I will be exploring my own experiences as a young woman and lone parent, with two young children

For this assignment I intend to look at myself as a practitioner and retrace the route that may have led me to where I am today, using the concepts of knowledge, values and skills to illustrate this pathway.

I will be exploring my own experiences as a young woman and lone parent, with two young children, and my skills, values and knowledge developed before and since qualifying as a social worker.

I will then address the range of contexts, as suggested in the programme structure in relation to my current work setting and practice.

I will finish by Identifying further development needs as well as examining strategies I will use in order to ensure a successful completion of the Child Care Award.

Educationally, I would not then or now, describe myself as a scholar. At the age of 15 years when preparing to leave Education and start thinking about the type of work I wanted to do, I was told by a person who came to the school to discuss work experience, that I would only have the ability to do Factory work,” Factory fodder it was then known as”. However, I had the desire to do hairdressing, and became an apprentice hairstylist. Apart from learning the skills of Hairdressing, I learnt how to be a good listener. It was not unusual for regular customers, to divulge there worries and personal life experiences with me. Good interactive and communication skills were necessary.

At the age of 16 years, I was married, I had my first child at the age of 17 years, my second child was born when I was 18 years, and I was divorced by the age of 19 years. In the 1960’s to be divorced then, was not something you made public knowledge, it was not the accepted thing to do. “you were in fact stigmatised”.

I needed to purchase beds for the children and needed to sign an agreement to pay weekly for the beds, when it became necessary to sign my status, ‘divorced’ female and single, I could not enter into a purchase agreement, if I had been a male, it would have been acceptable.

In addition, my children had to stand in a different queue at school because they were getting free dinners. I was not aware of this until they told me they were made to feel different at dinnertime, and that they wanted to be like the other children and stand in the same line.

My son, became a very keen football player for his school, and received a number of bruises to the legs from playing football in the school team. The school nurse, asked me how he got the bruising, when I explained about his football activity, I was made to wait until this was checked out with the games teacher. The nurse told me that because I was a lone parent and young, they had to be sure I had not caused the bruising. Again, I felt stigmatised.

My children used to bring home Fathers day cards made at school, considering they never had contact with there father, this made them feel excluded. Even now schools in general expect children to take part in ‘special occasions’ that include ‘mother and father’.’ Should Educators be thinking differently? Are they stigmatising Children? Who are not in the ‘normal family unit’, mother, father, two children.

I have no doubt this impacted upon and formed part of my value base and I am always conscious in my own practice not to stigmatise and disadvantage people who do not fit into the stereotypical family.

Being treated as ‘ factory fodder’, within my own education experience, and as a young woman, and a single parent, being excluded from having equal rights as men and other families. Then, seeing my own children stigmatised by the education system, encouraged me to want to help others in a less powerful situation may have led me into the field of social work. I believe, it was this experience that had the biggest influence on my Values.

I began my career in Social Work as an unqualified social worker, at an Intermediate Treatment Centre in which I worked for 8 years. The focus of this work was preventing young people being received into Care or custody. My work also involved working with children who have been abused. It was also a requirement that I work at the Children’s Home, which had close connections to the Centre. It was at this time I first became familiar with the Theory of Loss and Attachment. I was

Continually being encouraged by my Manager to apply, to the colleges for a place to undertake the CQSW.

I also worked as a peripatetic senior part time youth worker for 9 years. I was working between two clubs, who catered for 60 young people at any one time. I also worked as a detached worker for six of those years, which focused on young people who frequented the streets and did not feel comfortable with being in the centre.

With the encouragement I received from my employers, and the skills I had learnt I became aware that I wanted to pursue a career in Social Work.

I applied to my local college for a place on the CQSW course, and I was pleased and apprehensive at being accepted.

My first placement was with a social work team in a General Hospital with many differing nationalities and ethnic groups in that many nurses and doctors are not from the indigenous population, indeed I would find it hard to imagine a more varied multi- racial, multi-national setting than a General Hospital with a large commitment to teaching. I was placed with a Team who worked on the infectious diseases and the terminally ill wards. Loss was an every day experience, this was my first real exposure to bereavement, and I initially had difficulty in discussing the patient’s imminent death with them.

(1) Gins berg (1977) “Remarked that facing the reality of death not only touches upon personal fears and anxieties, but also presents social workers with difficulties which cannot be ameliorated in the usual way through helping people to modify the problem or adapt more successfully to the demands of social interaction and their own and others expectations.”

My second year placement was with a fostering and adoption team. This placement gave me the opportunity to put into practice the knowledge, skills, and values that I had already developed in my previous work experience and further knowledge gained through formal teaching at college.

I became much more insightful into theories of attachment and transferred my knowledge of loss gained in my 1st year placement.

After successfully completing my CQSW training, I began my career in a Children and family Team and after 8 years in this team, I transferred into the Duty and Initial Assessment Team, where I am currently employed. In between this, I gained the certificate as an Accredited Practice Teacher, a role that I particularly enjoy.

Students usually come with a variety of knowledge, skills and different life experiences that form there value base. They are generally eager to share these in supervision, which I find interesting and challenging.

I am fortunate to have experienced effective supervision, which has enabled me to discuss casework, team development, personal development and any other

issues that may need discussing. I consider my knowledge and experience have grown to enable me to use an ‘eclectic’ approach’, which ensures I have a much more flexible approach to working with service users. This versatile and adaptable way of working allows me to transfer skills and merge various theories whenever necessary.

(2) Moore (1976) states, “Being eclectic means a reliance on workers skill, knowledge and value base, which offer a secure base for moving among theoretical ideas.” (payne 1997. p 55)

I think I was able to discuss a wide range of subjects in my previous employment with the Intermediate Treatment Centre, such as sexual, physical, emotional abuse and neglect. In my first and 2nd year placements, I learnt about loss bereavement, and attachment theory. However, I thought I still had a lot to learn, particularly as a qualified social worker with caseload responsibly. I realised there was so much diversity in working in the children and family team and the duty team.

Mental Health issues, Domestic Violence, were two topics I had not really had to much involvement with or knowledge of. I realised I needed to try to gain some knowledge and insight into these areas of social work if I was going to be able to work effectively with service users. I was able to read various articles and publications, particularly on the effects of how children may be affected by parents who are experiencing domestic violence, mental health, and alcohol and / or drug abuse.

I have also been able to inform my practice by reading Thompson, Howe, Fahlberg and Sheridon to further my knowledge on issues of attachment, child development

and the difficulties experienced when placing children with foster carer’s. In addition, the Kent Child Protection Committee Policy and Practice Guidelines on ‘When Parents Are Misusing Drugs’ has offered sound guidance as well as being able to link with this and other theories.

(3) “Poor or inconsistent parenting may damage the attachment process, Poor child care, little stimulation or inconsistent and unpredictable parental behaviour may hinder the child’s cognitive or emotional development.” (KCPC 2002 p23).

I have been able to transfer a number of skills that I have previously learnt, one of which is good communication skills. Being a practice teacher, I am aware that Communication has been identified as a key component of the skills base by virtue of its inclusion in the CCETSW core competences.

(4) “Social Workers therefore need to be able to develop and communicate a range of communication skills so that they are able to make a success of interpersonal interactions that are often at the heart of social work practice”. Neil Thompson 2000, Understanding Social Work Practice, Preparing to practice, Palgrave.

Values are an Integral part of social work practice. I consider I practice in a non- judgmental way, while the need remains to make professional judgments. ‘Neil Thompson’, in his book, ‘Understanding Social Work Practice’ describes,

(5)”A common misunderstanding in relation to the value of being non-judgmental is confusion between being judgemental and making professional judgments”.

As a white British social worker, working in a multi cultural society I am conscious of the dangers of my own practice being oppressive or Discriminatory. I am aware that as a White / British social worker, and working in society that is multicultural, my values are based on Western culture and norms. I am aware of my own prejudices but I feel I am able to work and value diversity. As a social worker in the Duty and Initial Assessment Team, I need to be aware, As Thompson describes,

(6)” There is a danger that assessment will be based on dominant white British norms without adequate attention being paid to cultural difference….This will not only distort, but invalidate the basis of the assessment but will also serve to alienate clients by devaluing their culture.” (Thompson 1997 p70).

Throughout my years as a social worker, I consider one of the skills I have developed to a high standard is my ability to Question/challenge thoughts and views that service users present with in order to change the concerning issue. For example, Preston Shoot (19960 emphasize the importance of promoting social justice and challenging oppression:

(7)”If social work in particular, and professional groups with which it interacts, lose the ability or willingness to question, they risk losing the empathy, values

and practice skills which seek to counter the inequalities, internalised oppression, alienation and exclusion characteristic of contemporary social life. They risk identifying with the aggressor rather than using their position to promote an empowering difference.” (Neil Thompson), Understanding Social Work, Palgrave 2000.

While working in the Duty and initial Assessment team, it is essential that the needs of children are clearly identified, which will enable me to make a referral to the appropriate team. It is vital that the needs of the child are kept at the forefront of the assessment; the Assessment Framework helps me to achieve this.

(8)”The approach must be child centred. This means that the child is seen and kept in focus throughout the assessment and that account is always taken of the child’s perspective.” (Framework DOH 2000 p10).

I am also aware that I use a more Systems Framework when undertaking assessments.

(9)”A Systems Framework is used to examine the mutual influences that the child, family, neighbours, community and wider society have upon one another”.

Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological System of Human Development has assisted me greatly in this.

(10) “Ecological approaches to Assessment are based on the premise that the development and behaviour of individuals can be fully understood only in the context of the environment in which they live.” (Brooks-Gunn et-al 19930.)

An example of this is a family I have worked with. The mother was living with her parents, and had a one-year-old baby who had decided to relinquish the care of her child completely onto the Grandparents, who made the referral, as they did not want the sole care of the child. From my observations, of the family, whatever the mother done by way of caring for her baby, was totally undermined by the grandparents, who continually told her she was to young to care for the baby and was a useless mother.

The area in which they lived was not very accessible to the main town centre or the local Community. These external factors were influencing how this young mother functioned and cared for her baby. I was able to assist her in obtaining a supported lodging flat near the centre of town, she was re-assessed, and her parenting skills were very good. She developed self-esteem, and began going to the local drop in-group, where she met other young mothers.

In the context of service provision, upon the completion of an Assessment, where a child’s needs are identified, the problem sometimes arises that matching resources to needs is not always possible. This is all too often the case with children diagnosed with ADHD, They do not fit into the criteria of having a disability, there is the question of is this ‘medical or social needs’ I believe they are both, but there is very little by way of a resource that assists parents with this problem. This lack of availability of services is something that the team as a whole are encouraged to monitor and report on, this will enable the area Manager to try and secure multi – agency or government funding to provide a resource or training that is lacking.

Time scales also present difficulties. The Assessment Framework recommends that an Assessment should be completed within seven days. Given the amount of referrals received by the team of four social workers, often amounts to more than fifty referrals each month, it is an impossible task. This is not including Sec 47 Child Protection investigations.

(11) “Early intervention is essential to support children and their families before problems, either from within the family or as a result of external factor, which have an impact on parenting capacity and family life escalates into crises or abuse”. (DOH framework 2000 pxi).

Within the context of statutory work, it is frequently necessary for me to undertake Joint Investigations with the Police, under section 47 of the Children Act 1989. I have a good working relationship with them, and although we come from differing prospective, we work with the view that the needs of the child must come before that of a possible criminal prosecution.

Inter Agency working is essential in protecting children and those vulnerable people in society, the elderly, and the disabled, and those with mental health issues. I have worked for many years with children and adolescents, but realise there is a gap in my own learning of the protection of those other vulnerable people in society. Social Work will always mean working with diversity, and I think I should be more familiar with working with, or at least having a better knowledge of the needs of this

group. I hope to be able to attend training in the protection of at least one of these groups, possibly children with disabilities.

While working in the long-term team, I developed my court skills and when necessary had the opportunity to identify prospective Adoptive families for children who were made subjects of Care Orders. The preparation that was needed to move children onto these families was an area that I found very fulfilling and interesting. I learnt many skills in doing this, particularly through ‘direct work’.

(12)”Direct work is used to understand significant events in the past, confront the feelings that are secondary to these events and become more fully involved in the future planning of their lives.” (fahlberg 1999. p 326)

With the team in which I currently work, there is not the opportunity to undertake specific piece of direct work with children, which is an element of social work that I miss a great deal. Adoption Work in general is a field of Social Work that is very sad but very interesting. It is also an area of work that I have difficulty in accepting in as much as the power that Social Workers and the Court have in simplistic terms, ‘ ‘taking all rights away from birth parents and giving their child to another family.’ I find this particularly hard in cases with Parents who have a learning disability have d not meant intentional harm to their child. It is essential that every opportunity be provided to parents with a learning disability to improve their parenting skills, and provide a safe environment in which there child can develop.

(13) ” Following Assessment, some parents with learning disabilities will have to face the loss of the child. In some cases, the court, through care proceedings, may decide the child’s future at birth. If a child is to be removed from the parent, even with the parents consent, the parents’ grief will be real and potentially even more painful for someone already defined by loss and inability. (Jan Horworth 2000, p 300, The Childs World)

I have been very fortunate to have experienced supportive Team Leaders in the past, and my current Team Leader is no exception. My colleagues are also very supportive, which, given the size and the nature of the work is essential, particularly when undertaking lengthy training courses. I am aware of the demands the Child Care Award will have on my family, and myself and hope the demand will not prove to great a task.

I have discussed with my team Leader the need for a reduction of my caseload, and the fears I have of meeting the required standards of the course, but also meeting my own expectations. I believe that planning is very important to me in the challenge that lies ahead, but also necessary for the team as a whole. Already I have felt the benefit of this. I feel in more control with less casework, and psychologically more able to cope.

The return to a more structured way of learning is challenging to me, but I look forward to working in groups and learning from others in this way, particularly as the other students come from differing backgrounds and prospective. I have already learnt

new ideas and look forward to trying these out. I feel confident at this stage that I will be able to share different views in a supportive safe environment.

The self Assessment Audit was useful in illustrating my professional Development, and identifying my future learning needs. After speaking to others who have completed the course, it was suggested that I undertake the Honey and Mumford’s questionnaire to identify and reflect upon on completion of the course, my preferred learning style. At the present time I can relate more an activist style approach to my learning and practice, I will be interested to revisit this questionnaire at the end of the course.

In conclusion this Assignment has helped me answer a question that I have often asked myself and has been asked of me by others, why do I do this work ? In the past, I have not truly thought about this or been able to answer honestly. However, I have been able to trace back to my roots, where my interest in people and justice, and of how people function in society. I have briefly touched upon my current practice in relation to a few of the contexts as suggested in the programme structure. I have recognised how my professional development will be an ongoing process and the Child Care Award is part of this process, with the ultimate aim of becoming a senior practitioner.

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