Blog by Hannah Scott
Something I have asked myself over my years of being a Social Worker, is what does being a “good” Social Worker feel like? I can recall as a newly qualified worker being told that if you hadn’t had a complaint made about you, you weren’t challenging families enough. I was a young and inexperienced worker and wondered if this was true, was I safeguarding children? I then started my systemic training which helped confirm my contrasting view to this opinion and build upon my skills to challenge families to change, without having moments and that an on looker may see as conflict. This is when I came upon my next myth; if you have had systemic training and state you “worked systemically” then it must be true. I heard workers putting a systemic label on work, even if their practice had not changed. This led me to think, what does “being systemic” feel like and how do I know?
During my systemic training, I had some lovely moments in my practice where I felt I was doing something different, and not going to my auto pilot way of Social Working, but these were brief moments rather than embedded into my practice and transitioning through a case.
I was then fortunate enough to get a role as a Consultant Social Worker and I had training and a coach to help me build upon my systemic practice and support other workers embed this approach. This was a task I found both daunting and exciting, but I felt I had to set an example and really think about my practice. A benefit of the role was a fresh start in a new team and with new families.
The first family I picked up was a new born baby. Whilst Mum was in labour hospital staff realised that parents had resumed their relationship despite previously separating due to domestic violence. My first job was to visit Mum at the hospital and put in a written agreement that Dad wouldn’t live at the house or have unsupervised contact until we were able to assess the risks. Several months of a child protection plan followed this, where although I asked them systemic and circular questions to make both parents consider how their daughter may be impacted by conflict, I found my visits becoming repetitive and both parents spoke of different values and ideas for their daughters parenting.
I was concerned about what may happen between parents with their differing views and the patterns in their relationship of how they managed conflict, which usually ended in the police being called and wider family also getting pulled into the arguments. I also remained cautious of my own Social GGRRAACCEESS and not letting these lead my practice. Dad had traditional values regarding a male role in the home, where as Mum had more modern ideas of shared care and both parents having a career. My views were much more in line with Mum’s so I had to remind myself: it was about what worked for this family, not what I would chose for my own.
It was at this point I thought of an analogy used within the training from Morning Lane of “The Road to Vegas”. This analogy had explained how the aim is to get families to an end point – Vegas – but so long as they got there does it matter which route they take? Does it have to be the road we set out in a child protection plan?
For this family the Child Protection plan set at conference had been unhelpful, with the key action being “there will not be domestic violence between parents or infront of the child”. I met with parents and asked them to bear with me whist I asked them what “Vegas” looked like to them, as how did we know that Mum, Dad and I, had the same idea of Vegas or even if that is where they wanted to be, maybe Mum was heading for New York. We each identified the point we wanted the family to reach, with parents also thinking about what they would like their daughter to say about them if I saw her in 20 years time. Luckily our vision of Vegas did not differ too greatly from each others, so then I helped parents to decide what route they would take.
They discussed how they would manage the areas of dispute in their relationship, including what appeared to be trivial points such as what the dog was allowed to do, but a cause of strain none the less. I wrote this down and gave them their plan, which they agreed they could take ownership of. At the next conference we scrapped the child protection plan and replaced it with theirs, and this stayed in place until the case closed to Social Care. The big question after the lovely moment of completing a final visit and seeing the positive change in a family, is will it last? Have I made second order change? I am very pleased to say the case has remained closed and I remain cautiously optimistic this will continue.
Now for my earlier question of I am being systemic? If we are able to empower a family to come up with their own way forward which is realistic and works for them, with us there to give them a leg up when needed, well that feels like systemic to me. Please add copy.