Friday, February 24, 2012

Seat-of-the-Pants Operating System

A BBC news article this morning reported on a study that found that far too often, children in care were given too little notice of changes in their foster placements. In fact, in over 50% of cases,  children were given less than a week's notice of the move.

It is not difficult to imagine how unsettling this must be for children who will often experience several foster care placements.  I heard of a child recently who was being moved under difficult circumstances.  She didn't know where she would be going until the day of the move - there had not even been a chance to meet the new foster family before the placement began.

Sadly, it doesn't surprise me at all.  'Little or no notice' seems to be the norm in many areas of Children's Social Care.  Most of my experiences with the social workers and others have been good, and in general, I believe that they do genuinely care and have the best interests of the children at heart.  But at the same time, it seems that while they are busy organising everything and making arrangements, they sometimes seem to forget to inform the people who will be affected by those arrangements.  And things do sometimes seem to be unnecessarily last minute.

NB is currently having his contact times changed week by week.  I rarely find out what next week's contacts will be until the very end of the previous week.  This is inconvenient for me, but it's worse for the parents.  I live a structured life with easy access to email and mobile phones, etc.  Not all parents do.  More than once, NB has missed a contact because the parent couldn't be contacted in time and therefore didn't know to turn up.  It would be an even more serious problem for NB if he was older and able to understand what was going on.

I don't want to sound over-critical of the social workers though.  If I was doing that job, the administrative and organisational bits would be my downfall too.  I'm pretty sure that people don't become social workers because they love filing and keeping an organised diary, in the same way that I didn't become a teacher because I love filling in forms and writing reports.

Bearing this in mind, I am completely willing to forgive the occasional slip-up - such as when my SSW forgot to tell me the date and time of my annual review until 1 hour before it started - but I'm beginning to believe that there's an something of an institutional 'last minute seat of the pants' attitude that pervades every aspect of the service.  Contacts are arranged last minute, contact supervisers are a couple of minutes late every time, appointments are made and cancelled, paperwork needs to be chased up, and so on and so on.

I know from experience that once you've got into this way of working, it's very hard to get ahead of yourself again because you're always running to catch up.  Not only is this inefficient, it's also stressful - no wonder people who work for the service seem to be off sick so much and the turnover of staff is so high.

Our LA is having an Ofsted inspection soon and I've been asked to undergo an interview with the inspectors as part of that process.  I'm already trying to work out how I can manage to be honest with the inspector while at the same time not denigrating the work of some talented and lovely people who are in a job that I wouldn't want to do for all the money in the world.

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