Diary – A lighter take on the week

A mother of two boys, who have been cared for by us for several years, dies suddenly. They are among the most damaged children I have known in 30 years of social work. Their carers perform heroics just to get them through a day. What’s most worrying my colleagues, however, is the decision of the children’s social worker to allow the father to have overnight, unsupervised contact two days after the funeral, the first such contact for five years. She said that under the circumstances she couldn’t say no to him. I could have.

Meeting with council managers. Commissioners and providers are often perceived as having different priorities in fact we have much in common. We vent our frustration at poor social work practice, where relationship-forming with children, the basis of our practice as fledging social workers, are becoming forgotten. The gym treadmill offers time to reflect. I fear I’m turning into the cynical worker that I swore I would never become.

I am interviewing students who have applied for the social work BA at the local university and am swept away by three candidates who say they were inspired to do the course because of their life-changing experience of social workers. I emerge uplifted.

Meet over coffee with a young woman who was herself looked after and now grapples enthusiastically with being a mother, a carer and a social worker. Our backgrounds could not be more different. She recently described me as a mentor: I thought we just had an occasional chat. I was proud and humbled, for it is I who learned from her – about resilience and the meaning of life for looked-after children. Then meet with a council about its preferred provider framework. The talk is about seeking best value, better outcomes and collaboration. Then the bottom line: decisions will be made solely on cost the cheapest option is the best option. My sympathy for cash-strapped local authority colleagues is tested. Buy a pasty on the way home. So much for the treadmill.

On call and I watch in admiration as my colleagues handle a referral for a young man formerly placed with us but whose permanent placement has broken down. The emergency duty team worker is professional and compassionate. The lad leaps gratefully into the car of our staff member, who has driven 40 miles to collect him. We’ll sort the rest out on Monday, but for now the simple social work strengths of understanding, relationships and being there are enough. On call usually means a fitful sleep but tonight I can rest a little easier.

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