Monday, 25 November 2013

Ironing out the kinks

Today, I felt like I was drowning. Several skipped lunches and long drives travelling to various locations taking young people across the county, feeling very drained.

17 cases to my name, those of you in other teams might be thinking, 17?! that's nothing!
But the nature of our team means we must work intensively with families seeing each family almost every week, and sometimes this means working with a teenager separately from their parents, which might mean two or more separate visits a week for one family... it's difficult squeezing 17 families in only 5 days of the week.

For those of you interested in what it is I actually do in my role, here is the composition of the bulk of it:

Crisis Management 

Responding to urgent calls and being ready to drop everything whilst staying calm, patient and clear-headed.


An assessment must be done when a referral comes in and is allocated to you.

This may be an Initial Assessment: which must be done within 10 days and involves ascertaining what the immediate needs of the family are as well as the views of other professionals that have been involved.

Or a Core Assessment: This must be done within 35 days and involves a more in-depth analysis of the situation. Often, initials become cores when you're beginning to run out of time... coincidentally.

Case Notes

Writing up all that has been done. Any home visit, phone conversation, email, text message, direct piece of work and assessment must be written up and put on "The System".

Planning and Research

Researching evidence-based practice techniques. Looking at research into what works for a child or family and planning future work.

Direct Work

Actually carrying out direct work with children and teenagers including therapeutic work to help with trauma, behavioural techniques such as rewards charts, risky behavioural work, working on broken relationships within the family, exploring the wishes and feelings of very young children (harder than it might seem) and being spontaneously creative; not being afraid to get mucky with paints, chalks, pens and play dough (not to mention working with children!). Then there's the work with the parents, improving parenting skills, looking at routines, improving mental health work. Or just plane being someone to talk to.


This includes Child in Need meetings and reviews, placement meetings when a child comes into our care, case transfer meetings, multi-agency meetings (the hardest to organise) and case closure meetings.


Finally, attending training sessions on everything you could possibly think of and would be interested in as a social worker but never have the time to book yourself on.

One thing I noticed being in this job is that you tend to focus less on the planning and research and direct work bit, and more on the assessing, case noting and meetings bit. Which makes me think, what are we actually doing for families?

During supervision with my manager I stressed that I felt more and more like I was assessing and writing and making calls but the actual 'doing' part which achieves change for families and gets them out of crisis is becoming increasingly difficult to manage, sad to say. It should be ALL about the direct work and NOT the bureaucracy, but if you look through all that must be done within the role of a social worker, you start to ask the question...How can I get it all done?

That's why I feel so very over-whelmed with it all. At the moment I have a huge backlog of case recordings to do and assessments to write up, and whilst I make sure I visit families regularly (sometimes this means seeing 4 families in 1 day), evidencing what I am doing has fallen behind.

I am very sorry for those of you student social workers getting a sense of hopelessness from reading this. I hope you don't reconsider; despite the stress I wouldn't want to be doing anything else. Bear in mind I am new to this, and I will get better at managing my time.

Tips that might help you:

Having a 'day to a page' diary (for those lovely to-do lists)
Having a good manager (you may not have a choice)
Having a good team and colleges willing to help (bribery helps)
Using all at your disposal to stay organised: folders, dividers, reminders, diaries, outlook, highlighters, staplers, post-it's and those lovely note pads.
DO NOT write notes from a phone call on random bits of paper, YOU WILL forget where they came from and when you need that crucial bit of information it will be perched hopelessly on the concrete floor just outside a family's house, along with your sanity.

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