Self-reflection provided useful lessons for Jane Naik when she wanted to review her approach to anonymity in a case
It was the call a social worker dreads – an older man, with dementia, alleging that his wife was abusing him. The referrer was the man’s daughter from his first marriage. I agreed that she could remain anonymous.
Staff at the day care centre that the man attended each week had not noticed anything untoward. Their only comment was that the wife was younger than her husband and was quite “formidable”.
I spoke to the man at the day centre. He was friendly but clearly frightened. He told me he did not want to go into care, that he loved his wife, but sometimes she was cross with him and gripped his arms very tightly. Although he was confused, his story was broadly consistent.
On a visit to see the man and his wife I was so anxious that I insisted a colleague accompany me. The wife, predictably, was not at all happy that I’d been to see her husband without, as she put it, her “permission”. She stood up and began shouting at me. My nerves got the better of me and I blurted out her husband’s allegations. Her face turned pale, she sat back down, and we started to talk.
The responsibility I felt was tremendous. The hard part was when he said he didn’t want to go into care, pleading with me not to “make [me] go”.
A care package was introduced to support the wife who was working full-time. I called her regularly and visited to see how things were going.
While this was going on, the daughter who had made the original referral would call me to ask how things were. I had respected her request for anonymity but found myself inadvertently colluding with her in order to maintain this. I began to struggle with the family dynamics and my personal feelings about the situation. After some weeks, the care package broke down and the man was admitted into residential care.
I realised the error of my ways at the review. The daughter attended, as did the wife, and I found myself in the position of having to pretend I had never spoken to the daughter in order to protect her anonymity as I had originally promised. Even now I cringe just thinking about it.
Happily, the outcome was positive. The man settled in well and his wife visited daily, spending time rebuilding their relationship. But once he was placed in residential care, his daughter rarely visited.
This case forced me to re-examine my skills. It has made me more confident in addressing issues regarding anonymity and clearer about my role.
However, the most useful thing I gained was feedback. I put aside my pride, and asked my manager and the colleague who had accompanied me on the home visit what I could have done better. It was identified that instead of feeling I had to come up with all the answers, I could have enabled the family more time to identify their own solutions, with social work support. We also agreed that I should speak more slowly and listen more.
Self-reflection gets bandied about a lot in social work but it is a useful learning tool, even to those of us who have been qualified for longer than we care to remember.
Jane Naik is a review and assessment project team social worker for Redbridge Council
This article is published in the 7 August issue of Community Care under the heading My Practice: Colleagues’ feedback helped me see what I could do better