Posts Tagged ‘social work’

A week and a half ago, I interviewed for a social worker position within the Referral and Assessment team in the Child Protection unit of the south London borough that I had been volunteering with over the past two months. If any of you reading don’t remember, because everyone who hears that I was volunteering my social work services says, “Whoa. Well, you’re a better person than I am,” I was volunteering to get some recent, UK experience to make my CV look better, mine being so far back and none of it in the UK. I was only mildly nervous about the interview, pretty much knowing that I had it in the bag because nearly every manager has come up to me and told me specifically what a good job I’m doing and how hard a worker I am. Then all the girls started asking me if I remembered this, or that, or the other, and then “revising” with me (“studying” is called “revising” in the UK), and I began to get nervous. The Children Acts 1989 and 2004, sections specifically pertaining to CP work (7, 17, 20, 23, 47 and definitely others, there was a huge list, ACK!), Stay Safe, Be Healthy, Enjoy and Achieve, Achieve Economic Wellbeing, Make a Positive Contribution (five markers they use to gauge the wellbeing of children and families in the UK), and operations questions like, “What happens when you get a referral from a member of the public?”

I don’t think I’ll be revealing any trade secrets here, but my manager didn’t ask me any questions like that. I think it’s because I wasn’t educated here, making him less interested in whether or not I already knew statutory information, which is something I can learn on the job, as he was in finding out my general social work knowledge and attitudes, and how I would deal with certain situations I might find myself in while out in the field. The only one I didn’t pass with flying colors was when dealing with underage mothers, where I forgot that the mother herself is still considered a child, and must be treated accordingly, with us watching out for her needs and wants as much as those of her child. With my skills checked and my character already vouched for through the past two months, I was offered a start date of 1st June, pending final approval!

For about a week, I sweated over the phrase “pending final approval”. I was pretty sure I would be OK but feared some dark horse UK QSW would come out of the woodwork wanting a permanent position to sweep my spot out from under me. I need not have worried because late this past week I received confirmation that I did indeed have a job to go to on Tuesday, and that I would be taking the title of Senior Social Worker. It’s a little nerve wracking; apparently senior social workers may be assigned higher caseloads than social workers, but my deputy head manager already told me they would only be assigning me Initial Assessments at first. And since I don’t have a car, and will be riding my bike as well as taking public transportation, I’ve negotiated the probability of not being assigned far-flung cases, or those in the hillier region of the council. Phew! I’ve also been given the use of a tablet, ostensibly so I can learn the handwriting system and write notes instead of the more distracting-to-clients typing notes down, but also so that I may try to keep up with paperwork while using public transportation. Apparently every hour with the families generates about 6 hours of paperwork, a daunting figure when you take timescales into account.

I will still need to buy a new computer for working from home as my old Mac won’t allow me to access the internet program to write case notes, but overall I’m feeling pretty prepared for this job. But I am shitting myself just a little bit. I’ll be working again, after a 16-month absence from the work force. Time to get on it! One bank holiday weekend to recover from a 5 time zone change.

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I looked back over my posts to see if I’d written anything more about my non-official internship but couldn’t find anything, which seems like a good indicator for a new post. There is some confusion on what to call myself while discharging my unofficial duties. I’m not associated with a university, so am not a student social worker, and I’ve just learned that to British minds, the term “intern” conjures up images of the incarcerated. As a Qualified Social Worker registered with the General Social Care Council, I will have some clout and be able to command better pay than a social worker’s assistant, but I’m not there yet. So do I say “volunteer social worker”? I guess it’s the best I can come up with now. It would behoove me to speak to more Brits and see what they have to say about it. I had no idea that “intern” is a term really only used by Americans. They say “internship” here, so why aren’t they “interns”?

My destination point is 12.5 miles away from my home, over a couple of hills that I can now recognize as medium-difficulty rises, after accidentally trying ride up a hill so long and so steep that I had to get off to finish it and then being told it was one of the easier hills in south London. Gypsy Hill is not easy for someone on a fixed gear bike. I wonder if I’d like to try it again when I somehow manage to get a geared bike (anyone going from NYC to London anytime soon who would like to be paid to bring an incomplete bike to me? There’s a bike bag and everything!).

After a few weeks of riding the entire 25 mile commute, working 8 hours, and cramming tons of new info into my head, I pooped out and started taking the train in the morning and riding home in the evening. It is glorious! I feel so much more awake and alert, and less grumpy, too! Wednesday, when I changed my start time at work from OMGearly to 10 a.m. I got a little lost on the internet and missed my train so had to ride in. The difference was startling – I was calmer, stronger, and felt better the whole way. I’m not sure whether to put that down to strength, less exhaustion, or the later start time. Either way, while I’m still volunteering, and thus coming in later, I will attempt to ride my bike some mornings as well.

Beginning a new commute is always a bit daunting; I usually Google map things and then do the driving directions, dragging the route around until I craft the shortest line between point A and point B. This is not always the smartest thing to do. Things such as needing to cross busy roads without the benefit of a light, and hills, and how busy a particular stretch of road is must be taken into account. Someone recommended Cycle Streets, a UK cycling route planner, but it gave me this really complicated yet cycle-friendly route that I didn’t feel like memorizing. My present route has me riding on many extremely busy roads, but I’m confident now and generally navigate the difficulties well. I’m enjoying my hills to the extent that I can, and am getting stronger.

Some people ride really fast, all the time, some people ride really slowly, all the time. I’m somewhere in the middle. Sometimes I wish I were as strong as some of the racing girls, but I won’t give up chocolate or ice cream to off-set the added muscle and keep my legs at an acceptable size. I manage 12.5 miles in an hour without feeling like I have to try too hard to keep up the pace, and I’m happy with the speed of my journey. I’m happy with the state of my legs. I’m not the slowest, I’m not the fastest, and I get where I need to go without killing myself. I’m cool with that!

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Yesterday I had an informal interview to talk about doing an “internship” with a local council’s child protection services team. I have registered here in England as a Qualified Social Worker, which basically required having a bachelor’s degree in social work from a recognized school and at least one year of experience in the field. In the aftermath of the deaths of a few children, the warning signs missed by health professionals and ultimately social services professionals, the country has stepped up the requirements for being called a social worker, as well as added more rigorous specifications for registering with the General Social Care Council, the major professional body for social workers in the United Kingdom.

As is frequently the case in many fields, new workers are passed over in favor of people with experience in the field, and adding on to this my status as an American social worker has resulted in a dearth of job options for me. When I finally realized what was happening, I began to research what I would need to do to put myself in a better position to get a job, and started asking people in the field what graduates of programs in the UK would know after going through their social work coursework. Specific laws came to light, such as the Children Acts and Disability Discrimination Acts, both of which are similar enough to laws or broad ideas already at work in the United States that I feel pretty confident on that front, but another is the Assessment Framework, which is slightly different in most, if not all, of London’s councils. This brings me to the topic of “councils”, and London’s city government, which has confused me since I got here. The UK civic framework work is different to anywhere I’ve ever lived; in the States, there is city government, county government, state government and federal government. Different states have different rules regarding which set of lawmakers trumps which, but the balance between states’ rights vs. federal and what is laid out in the Constitution and its ammendments is the framework overarching all of it.

That is the quick and simple explanation of the US system because that’s all I remember from civics class and exposure to local and national news (including teh interweb, of course). Having been in the UK less than a year, I have less of a grasp on how the government works here but for me, the most striking difference hasn’t been monarchy or parliament but the councils that I mentioned above. From what I understand, anything located inside the M25 is considered Greater London. It is separated into areas known as councils, which, now that I think about it, must be somewhat similar to NYC, which is comprised of five boroughs, and is headed by a city mayor with each borough sub-governed by a president. London is governed by a mayor, Boris “Look I’m One Of You Because I Don’t Fix My Hair” Johnson, and split up into 32 boroughs, run by councils. What confuses me is how none of them seem to have any sort of interconnected, overarching government body to streamline city services (Oh look, I’m wrong. And here’s the LGA, an “advocate for the local government sector in England and Wales”). Some councils have plastic bins for garbage collection, some allow their residents to feed the urban foxes by having them keep garbage bags outside by themselves. Various public service operations in place in different councils also have different systems for determining the levels of need for access to care and no real interconnectedness. I think that this probably contributes to people slipping through the cracks, benefits fraud, child welfare problems, and other issues relating to social service use and funding as well as the problems within the NHS. It’s like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

And to finally bring me back to my title and main purpose for this post, my days of leisure and crushing boredom are numbered. I am proposing to enter this melee, and hoping to be able to help in the effort to make a difference for the children of one particular patch of London. I am nervous about how I will be received by families, both as a foreigner and as a social services worker. Apparently the UK has a strong history of distrust of social services, the use of which is widely stigmatized. The idea of safeguarding children by watching for signs of abuse or neglect, and also simply assessing children and their families to see what help they may need to enable them to conduct their lives with purpose is noble and interesting, but the difficulties on the ground for workers seems exaggerated here by high levels of paperwork required by social workers, that don’t seem to be all that helpful in and of themselves. Streamlining services, allowing various agencies and areas of government to better communicate with one another, all these things have always interested me a great deal. Maybe I’ll end up in policy, where I always thought I might.

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