Social Issues

While watching ‘Call the Midwife’ last night, it was suggested that a family needed a social worker and she refused the offer saying ‘Social Workers’ are for ‘people who have made a mess of their lives!’ It chimed partly with how I used to feel so it made me reflect. Despite having a diagnosis before we left Special Care with baby Joshua, we were not assigned a Social Worker, when he was a baby, but were supported initially by a brilliant Health Visitor. It was my mother who, when Joshua was around 9 years old, suggested that a Social Worker might be helpful to us – she had personal experience as they were assigned one when my father was diagnosed with vascular dementia. But I rejected her suggestion and explained ‘We don’t need one, Mum – Social workers are for families with problems‘. She looked at me and then at Joshua, smiled and said kindly ‘Yes and I think you may have a problem’. Only a mother could get away with saying such a thing about her grandson.

Of course Mum was always right and so I contacted the council and requested a social worker. Eventually , we were assigned to a young man and he listened and he organised so much for us, including respite provision. He was responsive and supportive, so he was always welcome in our home. He changed my pre-conceived ideas of social workers. So we were devastated when, after several years, he left SEN to work in another area of social work and we were assigned to another worker. She was difficult to get hold of, hard to talk to and she did not achieve anything like as much as her predecessor. So, I then learnt that not all social workers were the same and that we had been incredibly fortunate in our first experience.

Next, we were passed to a young man who was new to the role, he was not suited to the work and was clearly out of his depth. He struggled to deliver anything of substance for us, was unfamiliar with the paperwork and he kept letting us down. I saw then why many of the other parents that I met at special school, were so critical of their social workers and why several had asked them to leave their homes and were managing to negotiate the system without one. It is called ‘social care’ but sadly, many parents found that their social workers did not care.

Then thankfully as Joshua approached adulthood, we were assigned a new social worker who would assist us through the transition to adult services. She did a brilliant job, she spent hours talking to me and my husband together and separately, visiting Joshua in school and she helped us to find his Adult Respite provision. We had a great relationship as a family. We underwent an assessment and due to Joshua’s medical conditions, we were told that he would be 100% funded by Continuing Health and they would provide another new social worker, so sadly we once again lost a valuable resource and someone that we had come to regard as a friend. Our new worker had a thorough handover from her predecessor and she was reassuring about the transition from school to daycare. So we were devastated when she told us that she was leaving the role early in 2020 . Thankfully she had sufficient time to complete the required paperwork and set wheels in motion for the move to daycare.

But then of course in March 2020, before we could be introduced to any replacement, Covid 19 and lockdown intervened in our transition plan. We were left high and dry until I had a call from Continuing Health. I asked him if he was our new social worker and was told ‘No, I am your caseworker!’ , without explaining the difference. During the early months of lockdown he would phone me every month to check that we were coping but that tailed off and once again we were without any back up and just an emergency telephone number if we should experience difficulties. So there was no continuity of care at all. In fact in the ten years since I first requested a social worker, we have had six different ones and lulls with none too.

I was delighted to receive a call last week from our previous Social Worker who had returned to Continuing Health and was back with our family. I brought her up to speed on what had happened with us over the last 2 years while she was away. I asked her to do something for me and refreshingly, she made that call immediately and emailed me with the outcome the next day. Once again we are back with an efficient Social Worker who listens, is helpful and responsive and it makes such a difference. They know their way around the system, so can support and advise us, as indeed they all should. When it works well, you feel as though you have an ally, but when they are not good – and I do appreciate that it is a difficult job to do – they can make life as a parent so much more difficult.

But all of this has taught me that it can be hit and miss as to the value of a Social Worker and the lack of continuity is difficult to manage, as with each change of person they need to get to know us as a family once again and that takes time. They should be there, in my experience, to protect and assist you through the minefield of an unfamiliar world, in particular when your child turns 18 and moves into the new world of Adult Services, as it is not a smooth transfer. I have however, now changed my opinion , and I recognise that social workers are not just for families who have ‘made a mess’ or have problems. They are a valuable resource for families who need support and in order to do their job well, they in turn need support, training and resources from their management.

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