Sunday, 29 September 2019

Social Work: Good Record keeping

Like most professions, Social Workers face an abundance of paperwork everyday. Every visit, every telephone call, every meeting and every plan. Often, a lot of the paper work can be tedious and very repetitive; at least that is what I have found in my own practice.

Despite this, it is a fair assumption to make that the likelihood of the paperwork going away any time soon is limited, so it's important we get the best from it. I want to be clear however that despite the downsides, paperwork has many ups and is extremely useful when used well.

Having completed some research in to "Good Recording", I wanted to take the time to share some of my findings with you, alongside tips on how to make the most of the paperwork you face daily.

As usual, useful information and references can be found below.

What is the point in recording?

Firstly, recording information is extremely useful as a reference later on. We have all been on those visits where you can't remember the small details from the last, or to a meeting
where your sure you've forgotten to complete a number of the actions. Recording the information will give you an immediate refresher so you can attend your next visit or meeting in confidence.

Secondly, the records you keep from a particular visit or conversation, is information gathered builds a picture or chronology of a family's situation (this makes monitoring a whole lot easier) and can be used as evidence to support in court, delivering outcomes and for decision making.

Finally, families we work with have the right to request their files and therefore if not written well, the records become unfit for purpose. This is particularly the case for children and young people who are Looked After by the Local Authorities.

EVIDENCE INFORMED PRACTICE: 
Lynch (2009) and O'Rourke (2010) 
Acknowledge how easy it is to loose sight of why professionals keep records. It can seem like a chore; time consuming and sometimes processes and computer systems hinder our ability to keep good records which makes it more frustrating for professionals. It does however, provide a rationale for decisions, promotes accountability and builds a picture. 

Good Recording should: 
  • Be accurate. Be clear; what is fact and what is your view/ Judgement
  • Write plainly. Remember families may want to look back at their files and they need to be able to understand what is written. 
  • Avoid abbreviations/ jargon. 
  • Proof read it. Check spellings and grammar. If this is something you find difficult, ask colleagues to read over it. 
  • Be clear with the wishes and feelings of those involved 

What hinders Good Recording Practice?

  • High Case loads. You've got a case load of 25. That's 25 children (or adults), 25 families including mums, dads, grandparents,  aunts, uncles and siblings. They each want contacts and school reports and invites to meetings. Viability assessments and or Special Guardianship Assessments. That's before you think about the 25 schools your working with, 25 Personal Education Planning meetings (PEP) three times each year and LAC reviews every six months. Lets not get started on the 25 sets of foster carers, health visitors, therapists and or Doctors involved in a child's life also. Its overwhelming isn't it? 
  • Issues with staffing: Every Local Authority has this issue- there's just not enough social workers to keep up with the demand. (this is based on children's services, but I can imagine adult services is just as busy?) 
  • Time. Remembering that high case load? well much of your time is taken up but meetings, visits and telephone calls. Then you need to travel between locations. A full packed diary leaves little time for recording. On the other hand, you may be confined to the office battling paperwork as opposed to being out with your families. 

Tips for recording well: 

  • SCIE (2019) provides 11 top TIPS for social work recording using the acronym PARTNERSHIP, ensuring records are accurate, person centred, professionals and evidence based. Check out the Link below for full details 
  • Set time aside. Is there a day in the week that can be left to type? Or is there flexibility to work from home and have "admin days". 
  • Create a template with topics for discussion in visits/ meetings. Keeping good notes will help you keep Good records. 
Don't forget to add your analysis, rational and any decisions. 
What information did you gather, from who and why? (Think about the purpose of the visit/ meeting)
What are your thoughts on the information ? 
Outline Risk/ Protective factors 
Use your professional judgement 
Include any decisions that have been made. 

And finally, Practice. Practice Good record keeping. 
Look for training courses which may provide further tips and advise. 


References 

Community Care- Tips for Social workers on case recording and record keeping (2017):
https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2017/06/07/tips-social-workers-case-recording-record-keeping/

Social Care Institute for Excellence (2019):
https://www.scie.org.uk/social-work/recording

O'Rourke, L (2010) Recording in Social Work: Not Just an Administrative Task. Bristol: Policy Press

Lynch J (2009) Health Records in Court. Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Creative Writing- The sound of Tap, Tap, Tapping (250 word live snapshot)


The office had eeriness to it. One filled with the sound of tap,tap, tapping on the keyboards of over seventy- five workers putting out fires against paperwork piles and the constant ringing of the phones. What Simon was really good at however, was drowning out the dull drowning sounds around him. Focusing on the tasks ahead and leading the way across the team.

“Ok team” Simon said with motivating confidence as he stood up from his chair. “We need a plan, only 7 days’ notice has been given from this placement and transport needs to be arranged”.

Maylina was already feeling the strain from the duty task she had, and felt overwhelmed with the thought of more but she reluctantly took on the extra task of sorting out transport. Whilst organising and filing paperwork, she came across an old tea stained note hidden amongst referral forms and quickly opened it for clarification around its priority needs.

October 5th, 1991.
My darling May,
It’s been 28 years since I last held you as a baby. Just 2 hours old and I knew that giving you up, was the best thing I could give you. Please forgive me.

Maylina paused in hesitation, for her grandpa, the man who had raised her had always called her May for short.
Was this a coincidence, she didn’t know……..


Photo by Jan Kah├ínek on Unsplash

Written by LexiRose @ LexiRose.me

Friday, 20 September 2019

Practice Education- The importance of students learning theory


Theory is one of those things right at the centre of social work practice. It is a given that during any social work degree programme, theory will become part and parcel of a students studies and practice from very early on in their career. 

Having said that however, I have learnt over recent months that the emphasis of theory is different for everyone, depending largely on the type of course and university establishment in which a student attends.

For me, I remember my very first lecture on my first day of university being:
Theories 1- Carl Rogers, person centred approach.

From then on, every week, I would engage in a Lecture on a different theory or approach to practice, followed by a seminar, working on case studies and integrating that theory in to practice. This went on for two solid years and was actually, something I really enjoyed. By the time I came to my ASYE, I felt I had a good foundation of theory knowledge and felt comfortable being able to apply it.


Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash


Working with a student last year however, I found the level of theory taught on their course very minimal, with more emphasis on the independent learning of the student and the PE (Practice Educator) to fill in the gaps.


For me, I argue that theory informs our practice which in turn, supports analysis, hypothesis and judgement. “Theory is a set of propositions or hypothesis that seek to explain phenomena” (Pierson and Thomas, 2002. p. 476) Theories are the very tool that help social workers understand and work towards a plan. “Theories are a particular way of making sense” (Howe, 2009, p. 2) Theory set’s a goal for intervention.


ASPIRE (Assessment Preparation Intervention Review Evaluation) (Mclean 2017) Highlights that social work practice is a process, and regardless of the individuals situation, a series of steps are required to ensure that all avenues are covered and managed.


The assessment stage of the process requires a high level of involvement of theories to inform the worker of what might be happening as well as the use of research, knowledge of the law. The preparation and intervention stages however, require the use of theories to intervene, putting in support and resources to reduce risk and improve the lives of society’s most vulnerable children.

I have heard multiple times that theory is a waste of time and social workers do not use it in everyday practice. I would argue that notion, as Social Workers gain experience everyday. There is always a new challenge or situation to face and therefore, I believe that theory becomes an integrated part of everyday practice because it is used all of the time. Practitioners may not verbalising their thinking in the same way in which students are taught too however, practitioners are thinking about it, analysing and drawing conclusions to formulate plans and here, I believe practice wisdom plays a huge role in everyday practice.


For me, there have been numerous occasions where I have not verbalised the theory and thought process I am using however, there are also countless times when I have. Usually with peers or in supervision to utilise other practitioners knowledge around me, share ideas, and create a plan that works in the child's best interests.


When supporting the student I worked with last year, I found that working through a written case study with them and using a spider diagram to put down ideas and make connections, really helped. Starting with identifying the risks, protective factors, and then working through theories to inform practice to make sense of what was happening for the family. This made the preparation and Intervention stage of the process easier to plan because we knew what we were working with.


The really great news, is there is room to review and evaluate and so if something is not working, alternative solutions and support can be put into place.


There are so many great resources out there to support students with their studies and understanding of theories, and there is no better time to put them in to practice then when on Placement.


If theory is something you struggle on, then i'd recommend trying: Siobhan Maclean, Social Work Theory Cards, 2017 (look on Amazon) For me, I found them easy to read, engaging and to the point. Perfect when in a hurry. One card a day (or week) will help students and practitioners enhance their knowledge and understanding of theories in practice.


Alternatively, Siobhan Maclean also provides a book : Theory and Practice A Straightforward Guide for social work students, 2015. This book offers a wide range of theories, covering their origins, use in practice, positives and negatives. I found it easy to read and a useful reference guide- especially for assignments and assessments.


References:


Howe, D. (2009) A Brief introduction to social work theory. Hampshire, Palgrave McMillian

Mclean, S. (2017) Social Work Theory Cards. Second Edition. Kirwin Maclean Associates

Pierson, J and Thomas, M. (2002) Dictionary of social Work. Glasgow: Harper Collins Publishers

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Creative Writing: Social Work- I have three parents you know....


I have three parents you know….

Written by LexiRose @ Lexirose.me  

19th Septmber 2019

I have three parents you know? My sister Lily and me,
And I appreciate it’s difficult for you all to see.
But please take a seat and drink your tea,
whilst I take the time to explain how things came to be.

Parent one is that of my biological mother
I’ll tell you, it did not take her long to find another,
The next bad man with a Fix-er uper,
I cried when I almost had a little baby brother.

She left me alone all day and night,
and I was always thankful to be out of sight,
for when she and Steve saw only black lights
I new I could sleep and I would be alright.

Sometimes it was hard as Lilly would cry
And I was so scared someone would die.
Especially when mum and Steve were so often high.
I never knew the day would come where we could say goodbye.

A man in uniform came to my school, “Robyn, it’s time to go soon”
I was puzzled and confused because it was barely noon,
then I caught him looking at the mark from mum’s wooden spoon
and my teacher announced “he’ll be twelve in June”.

In the car I am silent and wishing for home,
I was worried my mum wouldn't answer the house phone.
“where is Lilly?” I started to moan
as I sat in the back of the Volkswagen alone.

It’s dark and it’s cold and I can see lights flickering
Inside this small cottage just above the clearing.
“where are we going” I start fearing
and I swear this uniformed guy is hard of hearing.

Parent two is that of my foster carer,
I really wished he wouldn’t come any nearer.
In the living room he had three two seater's’and
he said “sorry lad, I’ve got a fever”

Day one, day two, then three and four,
please don't think I was just keeping score,
but I was anxious because no one would tell me more.
And Lilly was gone and I couldn't save her like before.

But then day five began to change
when a “sibling contact” had been arranged
and oh my how happy I felt that finally, we were no longer restrained.
Lilly was smiling and so was I, as our very first hug was excitably exchanged.

It’s Monday afternoon and your on your way over
to do that last minute visit in late October.
Yes you’ve guessed it, your the controller,
Parent number three, My Social Worker.

You enter the house and talk as if I was not here,
whispering so quietly I can not possibly hear.
This behaviour of yours only makes me fear,
and then you proceed to ask me “Robyn, do you like it here?”

well Mrs Susan, my social worker friend,
I’ll tell you the truth because you drive me round the bend.
You come late and break your promise which you think you can just mend
but I am telling you now, you are not what I recommend.

“I just want my sister Lilly” I protest,
for that's the only way you can restore my trust.
You pretend you understand but still I’m repeating that the court must!
then you slowly walk away, leaving the door mostly shut.

Several days have past and Parent 2 tells me your back.
I was nervous and ready to attack
when you said “Robyn, just look behind your back”
I turn slowly, confused, scared it’s a hack

and then there she is, I see her clearly,
my beautiful baby sister Lilly.
With a snack in each hand I’m thinking “really?”
“The courts said yes” said Susan cheerily

I have three parents you know? My sister Lilly and me,
And I appreciate it’s difficult for you all to see.
One biological, one foster carer and one social worker from Dundee
and now I am ready to work with all three.


Written by LexiRose @ Lexirose.me  
19th September 2019
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Friday, 13 September 2019

Direct Work- Feelings Rainbow, Getting children talking

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

One of my passions within social work practice, is that of direct work with children.

Direct work takes on many forms, and can be used in so many ways, something I will cover at a later date however for now, I wish to share one of the tools I use to understand children's feelings. 

My background to date includes six years of working with Looked After Children (LAC) in the UK and everything that comes with it.

What I love most about this role, is the long term relationships you can build with children and young people. The difference you can make, being able to see them grow and building a strong, trusting relationship with them.

When children trust you, they open up to you. Simple equation really? For me, it's at this point that you can begin getting to the heart of soul of that child, how they are feeling, what they really love? their fears? their dreams and what is it like to be in their shoes.

For some children, talking about their feelings is more then just hard. It's a scary and unbearable prospect where often, they wouldn't even know where to start. This is where the Feelings rainbow can come into play. There are many spins and adaptations to this tool, but it's easy enough to draw your own, or ask the child to draw it.                                                     Photo by Alex Jackman on Unsplash

Essentially, it looks as it sounds. A rainbow. A very simple, average looking (or more exciting if you want) rainbow. Red, Yellow, Pink, Blue, Orange, Purple, Green (the song version) or any version you like. Just a rainbow.  The idea here then, is that the child(ren) can begin to connect the colours with feeling, for example:
  • The colour blue can be a cold colour. How do you feel when your cold? Maybe connect it to the weather; On a cold wet day I feel..... because.... If the child(ren) uses words such as; sad, upset, hurt, ask them about a time when they have felt like this (or someone they know if personalising it is too difficult) 
  • The colour Red may be an angry colour. Can they tell you of a time they have felt angry? If this is too personal for them than again, make it about something eles; what might make a person angry? can you think of a time when someone you know has felt angry? 
  • Get them to write down or draw trigger words for feelings. use colours that match the rainbow: All angry words in red, Happy words in green or yellow. 
  • Can the chid(ren) give you examples of times they have felt these feelings? What happened? 
  • How would the of liked to have felt in that situation? 
  • Is there anything that could help them feel differently next time. 
I love using the tool because there are no rules and no limits.  Your not sat squarely looking at each other. Your both relaxed and able to get creative. Children can be as creative as they like. Lots of colour or no colour, the idea of the rainbow if to offer a focal point for conversation, that will support an open dialogue between you and the child(ren). 

Ultimately, the purpose of this is to help you understand the child's world and what life is like for them at any given time. You can use this as a generic conversation starter, or a specific area. 

For me, I've used it countless times during Life story work when talking to children about why they came in to care and are not able to live with their birth family. This is naturally, a very sensitive topic and by using the feelings rainbow, I can ascertain how the child feels throughout, as we work through the story of their life so far. You can incorporate aspirations and hopes for the future too. 

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

I have used this with children aged 4 years and up to 12 years. I have not tested older then 12 years however, if you work with young people who engage well and like to get creative, there is no reason why this can no work for them too. 

Happy Rainbows....




Sunday, 8 September 2019

Guest Speaker: Speckles: My first meetings with mum

Hi Everyone,

It's been a little over a week since I posted my first Blog (on mum's site) and gosh, what a response I have had. I think that you are keen to know the next part of my story? well, here it is.

Oh and before I forget, I promised to find that photo of mum laying down and giving me the chicken the first time I met her. Do you remember? well, I've found it......

So, when mum found me, she spent a long time talking to the people who looked after me in Dogs Trust. They was excited for me to have sisters too so I wasn't on my own.

Dogs Trust thought that if I could live with other dogs too, I'd be able to build up my confidence and feel better about myself. I didn't want to always feel worried and anxious, but I just couldn't help it.

Dogs Trust helped set up an introduction. I was so frightened that I laid down on the floor and tried to be invisible. My handlers put on my lead and tried to reassure me, but I was very nervous.

Once outside, I ran around crazy, looking left, then right and running ahead. I loved to sniff the air and look for food in the bushes. I had forgotten all about where we were walking too, I was just happy to be outside. Being out on walks was defiantly my happy place.

Once outside the pen, I could see my mum and new sisters waiting by the gate. My sister were trying desperately to come and say hello. They ran as fast as they could and invited me to play. We started running around, chasing each other backwards and forwards really really fast. We ran around crazy for ages.

Cilla was black in colour, with short hair. She was a bit smaller then me, but I didn't mind. Lulu was white with some brown patches in her hair. She was smaller too, and much quieter then Cilla. Lulu and Cilla are sisters.

Mum didn't talk to me at first. She sat down on the grass and was watching. I was curious because most people try and come to me or talk to me and I get worried because I don't understand what they are saying. I was as brave as I could be and when she looked like she was busy watching the grass, or a bug or something, I'd creep up so quiet behind her to sniff. You know? check her out and stuff.

Mum never moved. Not the whole time I was sniffing and I felt great being able to walk away safely.

Mum laid down in the grass and was giving lulu and Cilla lots of attention. They was playing together, rolling around and having fun. Mum was also giving them delicious chicken. Gosh I wanted some so badly. My mouth was watering, I was dribbling and licking my lips and hoping I would get some too. I was trying to get closer and closer to join in, but I was very scared. Mum still hadn't looked at me and I knew I could trust that she wouldn't, I think. I took small steps to get closer.

Mum put a really big bit in her hand and held it out to me. She still didn't look. I had to make a choice, it was now or never and if I wanted the chicken, I needed to make the jump.
I stretched out my neck as far as I could reach, just to grab the tip of the chicken before running away again. Nothing happened after that. No one moved, or shouted or chased me. I was OK.

Mum held her hand out again and I was getting brave. She did this over and over again, feeding the three of us chicken until my belly was full.

They came Saturdays, Sundays and during the week for a long time. We always played in the field and Mum always bought me a treat. I was always so worried that they would give up on me too and never come back. On the rainy days, we used to play inside in the hall. As they left, I would chase them  past the windows looking for them.Id run from window to window as fast as I could.  I'd watch them leave and feel really sad that I wasn't going with them.

I wasn't brave enough to go near my mum, but I liked the fact she didn't look at me and that she bought me treats. Lulu and Cilla were great fun though, we used to run around for ages, chasing balls and bouncing off of the sofa's. Mum used to bring in blankets too that she had slept with, or that lulu and Cilla had slept with. My bed used to smell of them all of the time.

Mum, Lulu and Cilla, visited me 22 times before I could go home with them, just to make sure I was as ready as I could be and then, that day came and for the first time, I was going home.

16th November 2017 was the day I came home. Dogs Trust bought me in a big yellow van. I had my blanket and bag packed, but I was very very scared. I didn't no how far away it was, or what the house would look like. Did I have my own room or did I need to share? where would I put my blanket? Maybe I had missed dinner time?, I did hope not though.

The good news, was I got to the house in a short amount of time and was really excited to jump around the house and find my feet whilst mum and my handlers did the boring stuff, but I am going to come on to this more in my next blog- My first days at home.

It is getting late now and way past my bed time. Mum says it's time to go to bed because it's a "school night" and mum needs to go to this place tomorrow called "work". I'm not sure what that is, but she is gone for a long time, so it must be fun, otherwise she'd be home with me right?

Until Next Time.....

Speckles

xxx



Toxic Trio- What you need to know

Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

The Toxic Trio. We've all heard about it and maybe worked with it, but what is it? and what does it mean for individuals.

Here, I have put together a Brief information sheet regarding the Toxic Trio to remind us all of it's severity in people's lives, references, links and further information at the bottom of the page.

What is the Toxic Trio? 

The trio includes Substance Misuse, Domestic Abuse and Mental health. Whilst all three can be stand alone issues, together they make the Toxic Trio.

They are viewed as indicators of increased risk of harm to children and young people and vulnerable adults.

Domestic abuse occurs when any person, over the age of 18 years acts in such a way as to control, abuse, harm or coerce another. This including physically harming, restricting money, restricting access to family and friends, using fear and intimation to keep control. For it to be classed as Domestic Abuse, persons need to be over the age of 18 years otherwise, it is known as child abuse.
Two under 18 year old would be classed as child on child abuse.

Substance misuse is where a person misuses alcohol and or uses misuses drugs (this can include over the counter medications) The individual would be reliant on the substance and may find it challenging to recognise there is an issue.

Mental health issues cover a wide range of issues including eating disorders, anxiety or depression and Psychotic disorders such as Bipolar or schizophrenia.

Facts and Figures: 

"100,000 children in England (0.9% of all children in England) are in a household where a randomly-selected adult faces all three ‘toxic trio’ issues to a severe extent"

"420,000 children (3.6% of all children in England) are in a household where a randomly-selected adult faces all three ‘toxic trio’ issues to a moderate/severe extent."
       Photo by Joel Overbeck on Unsplash
More than 1,796.000 children in the UK, live in a home with Domestic Abuse. (NSPCC)

250,000-978,000 children are thought to live with a parent who misuses either drugs or alcohol or both. (NSPCC)

50,000 - 2 MILLION children are affected by adult mental health (NSPCC)

"A review of Serious Case Reviews (2007-2011) found nearly ¾ of children lived in families where two or more of these issues were present." (Ofsted, 2011)

How it impacts on the family: 

  • Research shows that the environment in which a child lives is crucial to his or her health, safety and well-being.

  • There is a large overlap between these risk factors and cases of child death, serious injury and generally poorer outcomes for children. 

  • The Toxic Trio as a whole, and as individual issues, affect children of all ages. 

  • Children may not thrive

  • Risk of non accidental injuries. 

  • Some of the child's indicators that Domestic Abuse is happening: behaviour in school/ attainment changes/ not participating in extra curricular activities. Low self esteem, blaming selves for parents behaviour, self harm and or running away. 

  • Some of the child's indicators that there are parental mental health issues: Child acts as a young carer, missing lots of school, not taking part in recreation, self harm, possible substance misuse. 

  • Some of the child's indicators that there are parental substance misuse issues: Child does not have adequate amounts of food/ signs of neglect. Taking on caring role, missing school, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, child takes/brings drugs to school, isolated from peers, low self esteem. 
Support that can be offered: 

  1. Assess Risk, is the child(ren) in immediate danger? 
  2. Professionals to work together TAC (Team around the child) 
  3. Is there a need for a CIN (Child in need) or CP (Child Protection) plan? 
  4. Regular core groups/ MARAC (multi-agency risk assessment conference) and reviews are needed. 
  5. Gather the views of each family member, don't forget about the men in the house or loose sight of the child(red) 
  6. Be mindful of Disguised compliance and ensure you capture the voice and lived experiences of the child(ren) 
  7. Avoid getting lost in the parents issues and loosing sight of the child's. 
  8. Where families are not on board or working cooperatively with the plans, discussions around PLO or issuing proceedings may be needed. 

Mental health, Substance misuse and Domestic Abuse are huge topics in their own right, all of which I aim to cover in more depth in later blogs, but for now, I have provided a very brief overview of the Toxic Trio. Below are a number of links to external and online sources for further detail. 

The Last link, Practice Guidance, provided by Greenwich children's safeguarding board, contains lots of useful information and pitfalls in practice to be aware of, so be sure to check it out. 


Reference/ Further information: 

Save Lives Powerpoint: http://safelives.org.uk/sites/default/files/resources/Risk%2C%20threat%20and%20toxic%20trio.pdf

Community care article: https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2018/03/05/toxic-trio-social-workers-need-know/

Childrens Commissioners report, July 2018: Estimating the Prevalence of the Toxic Trio:
https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Vulnerability-Technical-Report-2-Estimating-the-prevalence-of-the-toxic-trio.pdf

PRACTICE GUIDANCE
https://www.greenwichsafeguardingchildren.org.uk/safeguardingchildrenboard/download/downloads/id/118/gscb_toxic_trio_practice_guidance

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Mr Woodchuck- creative writing/ Character builder


Mr Woodchuck, written and illustrated by LexiRose. 

James swore on his mother’s grave, but then he swore on just about anything. That was his “get out of jail” strategy to dodge facing the consequence of seeing Mr Woodchuck after school. He was able to visualise Mr Woodchuck almost instantly which quickly led to a racing heart and sweaty palms.

Mr Woodchuck had a stern stare, causing the room to go cold. His forehead was crinkled from always frowning. In fact, James had never seen Mr Woodchuck smile. Maybe he didn’t even have a smile?

His round football shaped head was perfectly positioned on his shoulders, wearing the same oversized and largely plain blue shirt, giving the impression that he didn’t have a neck. He always wore the same black tie with mild blue strips with out of place gold cufflinks on each wrist. Mr Woodchuck was a stocky man. Short, maybe five foot four or five, with some extra weight around the middle. His hair was wiry, brown and curly complete with an overgrown beard which housed leftover ginger biscuits. He wore authentic Burberry, wool tailored black trousers which were just the right size. Coming in at around five hundred pounds, James knew Mr Woodchuck was making a statement. Any shorter however and he ran the risk of exposing his socks or belly rolling from under his shirt. His office spelt harshly of fresh mint. The smell often dominated the room so much it would make James eyes water like leaky taps dripping.

As James entered Mr Woodchuck’s office, the first thing to catch his attention was that of a single, shiny, sleek apple placed carefully next to a beaten up mouldy orange, before noticing Mr Woodchucks stern stare, causing the room to go cold…….

Team meetings- What's on your agenda? (My experience of having fun with balloons)

Photo by Hybrid on Unsplash

Whether your in Social Work or not, most of us have the pleasure of experiencing team meetings. Some of us dread it. The long slog of two, maybe three hours of listening to statistics, performance targets, lack of resources and how someone else from the team is moving on. Some of us on the other hand, probably enjoy team meetings, particularly if they are safe, interactive, reflective and supportive environments that offer a restorative approach as opposed to being preached and receiving metaphorical slaps on the wrist for missing that one deadline...... OK two, but we are only human right?

The purpose of this Blog is to share some of my experiences within team meetings and how adding a fun, simple but very effective game to the start of your meetings, can boost everyone's mood. I've included one of my favourite games below for you to try out.

I have mixed views of team meetings. There have been countless times where the meetings have turned in to heavy, uncooperative debates. I've been party to meetings where stats are out of time or Ofsted is due and we must work harder. I have however, been to team meeting where, we sit and talk about the "highs and lows" which Of course, is meant to be social work related. I can't help but try and lighten the mood by throwing something obscure and completely irrelevant into the mix. My best example is that of spending my entire turn talking about my new lunch box...... it soon had people smiling and laughing once again. That for me, was the key. 

The team I work in as a social worker, has been suffering of late. Low morale, higher case loads then we would like and a collection of deadlines that we somehow need to juggle. When in a team meeting, I could feel the tension and misery radiate off of the whole room. It literally bounced from one wall to other. 

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

In recent weeks, we have had a bigger emphasis on each of us in the team, taking it in turns to "chair" the meeting. Although I reluctantly agreed to go first, I did use this to my advantage and create a very different approach, one that would shake up the "norm".

Instead of the usual "highs and lows", I introduced the team to a surprise game..... with Balloons. 

I'm sure some of you have played before, I am not even sure it's got an official title but for now, we can call it "The Balloon Game". I learnt this game back in 2011 as a student social worker as an Ice breaker. Its quick (fairly quick) and is lots of fun.

How to play:

  1. Everyone needs a balloon. A bog standard, average Balloon. Preferably, everyone needs the same colour otherwise you'll know who's is who's. 
  2. Everyone needs a small piece of scrap paper and a pen. 
  3. One the paper, in secret, each person needs to write down a secret or something about them that, NO ONE else would know. (you have to be happy to share it, so be careful) 
  4. Place the paper inside the Balloon and blow it up a little. 
  5. Everyone then needs to spend 2-3 mins throwing the Balloons around the room- just like you did at your 10th Birthday party. 
  6. When your done, everyone needs to pick up a Balloon and hold on to it. 
  7. Go round the room taking it in turns to pop the balloon and read out the slip.
  8. Everyone needs to try and guess WHO that slip is about. 
  9. When your down to the last two people, pop both balloons at the same time and try to guess which is which. The two people the slips are about, must try not to give anything away. 
This is a fairly simple game and whilst it may seem like a child's party game, it brings a lot of joy to social workers in team meetings- I know because I've seen it in action more then once. 

If in doubt, try it for yourself. I'd love to hear your stories so feel free to drop me a line..........









Monday, 2 September 2019

Where it all happens...... The Bloggers Retreat and Making the Perfect Creative Environment

(Photo by Pereanu Sebastian on Unsplash)

Blogging is a relatively new venture for me, although writing itself is not. 
I've always tried to have an "escape too" room. A safe space to jot down ideas, read and produce creative writing pieces. 

Since taking on the daunting task of becoming a blogger, as well as maintaining a full time job, I felt it was important to "create" a haven that would give me the perfect environment that made a statement. The space would need to be bright and colourful with inspiration. A space to read and research and an area for the writing to take place. Anyone who has worked or currently works with me will know I am easily distracted and therefore, the environment needed to make allowances for this. Room to wonder and a fidget cube should do the trick. 

Having completed some online research, I have found an article that suggests following 10 steps to the perfect environment. I am not going to write them all here, just my favourites, but I will add the link below for anyone else who is looking for an interesting read in how to make the perfect, creative environment. 


  1. Dress comfortably. This sounds good to me. Lounging around in comfy trousers or shorts and T shirt is perfect. 
  2. Comfortable seating. Hopefully not too comfy that I begin taking extra naps, but comfy enough I do not become fidgety and restless. How's an arm chair and a desk chair? 
  3. Food- say no more! 
  4. Include lots of Visual Stimulation to help with inspiration. For me, I have added a tapestry wall art picture that covers most of one wall. I brought this off of the wish app. I'll include a link below in case you don't know it- definitely some cheap bargains going on on with wish site. 
  5. Have lots of things to touch and play with. Fidget Cube does the trick for this. 
Having followed some of these steps, I have been able to create a space, complete with pink lighting and some extra room for my fellow companion George (the monkey). The room is spacious, organised, bright and colourful. 

There are unfortunately no snacks in the room, but I do have the fidget cube to keep me occupied. 

I guess it's trial and error until I find the prefect space but for now, this is where it all happens. 

(George the monkey)


.....Happy Blogging.....

Link to Wish Site: https://www.wish.com/


Young people and Gang affiliation - My experiences and Practice Challenges

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

If your reading this post, it is likely that you work with or have some involvement in working with children and young people. Social worker, teacher, parent or concerned citizen, you all play a vital role in keeping children and young people safe.

Of late in my own practice, I have come across more and more children and young people associating with gangs. What I have learnt thus far is that the term "Gang", doesn't just stop at a group of people making a name for themselves. No, it often involves much more such as; drugs, weapons and crime. It frightens me to think about our children and young people getting involved in such behaviours that puts them at significant risk of harm; everything that The Children Act 1989 tells us to prevent.

Therefore the purpose of this blog, is to highlight some important facts and figures around gang culture and young people in our care. I have also found some useful information online and I've attached all of the links below for further information.

A better place then any to start, is that of a definition of what is a gang?
The Met police give a very clear guide to what it means to be a gang:

What is a gang?
  • A gang is usually considered to be a group of people who spend time in public places that see themselves (and are seen by others) as a noticeable group
  • engage in a range of criminal activity and violence.
  • They may also have any or all of the following features
  • identify with or lay a claim over territory 
  • are in conflict with other, similar gangs"(Met Police, 2019)
Photo by Andrei Lazarev on Unsplash

Why do young people get involved in gangs?
This is a valid question to ask and for some, you will already know the reasons. One of the main values a gang holds is, it is like a family. There are hierarchies in gangs but, everyone has a place and a role to play. With this value at the core, young people get a sense of belonging and identity. "These people want me", "I am special here", "they are nice to me and give me what I want" "they've got my back". Sometimes young people are longing to be accepted so badly, they don't worry about the consequences or risks they face.

Another reason why a young person may get involved with gangs, is safety, especially if they have fallen out with someone close. Gangs offer protection to one another as they hold that family value.

Money is also another reason for joining a gang.

"Looked after children are particularly vulnerable to being affected by gangs and serious youth violence as they may have low self-esteem, low resilience, attachment issues and the fact that they are often isolated from family and friends" (LCSB, 2017)

My own experience of working with Looked after children and gangs, are more so those whom have experienced a number of placement breakdowns. It's that negative experience and thoughts of "no one wants me" and "they've given up on me too", that drives young people closer to their friends or gangs.  It is not uncommon for children and young people to sabotage their placements and cause a placement breakdown just so they can reject the carers, before the carers reject them.

What are the signs to look for?
  • Young people withdraw from family
  • Dropping out of school/ poor attendance?
  • No longer attending extra curricular clubs; sports or dance groups etc? 
  • Signs that drugs may be involved
  • Breaking rules/ aggression
  • In trouble with the police
  • Do they have items you've never seen before; new clothes, jewellery, phones? (possible grooming)
  • staying out late?
  • Additional money but no explanation as to where? (possible grooming)
  • Are they wearing a mark or a symbol that is linked to a specific gang?
  • injuries with no explanation? 


Stats: What are we really look at here? 
The BBC published a report in February 2019 which indicated the following:
  • 27,000 children are in a gang (England) 
  • 313,000 children KNOW a gang member
  • 6560 Children Identified gang members
  • Metropolitan Police holds a database known as the Gangs Matrix, containing names of between 3-4,000 "persons of interest" at any one time.
  • "one in every 500 violent crimes recorded by the Met Police was tagged as gang-related"
  • "Since 2010, 15% of homicides in the capital have been linked to gangs".

Photo by Jimmy Ofisia on Unsplash

How can we keep children and young people safe?
  • Be open and honest with them, but be sure to know your facts first. 
  • ask questions, but try to avoid accusing them. 
  • Listen to what they have to say and avoid interrupting. This may lead them to shut down from you further. 
  • talk through the risks and consequences with them. Ask them how this may impact their life longer term (criminal records reduce job prospects, knock on effect is less money, could lead to housing issues?)
  • Don't be afraid to ask what it is that YOU can do to help?
  • Try to formulate a plan together, what is the next step? 
  • If you are concerned for their immediate danger, call the police. 
  • If in social work, Notify your manager and safeguarding lead. 
  • You may want to call a professionals meeting/ Strategy meeting (multi agency)/ get the police on board, to ascertain the facts and complete risk assessments. 
  • consider legal advice
  • consider Child Protection Plan. 


Additional information and references can be found at:

Childline: https://www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/bullying-abuse-safety/crime-law/gangs/

Met Police: https://safe.met.police.uk/gangs_and_violence/get_the_facts.html

NSPCC: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/staying-safe-away-from-home/gangs-young-people/

BBC Report: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47388890

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Recap review: Reflective Writing for Social Work Students: Quick Tips

LINK FOR VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmnb2ILd3lY


It's that time of year again, when students and Practice Educators prepare for another year in the realms of social work practice and academia. Your preparing for the arrival of students in the work place or, your full of anticipation as to what to expect from your work placement but either way, this short video with quick tips to reflective writing is going to help you on your way. 

Having only recently completed the Practice Educator course myself, there was certainly a lot of trial and error, room for reflection and realisation of how things could have been better. You'll be pleased to know that the student I work with for the past year, passed her course and her placement and now, has a job working in the same department as myself- not a bad outcome for a first timer. 

Anyhow, one of the things in hind sight that I did not do with my student, was keep and open, written, reflective journal or dialogue. We did it all verbally. To some extend, this is great right? Since communication is a core, fundamental skill in social work and without it, your not going to be very social and it's unlikely you'll be successful in your work. 

If we look closer at reflective journals and begin weighing up the pros and cons, there are, in my view, reasons for it to be very effective. 

Let me take a minute to share with you some of my initial thoughts- I've drawn this spider chart for you: 

Writing out this chart, led me to carry out a further search of other professionals views. Whilst this video I am sharing with you is really very good in giving quick tips for reflective writing, it does not give us an explanation as to why keeping a written reflective journal is useful nor what the Benefits and any hindrance to reflective writing. 


Jennifer Moon, University of Exeter, has written for students for many years. This includes support around reflective writing. She argues there are many benefits to reflective writing:
  • It forces us to give time to reflection.
  • It makes us organise thoughts as we seek to structure the writing.
  • It gives us control over the material we reflect on, as we choose what to include and what not to include.
  • It helps us to recognise whether we really understand something
  • It records the moment – enabling us to step back and reflect further at a later stage.
What the video does do for us, if gives some great ideas for students to take on board when beginning their reflective writing. If your a visual learner, then the highlighter method is likely to hit the spot and if your more of a theorist, well then reflective writing will cover all aspects to suit. 

I hope you find the video and this Blog useful for this academic year. I have attached a link to one of Jenny Moon, University of Exeter, guide for reflective writing and a reference to one of her books which you may also find useful. 

Links/ Reference: 



Moon, J (2004) A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning , Routledge Falmer, London.

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