patient and to remember that we don’t have to ever exert ourselves to reach our goal. Gentle and smooth will present the best result. I have to work on consistency.

Lesson 4. How we are feeling at the time of striking the ball will determine how we execute the shot. If I am preoccupied with thoughts a part from golf and that white ball I will have a terrible round. I know that I have to take the time to think about all the things that are going to be important for me to make the best shot I can. When everything is in alignment I can then make the shot. Of course rarely is everything the way it should be, often I will strike the ball and then realise something I should have done that would have improved the shot.

We have mustered the courage to make the shot. I remind myself that even though I imagine the shot, not everything I plan works according to my wishes. Like golf, in life there are many influences and often it is not possible to imagine all the possibilities. We do the best with what we have, we take a risk and if it doesn’t turn out the way we have planned we have to plan again. We practice so that every time we prepare for a task we find it easier because eventually we will be doing aspects of the task which are natural and reflexive. We are unlikely ever to do what we need to do perfectly but we should be able to do what we need to do with confidence and a belief that we are doing our best and that the sliced shot is sometimes just a part of life. We have to work to minimise the potential for the sliced shot but that doesn’t mean that we will never do one again. I am sure that all professional golfers aim to make the fairway every time but statistics show that they only make the fairway 63% of the time.

An important lesson from golf is that even though you may hit the ball into the rough or a bunker it just means that the next shot is a little more difficult but it doesn’t change the fact that you could still make par.

To be continued ……