Social Work with Children with Disabilities

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Today we have a great entry from the authors of our new social work book ‘Active Social Work with Children with Disabilities‘. If you are a student or practising social worker working with or looking to work with children then this book is perfect for you!

Have a read to see why.

We have worked in the field of social work for many years with a large proportion of this working with children with disabilities.  We do not pretend that this is easy and do acknowledge in the book that like other areas of social work, working with children with disabilities is a demanding and at times a very stressful area of social work, particularly when you see children and young people with conditions that are life limiting and/or debilitating and the impact that this has upon not only their lives but the family as a whole.  However, on a brighter note, it is rewarding to work with such wonderful children who bring a smile to your face and who help you remember why we all do such difficult and challenging jobs, often for little or no recognition.  Those children and families that we support help put some of our own challenges into perspective and move onto the next situation that awaits us around each corner.

We hope our book, Active Social Work with Children with Disabilities will help students and newly qualified social workers who are at the beginning of their social work journey and who maybe unfamiliar working with children with disabilities; or for those who have perhaps been in social work for some time but have not worked in this field before and maybe a little ‘apprehensive.  We hope to allay any fears you may have and to introduce you to some of the themes you will come across such as supporting families who may have just received a diagnosis, working with grief and loss, completing your assessments, behaviour management, a family perspective and most importantly communicating with children who are non-verbal and those who use other methods of communication.  We give you some strategies to think about to help you capture the child’s voice.  We have also included a sneaky peak at how autism impacts upon communication.  There are numerous activities throughout the book to get you thinking about different situations and scenarios.   We also give some tips about other aspects of working in a social work team for children with disabilities, such as attending resource panels and working with other professionals from other disciplines.

We hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed writing it.

Julie Adams & Diana Leshone

If you have any questions you can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com – as always we’d love to hear from you.

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Personal Value System vs Professional Value System

This is the winning Social Work entry in the 2016 Critical Prize for Writing. It was written by Brendan McDaid, a final year student at Ulster University. Brendan was nominated by his lecturer Denise MacDermott.

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Critically evaluate possible tensions, conflicts and collusions within and between your personal and professional value system as related to social work practice

This assignment shall critically discuss how personal and professional values can come into conflict in modern day social work practice. In order to do this, the difference between personal and professional values will be considered, as well as relevant theories in order to gain a better understanding of how these values can often conflict. Once this has been established, two examples will be used to demonstrate varying ways in which a practitioner’s values can be challenged, with appropriate links also being made to critical reflection and emotional intelligence.

Values can be somewhat problematic to define as it is a term that can be used vaguely and can also have a variety of different meanings. In fact Timms (1983:107), in his study of social work values, quotes 180 different definitions of the term. Perhaps this is indicative of the very nature of values, particularly personal values; they can be comprised of ideologies, attitudes, preferences, beliefs, desires, opinions and therefore differ for every individual. It has been accepted that a value describes what an individual considers worthy (Barndard, Horner & Wild, 2008:29) and it is something we give high priority or importance to when making choices (Beckett & Maynard, 2005: 7). Particularly relevant regarding social work practice, values often signify the moral imperative in the decision making process as they ‘determine what a person thinks he ought to do’ while also representing ‘the general standards and ideals by which we judge our own and others’ conduct’ (CCETSW, 1976:14). What is unique about personal values in comparison to professional values is that they can often change and alter as the individual develops, through life experience, societal influences, political awareness and as their understanding of people develops. Professional values, on the other hand, are not personal to the individual; they are a formal guide social workers must adhere to which aim to create a professional culture that improves practice and attempts to draw boundaries around what is deemed acceptable conduct (Dominelli, 2004:63). Embodied in codes of ethics, these professional values and principles compel the social worker to commit to practice in a manner that safeguards the service users’ rights to privacy, self-determination and to be treated with dignity and respect (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011). The British Association for Social Workers (BASW) code of ethics comprises of five core basic values to which social workers must be committed. These are human dignity and worth, social justice, service to humanity, integrity and competence (BASW, 2002:2). More specific to Northern Ireland, the NISCC code of ethics consists of six professional values which guide social work practice and detail the standards of conduct practitioners and students alike are expected to meet (NISCC, 2003). The NISCC code of ethics importantly encourages social workers to examine their own practice by placing a responsibility on social workers to be accountable for the quality of their work and ensure they continually improve their skills and knowledge base (NISCC, 2003:6).

It is generally accepted that the traditional values of social work were greatly influenced by the legacy of Biesteck (1961) (Dominelli, 2004:63). Therefore, when discussing values in social work practice and potential conflicts that arise, it is important to consider Biesteck’s principles and how theories on values and ethics have developed as a result. Biesteck’s 7 casework principles were individualisation, purposeful expression of feelings, controlled emotional involvement, acceptance, non-judgemental attitude, service user self-determination and confidentiality. These principles are still very much pertinent in modern social work practice, however in terms of theory, possibly the more significant Biesteck principles are individualisation and service user self-determination (Banks, 2006:32).

Having briefly outlined Biesteck’s influence, the two oppositional theorists regarding values and ethics shall now be detailed for the purposes of this discussion. Kantian or deontological ethics, also known as the duty based approach, focuses on the fundamental dignity each and every person possesses as a rational human being, who should be treated “never solely as a means but always also as an end.” (Kant, 1964:96) Kant felt that the individual person is worthy of respect simply because he or she is a person, and this has been intrinsically linked to the principle that is credited as being the foundation of social work ethics and moral thinking (Plant, 1970); ‘respect for persons’. The Kantian theory focuses on the rights and self-determination of each individual service user and promotes carrying out ones duty to that service user regardless of the outcome (Banks, 2006:35) or consequences for society as a whole. By contrast, the utilitarian theory, also known as the consequence based approach, advocates promoting the public good or the well-being of the society in general over the needs of any particular individual; in other words, ‘the greatest good to the greatest number.’ (Beckett & Maynard, 2005:39) According to Banks (2006), ‘the basic idea of utilitarianism is that the right action is that which produces the greatest balance of good over evil’ (Banks, 2006:35). Advocates of the utilitarian approach feel that it is more realistic in terms of modern practitioners; they are employed by agencies, work within procedural constraints and consider the consequences of their decisions. As the relevant theories regarding values have been detailed, this piece shall now consider the application of both personal and professional values in terms of modern day social work practice.

Cormier, Nurius and Osborn state that “when personal values of helpers are consistent with professional standards of conduct, helpers are more likely to interact genuinely and credibly with clients and other professionals” (Cormier, Nurius & Osborn, 2009:32). Therefore, in theory, personal and professional values will ideally complement each other in social work. However, in practice, the reality is that personal and professional values often conflict. Going back to the idea of values representing the moral imperative, the difficulty and conflict that often comes with being a social worker is that what you think you ought to do may not be the same as what you want to do, what is in your interest to do or what in fact you actually do. (CCETSW, 1976:14) Therefore, social workers are regularly confronted with decisions that represent an ethical dilemma, which is said to exist when “acting on one moral conviction means behaving contrary to another or when adhering to one value means abandoning another.” (Blumenfield & Lowe, 1987:48) Such is the nature of social work, these conflicts and dilemmas are not limited to practitioners and have also become apparent to me as a student during lectures and interactions with service users, which shall now be critically discussed.

During our ethics and values lecture, I identified respect of persons as a core value of mine, and my reason for this is you never know what an individual’s story is or what they may have been through. The right to self-determination for a service-user is also a value that I attribute worth to on a personal level; it was one of the fundamental principles that made me want to become a social worker. Therefore, my personal values are more in line with the Kantian approach to ethics in that they are concerned with the individual circumstances and decisions of the service user.  However, when listening to a service user (hereafter X) speak about his experience of living in a care home, I identified a potential conflict in my personal and professional values regarding looked after children. According to current policy and procedure for looked after children, regardless of the history, individual circumstances or indeed the wishes of the service user they are required to leave the care home at the age of 18 and live independently. For many social workers, this policy may be acceptable on a professional level as it is in keeping with the NISCC code of ethics for ‘promoting independence of service user while protecting them from harm.’ (NISCC, 2003:3) X also detailed how, many years previously, he had been sent to live with a foster family against his wishes and seemingly without being consulted on the matter. Again, in a strictly professional sense this may be correct in keeping with the ‘right to respect for private and family life’ under article 8 of the Human Rights Act (1998), which is considered one of the core areas of social work practice (White, 2004:29). However, I believe this policy regarding looked after children is framed in a way that is very much utilitarian and is in contrast to my personal values and ‘occupational self-concept’ (Payne, 2006) of social work practice.

I am aware that being a practitioner brings with it a function regarding social control, resource rationing and issues relating to fair distribution of welfare (Banks, 2006:35), meaning there are procedures a practitioner must adhere to. However, one of the key roles I will have to fulfil as a practitioner is to support individuals to represent their needs, views and circumstances to achieve greater independence (DHSSPS, 2003). In order to do this, a practitioner must advocate on behalf of the service user. X explained that in his own personal experience and the experience of many of his peers, their needs and views were not represented as they were not mentally prepared for independent living. He elaborated that they did not wish to leave the care home and as a result he was faced with an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and anxiety. My immediate response when listening to his experiences was to question whether, in following this procedure, practitioners are indeed promoting independence or in fact negligent in their duty to advocate for and protect the service user from harm? Furthermore, it raises doubts as to whether self-determination within the current welfare system regarding looked after children actually exists, or whether it is simply defined persuasively to justify decisions against service user’s real interests that may go against their will. (McDermott, 1975).

Having considered what X had said, my initial feeling was that in order to effectively fulfil the key role of supporting looked after children and representing their needs, a more Kantian approach is necessary. Listening to X, it could be claimed looked after children are being categorised, stigmatised and treated as such, as opposed to being judged as a visible human being whose autonomy is respected. (Beckett & Maynard, 2005:38) Therefore, my immediate response as a practitioner would be to identify with Banks’ (2001) view proposing social workers have a responsibility to strive to change policy that supports what they feel to be a form of oppression (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011).

X’s input has been extremely beneficial to me in terms of my social work education as it gave me a valuable insight into the conflicting and challenging nature of social work. Regardless of personal values, I fully appreciate the need for professionalism in social work as practitioners are required to follow policy that is in place and are bound by the NISCC code of ethics, which is the framework or screen through which…personal world views must be drawn to determine the acceptability in social work practice” (Spano & Koenig, 2007:3). To be considered a competent practitioner, it is imperative I am aware of my emotions and am capable of managing them in a setting where my personal and professional values conflict. Emotional intelligence is particularly important in these circumstances as it enables the practitioner to “…(be) able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations” (Goleman, 1996:34). As child protection is the area of social work practice I am most likely to be employed in (Crossing Borders, 2001:14), it is important that when tuning in to the thoughts and feelings of future service users (Shulman, 2009) I am able to critically reflect on what I learned from X’s emotions regarding his experience and my own emotions having empathised with what he went through. This enables me to “(return) to the experience, attending to feelings connected to the experience and also re-evaluate the experience by recognising potential implications and outcomes.” (Boud & Knights, 1996:26)

X’s experience has made me aware of the use of authority in terms of social work and how it can be perceived by the service user. This will be extremely important in terms of my future practice as I am now conscious of the power dynamic that can exist from the service user’s perspective, meaning I can attempt to negate it. This demonstrates moral sensitivity, and I believe my views and concerns expressed above regarding X’s experience also illustrate elements of moral judgement and motivation. Although in practice it may become challenging, I feel my personality traits and values indicate that I also possess the moral character to stand by my convictions, meaning I now feel capable of moral behaviour (Banks, 2006:158) when practicing.  Being aware of this power vacuum should also help ensure that my future practice is anti-oppressive, as it is “based on an understanding of how concepts of power, oppression and inequality determine personal and structural relations.” (Dalrymple & Burke, 2003:48) Furthermore, X’s experience has enabled me to explore, resolve and reflect upon conflicts between my personal and professional values before I had to face this dilemma in a professional capacity. This forced me to consider my future practice, and in doing so I concluded that I may perhaps be a professional practitioner, however I aim to maintain some elements of the committed/radical approach.  Although my initial thought regarding current policy for looked after children was that it needed to be challenged, through the discussion that followed X’s experience and reflecting on how my feelings have evolved regarding the matter, I now appreciate that as a practitioner I am bound by the NISCC codes of ethics and policy and procedure that is in place.  However, I continue to identify with Bank’s view that it is important to hold on to your personal values in order to challenge laws, policies and practices regarded as unjust or oppressive (Banks, 2006:133).

The second issue that shall now be considered involved working with a service user, as opposed to listening to their experiences in a learning environment. I currently work as a support worker in a hostel for homeless men. My role requires me to work with and provide support for individuals who have a history of alcohol abuse and who have experienced a breakdown in family relationships. As part of my role I was also required to work with an individual (hereafter Y) who has a history of committing sexual offences, and it immediately became apparent to me that this was going to conflict with my personal values and beliefs regarding forms of abuse. Rightly or wrongly, at that time I felt that sexual abuse was a particularly despicable crime and that I may find it difficult to engage with and provide effective support to a perpetrator of this type of act. I was also concerned that my feelings regarding sexual abuse would be an obstacle in terms of my ability to empathise with Y. Therefore, I was faced with the ethical dilemma of whether to help Y, thus going against my views regarding abuse and oppression, or choosing not to work with Y, which in itself is a form of oppression as I would be devaluing the service user as a member of a group socially configured as inferior. (Gray & Wedd, 2010:160)

As a student social worker, I was aware that in choosing not to work with Y, my decision would conflict with the NISCC code of ethics requiring social workers to protect the rights and promote the interests of service users while striving to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of service users (NISCC, 2003:1-2). Therefore, if I was unable to manage my personal values and beliefs regarding this matter it would raise questions regarding my competence for practice. Furthermore, one of the key roles for social work practice is having to prepare for and work with individuals, families, carers, groups and communities to assess their needs and circumstances (DHSSPS, 2003). In keeping with this key role, I chose to accept Y for who he was and show him the respect and dignity of every human being (Banks, 2006: 33) as all individuals, regardless of their behaviours, are worthy of the profession’s skills and knowledge in order to improve their social functioning and quality of life (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011). In order to do this, however, I would need to demonstrate emotional intelligence and self-awareness, which is what we already know about ourselves, what we learn when encountering new experiences and what we learn through contact with others (Trevithick, 2005:43), in order to effectively manage my feelings and ensure I remained anti-oppressive by avoiding ‘othering’ (Gray, M. & Wedd, S, 2010: 161) Y in our interactions.

According to Butler, Knott and Scragg, “understanding feelings and emotions is essential, if we are to understand the complicated, often messy, emotionally charged situations which social workers are faced with.” (Butler, G. Ch.3 in Knott, C., Scraff, T, 2007). This is imperative as “failure to manage feelings compromises the balance between thought, feeling and action….what is required, instead, is the ability to harness all emotion as sources of information and to seek to promote a positive climate within which best decisions are likely to be made.” (Morrisson, 2007:5) By becoming emotionally aware of and critically reflecting on my emotions regarding sexual abuse, I now appreciate that perhaps my initial views regarding working with sex offenders were influenced by societal influences, the media, a negative perception and the stigma that is attached to perpetrators of sexual abuse. This enabled me to view the service user holistically and understand that he too may have encountered a history of victimisation himself (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011)

I feel this experience will have a positive impact on my future practice as it enabled me to develop my emotional intelligence and become more self-aware regarding my own emotions in this value conflict, meaning I am able to manage my feelings, understand them and also understand how they may potentially influence my future behaviour and practice (Bruce, 2013). Banks feels that practitioners only begin to realise the limitations of their self-awareness when presented with problems that trigger reactions inappropriate to the situation (Banks, 2006:157) and before I encountered Y, I was unaware of what my emotions were regarding sex offenders. However, as a result of this process I feel I have an increased self-awareness in terms of biases and attitudes that may have been previously went undiscovered (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011:1). This is beneficial in terms of my self-development and enabled me to successfully manage and reflect on this complex ethical dilemma, which is a practice foci for one of the key social work roles; demonstrate and be responsible for professional competence in social work practice. (DHSSPS, 2003) In terms of future practice, if I were faced with a similar situation I would refer to the previously mentioned Biesteck principles, with particular consideration given to controlled emotional involvement, acceptance and adopting a non-judgemental attitude, to ensure I am able to empathise effectively, while also providing the support that the service user needs.

In conclusion, when considering the points and literature above, it is pertinently clear that maintaining congruence between personal and professional values can be quite challenging, even for the more experienced practitioner. As modern social work practice moves away from the Kantian approach to a more bureaucratic or utilitarian approach, this will no doubt lead to further ethical dilemmas for practitioners to manage. Therefore, it is essential that practitioners develop and maintain practice that is critically reflective, emotionally intelligent and self-aware. Although practitioners are bound by professional values and codes of ethics, it is as equally important to possess a ‘moral impulse’ (Bauman, 1993) and maintain your personal values in order to challenge laws, policies and practices regarded as unjust or oppressive (Banks, 2006:133). By maintaining one’s own values, as well as the changing ethical priorities of the profession, it enables the practitioner to have a healthy anticipation of incongruence between personal and professional values. The result of this will be a social worker who is able to manage their own values, as well as understanding and applying the ethics and values of social work, which should be the benchmark for any capable practitioner.

References

Banks, S. (2006). Ethics and Values in Social Work (3rd Edition), Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Barnard, A., Horner, N. and Wild, J. (eds) (2008) The Value Base of Social Work and Social Care: An Active Learning Handbook. Maidenhead. McGraw-Hill.

BASW, 2002, Code of Ethics. Available at http://cdn.basw.co.uk/upload/basw_112315-7.pdf. Last accessed 14/12/14.

Bauman, Z. (1993) Postmodern Ethics, Oxford, Blackwell.

Beckett, C. and Maynard, A. (2005) Values & Ethics in social work: an introduction. 1st edn. United Kingdom: Sage Publications Ltd.

Blumenfield, S. and Lowe, J,I. (1987) A template for analysing ethical dilemmas in discharge planning. In Health and Social Work, NASW, Vol.12, No.1, Winter 1987.

Boud, D. and Knights, S. (1996). Course Design for Reflective Practice, Aldershot: Ashgate

Bruce, L. (2013). Reflective Practice For Social Workers: A Handbook For Developing Professional Confidence. McGraw-Hill International

Butler, G. Ch.3 in Knott , C.,  Scragg , T. (2007),ReflectivePractice in Social Work , Exeter, Learning Matters

CCETSW (1976) Paper 13, Social Work Curriculum Study. London: CCETSW

Conmartin, E.B., & Gonzales-Prendes, A.A. (2011). Dissonance between personal and professional values: Resolution of an ethical dilemma. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 8(2), 5-1-5-14.

Cormier, S., Nurius, P. S., & Osborn, C. J. (2009). Interviewing and change strategies for helpers: Fundamental skills and cognitive-behavioral interventions (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Crossing Borders: resource pack for social workers.

Available at http://www.scie-socialcareonline.org.uk. Last accessed 14/12/14.

Dalrymple, J. & Burke, B. (2003), Anti-Oppressive Practice: Social Care and the Law, Berkshire, Open University Press.

DHSSPS (2003) Northern Ireland Framework Specification for the Degree in Social Work. Available at http://www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/dhssps_sociawork_doc.pdf. Last accessed 02/01/15

Dominelli, L. (2004). Social Work: Theory and Practice for a Changing Profession, United Kingdom: Polity Press

Gray, M. and Webb, S. (2010) Ethics and value perspectives in social work. United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmiillan

Kant, I. (1964) Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, New York, Harper & Row.

McDermott, F. (1975) ‘Against the Persuasive Definition of Self-Determination’, in F.McDermott (ed.), Self-Determination in Social Work, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 118-37

Morrison, T. (2007). Emotional intelligence, emotion and social work: Context, characteristics, complications and contribution. British Journal of Social Work, 37(2), 245-263.

Payne, M. (2006). What is professional social work? (2nd ed.) Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books.

Plant, R. (1970) Social and Moral Theory in Casework, London, Routeledge & Kegan Paul.

Shulman, L (2009). 6th ed. The Skills of Helping Individuals, families, Groups and Communities. United States of Amerca:Brooks/Cole

Spano, R., & Koenig, T. (2007). What is sacred when personal and professional values collide? Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 4(3).

Available at :http://www.socialworker.com/jswve/content/view/69/54/ Last accessed 18/12/14.

Trevithick, P. (2005). Social Work Skills a practice handbook (Second Edition), Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education

White, C. (2004) Northern Ireland Social Work Law. Ireland: Butterworth Ireland

If you have any questions you can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com – as always we’d love to hear from you.

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Political Sociology of Education

This is the winning Education entry in the 2016 Critical Prize for Writing. It was written by Rachel Kurtz in her final year studying BA Education and Psychology. Rachel was nominated by her lecturer Dr Sophie Ward.

ED Winner Rachel Kurtz

Political Sociology of Education

In 2013, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said “Just opening the door and saying ‘we are in favour of equality of opportunity’, that’s not enough. You’ve got to get out there and find people, win them over, get them to raise aspirations, get them to think they can get all the way to the top.” Why have attempts to promote equality of opportunity in schools in the UK and/or other countries failed?

There are many points and questions raised by the above quote. In what ways does David Cameron consider his government to be ‘opening the door’? How does he think the task of raising aspirations should be tackled? By what mechanisms are the suitably motivated masses expected to clamber to the top? The answer to that final question is generally assumed to be education but educational interventions aiming to reshape society, as we shall see, are not working. The biggest issue with Cameron’s words, however, is not in the implications and interpretations of what is said, but of what is not said. At no point does he take account of the environmental reasons for societal disparity. Instead he places the responsibility for creating a more equal society on those who are least empowered to make change, while (and I admit my cynicism on this point) the contribution from those at the top is simply to cheer them on. The foundation of his strategy is the unquestioned, underlying assumption of a hierarchical social and political structure, which by its very nature necessitates the division of the population into more and less privileged classes. Cameron is neither acknowledging the role of the hierarchy in creating and perpetuating inequality, nor suggesting that the establishment intends to or even should change in order to create a more equal society. This being the case, the sincerity of Cameron’s claim of commitment to equality is cast into doubt.

My mental image of this hierarchy is a giant human pyramid gone wrong. In this grotesque image the foundations of the pyramid look something like Frans Francken’s painting The Damned Being Cast into Hell, a mass of bodies: some looking fearfully upward, some hiding their faces to block out reality, some in chains; all being tortured by the occasional demon and crushed by the weight of those above as they try to resist the downward pressure. Looking at this image it is possible to make out routes of escape – ways that an opportunist might ascend from the pit – but this is only possible at the expense of those around them. It is only by scrabbling, shoving and climbing over other people that an individual can make their way to the top. In my mental image, way up at the top of the pile, a little below the billionaires and multinational CEOs, David Cameron is peering down through the mass of bodies yelling words of encouragement, perhaps somewhat selectively, because after all, not everyone can rise to the top or the foundations of the whole structure would fail.

There are particular groups of society that form cornerstones, keystones and pillars that between them hold the whole thing up. If one or two individuals from these groups are able to take advantage of a momentary shift in the crushing pressure from above and work themselves free enough to respond to the aspiration-raising politicians at the top, there is no real threat to the hierarchy; but if there were movement en masse, the whole thing would topple. Perhaps the reason this does not happen is because the lower one is, the greater the threat of injury therefore the more concerned one becomes for one’s own safety and survival and the less one is aware of the bigger picture. The pyramid is as evident in education as in every sphere of social life.

Equality of opportunity is the concept that everyone, regardless of social status, geographical location or family background, has access to the means with which to succeed in whatever they choose to do. Its main engine is education, through which social mobility is achieved by access to training appropriate to the desired field. This transformative function is the foundation of a meritocracy, since, in theory, any person can follow their dream to excel in their chosen profession. But how common is that story? There are indeed high achievers, take former prime minister and grocer’s daughter, Margaret Thatcher, for example, but for each lucky individual who scrambles upward, there are hundreds who do not.

In reality school attainment is reliably predicted by family background and the numbers of working class people attending university are comparatively low. The disparity begins early and continues throughout education. Cognitive ability at 22 months is a reliable predictor of future attainment when combined with family background: those who score lower at this age but come from rich or well-educated families tend to catch up with peers, whereas similarly performing disadvantaged children do not (Feinstein, 2003). Reports from the Sutton Trust (2015) indicate that an elite minority are disproportionally represented in Britain’s top universities, a situation exaggerated in Oxford and Cambridge, where almost half the admissions come from 200 of the UK’s 3,700 schools (Sutton Trust, 2008). Furthermore, between 2002-2006 the top 30 independent schools accounted for 13.2% of Oxbridge entrance, compared to 7.5% from the top 30 state grammar schools, despite similar attainment at A level (Bolton, 2014). This means that a student has almost double the chance of being accepted from an independent school than they might at an equally performing state school and consequently better access to the associated career opportunities. The statistics demonstrate similar bias across all measures: Higher education and social class (Bolton, 2010, Jerrim, 2013), social mobility (Sutton Trust, 2015), school attainment (Noden & West, 2009).

At every level of education there is a tendency for societal inequalities to be recreated and even entry into a top university is not enough to guarantee access to the best opportunities. For example, over 30% of internships available to university students are unpaid and will incur living costs of around £5,000 (Sutton Trust, 2014), thus are unaffordable for anyone without substantial financial backing. Other opportunities come through family connections and networks that disadvantaged students are unlikely to have. Success, in many situations is dependent on who you know and how much money you have (Lin,1999).

Clearly, if your background is disadvantaged you are less likely to succeed and if it is privileged your money and connections will gain you access to superior opportunities. Thus the inequalities of establishment institutions are self-perpetuating, some might suggest, intentionally so. As Ivan Illich puts it, ‘Schools select for each successive level, those who have, at earlier stages in the game, proved themselves good risks for the established order’ (Illich, 1970, p.34). Children brought up in households that understand, accept and value that established order thus have an advantage and social disparity is continued.

It is not just institutions that perpetuate the status quo, however, children quickly learn to conform to their place in the social order. Performance of low and high caste Indian boys, was shown to be dependent on knowledge of other another’s caste, with the low caste children marginally out-performing high caste when status was unknown and a large fall in scores in the low-caste group once caste was revealed (Hoff & Pandey, 2014). Adults’ assessments of children’s potential and ability are made through a lens that is too often biased by social prejudice and children deliver what is expected of them. Free of these expectations it seems that children can achieve more, guided only by their peers and their own curiosity. Mitra’s (2006) hole in the wall experiments and the resulting concept of self organizing learning environments (SOLEs) (Dolan et al., 2013) demonstrate that minimal adult intervention, offered only if children’s learning plateaus, is all that is required to acquire expertise. It is worth noting that children in these groups are generous in sharing their knowledge and equitable in their approach, slipping easily between teaching and learning roles, with younger children often teaching older ones. This is contrary to the hierarchical structure of most schools and work environments. Considering SOLEs alongside the findings on caste and performance, we might conclude that negative expectations of adult teachers most likely impede the progress of deprived and under-performing children, due to their compliance with externally imposed norms.

Family environment is also influential, since parents and other relatives provide strong role models. Children brought up in homes without books are inevitably less interested in reading (Payne et al., 1994). Furthermore, families can resist the socialising influence of school. Parents in deprived areas of London actively resist the middle-class influence of education because it seems to run contrary to their values of living for the present and enjoying life. Consequently, they tend not to push their children academically and allow them more freedom than their middle class counterparts (Evans, 2006). One positive result of this is that an academically motivated working-class child will be working hard for their own satisfaction, however they may also be discouraged without family support and valuing of their work. Still others may never realise that they have the interest and ability to succeed.

Educational inequalities, then, cannot be divorced from societal inequalities, however they are becoming increasingly important due to the polarisation of the latter in a neoliberal context. Successive British governments have essentially acted as puppets for multinational companies, offering them tax breaks and employment laws that encourage them to invest in the country, but these jobs benefit the employers more than the employees. This makes poor working conditions the norm that smaller, less profitable companies adopt: zero hour contracts, instability, minimum pay, all work in favour of increasing profit margins. Job insecurity makes it more difficult to rise through the ranks in employment, as early school-leavers were traditionally able to do, because so many contracts are short-term (Allen & Henry, 1997). Thus those without a university education, if they find a job at all, are likely to end up in a dead-end job with no prospects.

Evidently it is virtually impossible for the disadvantaged to succeed on merit alone, since the odds are against the poor from birth through to higher education. I would speculate that even those who play the game and gain qualifications have no guarantee of employment due to wider social issues and the consequences of failure appear to be increasingly severe. I have noticed an increase in the numbers of homeless people on the streets, even in areas where this has not previously been a problem. Unlike the usual hardened, weathered-looking substance users, the latest influx are mostly fresh-faced young men who seem frightened and out of their depth. It has troubled me to the point that I occasionally stop and talk to them, ask their story and buy them some food. Their stories are strikingly similar. These are not, as might be supposed, education’s dropouts. Most of the young men I have talked with are qualified in a trade of some sort and have been left homeless after a relationship breakup. If they were addicts they would be considered vulnerable enough to qualify for assistance, but instead they are left to fend for themselves, unable to get work because they have no address and unable to take on a home because they have no paid work. Evidently education is no guarantee of employment. Government statistics show that rough sleeping has increased by half in the last 5 years and of the 28,460 applications for housing assistance in autumn 2014, less than half were accepted as homeless, 25% were considered not homeless, 18% homeless but not priority and 9% intentionally homeless and priority (Gov.uk, 2015). That leaves large numbers of ‘low priority’, mostly young people without help. One might be forgiven for imagining that this situation is intentional.

Whereas homelessness used to be associated mainly with mental illness or substance misuse, threats to domestic security can now be traced directly to government policy. The backdrop to the scene is the continuing sell-off of council houses, which means that low-cost social housing is increasingly difficult to come by; the introduction of the ill-advised bedroom tax has left people choosing between food, heating and rent payments for the sake of £20 a week (Taylor, 2014), and the recent ruling that homeless shelters are ineligible to accept housing benefit has left many vulnerable and led to hostel closure (Clarke 2014). The strain on services is such that only the most needy are prioritised and in many cases being classed as homeless results in being added to a waiting list rather than receiving immediate help. Healthy young men are consequently the ones left to fend for themselves.

At the other end of the scale we have bankers being bailed out by the state; superrich, celebrity lifestyles flaunted in the media; growing numbers of jobs with six-figure salaries and enormous bonuses; multinational companies exploiting their workforce for huge profits without contributing to the tax system of their host country, and politicians fraudulently claiming expenses that they are more than able to pay (Jones, 2015; Chomsky, 2012). Societal injustice and inequality seem to have become a defining feature of the early twenty-first century.

Aside from the consequences for those immediately affected by inequality, there appear to be detrimental effects at a societal level. The Spirit Level (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010) shows how virtually all societal ills relate to inequality. Counties with the biggest disparity have higher rates of mental health issues and drug use; poorer health and life expectancy; higher rates of obesity (in nations where wages are above subsistence levels); poorer educational performance; higher teenage birth rates; higher levels of violence and imprisonment, and less social mobility. Furthermore, the data are not simply pulled down to a low average because of the poverty at the lower extreme; the rich are affected too. For example, health and life expectancy are worse for the rich in unequal countries than in more equal ones. Inequality breeds competition, raises anxiety levels and leads people to judge themselves by comparison, which impacts health and happiness at all levels (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010). Evidently inequality is not good for anyone.

This being the case, it is surprising that governments are doing so little to reduce inequality. Simply raising aspirations as Cameron suggests is not good enough in a hierarchy because firstly there are not enough high-flying jobs available for all, and secondly, the type of people who succeed are, through necessity, more likely to be ruthless, determined and competitive; qualities that further undermine efforts towards equality. All that this strategy achieves is a few success stories and generations of people who feel they have failed. Cameron’s words show no appreciation that there are alternative and equally valid priorities that people might choose over a career – caring for a relative or children, travel, spiritual devotion, or volunteer work may well be more important to some people than a successful career. Disparity in income makes spending a visible marker of success and people literally buy into consumerism to show their status, effectively reducing the meaning of life to the simple fact of earning power. In reality, fulfilment and self-esteem rest on more than the size of a pay packet. While this might sound contrary to current trends, Children in more equal societies have less inflated aspirations (UNICEF, 2007), possibly due to the fact that there is less stigma attached to low-status jobs in more equal societies. If the government truly want to create equality, simply raising aspirations is not the way forward; what is needed is greater valuing of aspects of life other than career path.

Equality of opportunity, then, is not simply an educational issue. Inequality in education is a mirror image of inequality in wider society, which makes tackling it far more complex than opening doors and raising aspirations, and social policy needs to reflect this. As an institution however, education is better placed than most to engineer change. Differences in cognitive ability are evident by the age of 3 and consequently recommendations have been made for early interventions (Doyle et al., 2009). One approach that goes some way towards ameliorating early disparity is time spent in preschool, which has been reliably associated with equality of educational outcome. The longer children attend preschool before entering formal education, the smaller the disparity with regard to family background. The resulting later school entrance appears to be inconsequential (Schütz et al., 2008). This may be socially equalling because children are exposed to the influence of peers raised differently and learn the middleclass language and expectations of a school environment (Evans, 2006) before formal learning occurs. Lower national proportions of private, as opposed to state school, education are also associated with equality (Schütz et al., 2008). As we have already seen, fee-paying schools give pupils an edge when it comes to applying for university (Bolton, 2014) and it is unlikely that the privileged few will give up this advantage. Nonetheless it is an advantage afforded at the expense of the rich not just the poor, since educational attainment is higher at all levels in more equal societies (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010). Lastly, the younger pupils are streamed into ability groups, the more unequal the educational outcomes (Schütz et al., 2008). Compulsory ‘setting’ of children according to attainment is currently a hot topic in education (Wintour, 2014a; Wintour, 2014b) and although the government do not plan to introduce it since it compromises school autonomy, setting has its supporters within the educational establishment, including OFSTED (Wintour, 2014b).

With regards to equality of opportunity as a societal, rather than simply an educational issue, I would like to return to Francken’s painting, The Damned Being Cast into Hell. What is needed as a first step towards rectifying this scene is not the current strategy of helping specially selected individuals who already conform to establishment expectations. This is neither fair nor will it result in equality because it does nothing to dismantle the pyramid and, for the majority, all the external familial, societal and cultural pressures and influences will remain, countering and resisting any number of aspirational speeches. Nor would a quick, brutal demolition be the way forward: one only need consider the cruelty and blood-shed of various revolutions and the inevitable instability or misuse of power in their wake to know the price of brutality for the greater good. Rather than making a tweak here and there it needs to be turned on its axis by 90 degrees so that the vertical becomes a horizontal. What is needed is nothing less than a paradigm shift so that instead of ‘opening doors’ and ‘raising aspirations’ the government are examining the responsibility of the establishment in keeping people ‘in their place’ and valuing all its citizens.

Rather than accepting the hierarchy, the aim needs to be more equitable, as in the parable of the long spoons, in which both heaven and hell are identical but in order to eat people must use a spoon with a handle so long that they can’t reach their own mouth when holding it. In hell they go hungry, whereas in heaven they feed one another. In this image the solution is simple and until this government takes serious steps towards this ideal, I reserve the right to be cynical about their motives.

References

Allen, J., & Henry, N. (1997). Ulrich Beck’s risk society at work: Labour and employment in the contract service industries. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 180-196.

Bolton, P (2014). Oxbridge ‘elitism’. Retrieved 1 May 2015 from: www.gov.uk

Bolton, P. (2010). Higher Education and social class. Retrieved 1 May 2015 from: www.gov.uk

Chomsky, N. (2012). How the world works. London: Hamish Hamilton.

Clarke, J.S. (2013). Salford homeless shelter forced to close after funding ruling. The Guardian. Retrieved 1 May 2015 from: www.theguardian.com

Dolan, P., Leat, D., Mazzoli Smith, L., Mitra, S., Todd, L., & Wall, K. (2013). Self-organised learning environments (SOLEs) in an English school: an example of transformative pedagogy? Online Education Research Journal, 3(11).

Doyle, O., Harmon, C. P., Heckman, J. J., & Tremblay, R. E. (2009). Investing in early human development: timing and economic efficiency. Economics & Human Biology, 7(1), 1-6.

Evans, G. (2006). Educational failure and working class white children in Britain. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Feinstein, L. (2003). Inequality in the early cognitive development of British children in the 1970 cohort. Economica, 70 (277), 73-97.

Frankenberg, F. (1605 – 1610). The damned being cast into hell [Painting]. Salzburg, Residenz Galerie

Gov.uk (2015). Homelessness statistics. Retrieved 1 May 2015 from: www.gov.uk

Hoff, K., & Pandey, P. (2014). Making up people—the effect of identity on performance in a modernizing society. Journal of Development Economics, 106, 118-131.

Illich, I. (1971). Deschooling Society. Retrieved 12 May 2015 from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

Jerrim, J. (2013). Family Background and access to ‘high status’ universities. Retrieved 10 May 2015 from: http://johnjerrim.com/about/

Jones, O. (2015). The Establishment: and how they get away with it. London: Allen Lane.

Lin, N. (1999). Social networks and status attainment. Annual review of sociology, 467-487.

Mitra, S. (2006). The Hole in the Wall: Self-organising systems in education. New Delhi & New York: Tata-McGraw-Hill Pub. Co. Ltd.

Noden, P., & West, A. (2009). Attainment gaps between the most deprived and advantaged schools. London: The Sutton Trust.

Payne, A. C., Whitehurst, G. J., & Angell, A. L. (1994). The role of home literacy environment in the development of language ability in preschool children from low-income families. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 9 (3), 427-440.

Schütz, G., Ursprung, H. W., & Wößmann, L. (2008). Education policy and equality of opportunity. Kyklos, 61(2), 279-308.

Sutton Trust (2008). University Admissions by Individual Schools. Retrieved 1 May 2015 from http://www.suttontrust.com

Sutton Trust (2014). Internship or indenture? Retrieved 9 May 2015 from: http://www.suttontrust.com

Sutton Trust (2015). Improving social mobility through education. Retrieved 1 May 2015 from http://www.suttontrust.com

Taylor, A. (2014). Bedroom tax is forcing poorest citizens into unmanageable debt. The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2015 from: www.theguardian.com

Unicef. (2007). Child poverty in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries (No. inreca07/19). UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre. Retrieved 30 April 2015 from: http://www.unicef.org/media/files/ChildPovertyReport.pdf

Wilkinson, R. G., & Pickett, K. (2011). The Spirit Level: Why equality is better for everyone. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

Wintour, P. (2014a), Compulsory setting: schools face being forced to separate pupils by ability. The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2015 from: www.theguardian.com

Wintour, P. (2014b), Nicky Morgan denies she plans to back compulsory setting in schools. The Guardian. Retrieved 9 May 2015 from: www.theguardian.com

If you have any questions you can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com – as always we’d love to hear from you.

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May is Mental Health Month

Good Morning!

Mental Health has recently, and rightly so, been the topic of hot discussion and debate. People are starting to research, understand and evaluate mental health, albeit with difficulty, to try and really help sufferers.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and we want to help shine a light on something that has been kept in the dark for a very long time.

Steven Walker, in the book ‘Modern Mental Health‘, has put together a series of mental illness accounts in order to offer an alternative and thought-provoking perspective. In aid of this month’s efforts here is an extract from Hannah Walker’s story- the full account is available here.

modernmentalhealth-web

Part One – The Human in the System

Chapter 1: A Survivor’s Story

By Hannah Walker

Introduction

My name is Hannah and I’m a survivor of the military mental health system, the NHS mental health system and a number of psychiatrists.  I suffer from bipolar disorder and PTSD, and I was diagnosed twenty years ago.  In this chapter, I will tell you some of my story.

I was adopted at 4 months into a loving upper middle class family who lived on the Isle of Wight.  I have a sister, also adopted, who is six years younger than I am.  Neither of us has ever wanted to trace our biological parents, because we were happy at home and didn’t feel the need to go meddling.  Both our adoptive parents are now dead, but they would have been quite happy had we wanted to seek our real mothers, but we thought not.  No point.

I went to the local grammar school, and left at the age of 18 having been Head Girl and having collected a few O and A levels – nothing spectacular.  When I was in the Upper Sixth, my best friend died; I later discovered that she had committed suicide.  I had the first of what were to be many, many episodes of mania and depression after that event and had some time off school.  The episode was curious – I didn’t know what was happening to me and didn’t really have the words to explain it to the GP.  All I could tell him was that all the colours went bright outside, and I felt a rush of panic and fear as though I could no longer remain alive and deal with it.  In that instant, I contemplated taking an overdose of painkillers – not so that I would die, but so that I could become unconscious and not have to feel the pain.  I couldn’t be alone, but I couldn’t tell anyone what I was feeling as it was impossible to describe.  The only time I felt “well” was when I was driving a car.  I slept with the light on as I couldn’t bear to be alone in the dark with just my thoughts for company.

My parents hadn’t any idea of what to do with me, so they sent me to my GP, and I tried to explain what had happened to me, without much success.  He diagnosed an extreme grief reaction, without much in the way of a clue as to my illness.  I became even more depressed and started self harming, making up the most outrageous stories as to how I had cut myself.  I spent hours with razor blades, slashing my arms to pieces, and telling the A&E department that I had fallen through windows/dropped a glass which had shattered/been hit by a hockey ball.  No one helped.  No one asked me if I was OK – not even the medics who assiduously stitched me up every time.  I was sent to an Educational Psychologist, but refused to talk to her as she had hinted to me that she thought I was self harming.  Far too ashamed to admit it, I reiterated my stories and told her that I was just very accident prone.  She gave up.

I pulled myself together and carried on as though nothing had happened, which sowed the seeds of later episodes

Please read the rest of the account here for FREE.

If you have a story you’d like to share then please do get in contact. You can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com

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Part 2: A Social Work Student’s Story

So… you’ve been waiting 24hours and FINALLY IT IS HERE, the second part to this fascinating entry based on the experiences of a social work student.

I saw Ada on several further occasions when there was no further repetition of these events. On one occasion, Ada fetched a box from the kitchen to show me some documentation and, once finished with, placed it at the side of a cupboard in the front room. It struck me at the time that this might relate to how things ‘moved’ or went missing, providing an alternative explanation for what she’d said. Together, we addressed the needs identified on the support plan to reduce her isolation. She disclosed information relating to her relationship with her ex-husband relating to domestic abuse. This gave me information to consider in relation to Bowen’s (1966) Family Systems Theory, where each member of the family are influential in affecting every other member of the family in ways that can be longstanding. Her interactions with her children could replicate the interaction with her husband and her sense of resentment, which she disclosed to me.

On another occasion, as I sat and asked how things had been, Ada said ‘no-one believes me’. I asked what they didn’t believe and she told me that the previous Saturday, she had seen hundreds of witches flying around among the trees opposite her window. (She has a large picture window, which she spends a lot of her time looking out of). She told me that she’d seen more that morning before I arrived and that no-one believed her and she thought that she was going mad. I was aware that she had macular degeneration and had to have injections into her eye to try and control it. As a family member has a similar treatment, I suggested that what she was seeing was related to this. She replied that she thought it was a result of her stroke. We discussed it openly, considering whether it might be a combination of the two and Ada seemed to become calmer, though she said that she thought she was going mad. We arranged an introductory visit to a lunch club and I left.

When most of the actions on the support plan had been completed, I visited Ada to find her quite distressed. As I entered, I saw her seated in a chair, with her arm raised, swatting at something. She said that her daughter was being a problem and again she swatted at something. I thought it might be a fly, but it seemed a strange movement. I asked why she thought her daughter was being a problem and she said that she was flying around the room all the time and if she managed to get hold of her, she was going to ‘squidge’ her. She then swatted at something again. I asked if she could see her daughter now and Ada said yes, swatting again. I acknowledged that she was seeing her, but said that I couldn’t, saying that I believed that she was seeing her. I had taken an Attendance Allowance claim form to complete and she was focused while we were doing that. Once we finished, I pointed out to Ada that she hadn’t been bothered while we were doing it, and that maybe she needed to be more busy to reduce her distress as she would be focused on other things.

Reflecting afterwards, I thought about the relationship with her daughter that might be influential in Ada’s hallucinations. Lawler (2014) talks about the development of identity being related to the ‘space between people’ more than individual factors. I considered how Ada’s background might have been instrumental on the formation of her identity and how the stroke might have significantly affected them. Ada was aware that what she was seeing was unusual and thought herself mad, but that didn’t mean that she could stop herself. I thought about this in relation to Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) Ecological Systems Theory, how her upbringing and the cultural time that she had been raised in would affect her interpretation of what was happening now. She is a lady who has worked all her life which, using Bronfenbrenner, might predict that she would find it difficult being isolated and alone. Her relationship with her ex-husband might predict the difficulties she has now being positive about other people, affecting her trust in others and preventing her from taking the first step to build friendships. I decided that taking Ada to visit a lunch club with another person who was going to start would be beneficial with both.

I arranged to take Ada and another person I was working with to the local lunch club and, although both were a little wary, they did communicate in a positive way with each other. Unfortunately, the event had been cancelled without notifying me and I had to return them home. When I walked Ada to her door, she hugged me and thanked me for taking her out. I wasn’t sure what reaction to do, thinking immediately of boundaries, but as it was outside and in full view, did nothing.

Reflecting on it afterwards, I considered whether Ada is getting too dependent on me, and what I should do about it. I have had minimal contact with others involved with her, so feel that my perceptions are likely to be influenced by her perceptions. I have spoken to her son and the manager of the project and I’m aware that other agencies are involved. I have been told that she’s receiving treatment from a psychiatrist for psychosis but, when I asked her about this, she said she wasn’t.

The issue now relates to how I disconnect from her. The support plan is virtually complete and her 3 month review is about due, at which point Ada’s case could be closed or allowed to continue for up to a further 3 months.

If you are a practising social worker, a social work student on placement or even if you’ve just got something to say about welfare- let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

You can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com

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Part 1: A Social Work Student’s Story

Happy May Bank Holiday everyone!

As promised we have a special entry for you today from a social work student. Following the popularity of Rebecca Joy Novell’s entry on the welfare system a few weeks ago, this is yet another brief and fascinating insight into the day-to-day experiences of a social work student on placement.

This is an absolute must-read, not just for those of you in social work, but also for anyone who is interested in welfare, social justice and community.

CASE STUDY
(names changed to protect anonymity)

I was working in a voluntary organisation for older people, within the Housing Support Team, offering support to people with various issues related to housing in the community, which included moving house, accessing services, reducing isolation amongst others. My role involved an initial assessment to identify needs and development of a support plan to address those needs.

I was allocated a case that had been referred to the organisation by a family member. There was basic information on the IT system about the person and a reason for the referral – in this case concerns about social isolation in particular. The information included reference that the lady concerned was German, but that she spoke English. There was no information about the level of the English. As there was no direction on the case notes to contact the referrer in the first instance, I assumed that the lady would be able to understand English. I based this on my own learning of a foreign language and being able to understand more that I could speak. However, it was possible that the lady only spoke very basic English and that her children had translated for her. I decided that contacting the number given to make an appointment would enable me to assess whether I would need an interpreter for the assessment.

When I rang, Ada was able to engage with me appropriately and clearly understood what I was saying. She retained quite a strong German accent and was easily able to make herself understood in English. I arranged a time to visit.

Ada lived in a sheltered housing project and I was surprised that she had been referred, as the project provided community activities for their residents. When I visited, Ada wasn’t present. I was surprised initially, but then concerned in case she had fallen. I rang the referrer (daughter – Jane) to see if they were aware of any reason Ada wasn’t at home. Jane said she didn’t know where Ada was, but we then had a prolonged discussion about her mother (I hadn’t managed to speak to her previously). She gave me quite a lot of background information and included that Ada was a difficult woman to get along with and could be quite ‘nasty’. Jane said that she’d been like that all her life and regularly fell out with her children (they’d fallen out at the time she’d made the referral), taking turns when each one would be the ‘golden’ child. She warned me that her mother would probably be nice initially and then would start calling me names to others and potentially telling people that I was taking things.

I rearranged another appointment with Ada – she’d double-booked a GP appointment. I reflected on what the daughter had said and whether I should consider asking someone to accompany me to protect myself from accusations of theft. I decided against it on three grounds – the first being that it would be quite oppressive to have two people visit, secondly, I consider myself to have a non-judgemental attitude and able to engage with a variety of people and finally the daughter had said that it would take a few visits before Ada ‘took against me’.

The visit started well with no problems and we confirmed basic information, talking about how long she’d lived in the accommodation and where she’d lived previously. We then moved on to talk about family. Ada told me that she had three children and then told me that one of her daughters belonged to a ‘witch club’. I was a little surprised. I said ‘Oh’. Her body language and demeanour hadn’t changed and my impression was that she believed what she was saying. She went on to tell me that her daughter (Jane) made things appear and disappear and that she had made writing appear on the wall, pointing to the upper part of the wall facing her. There was nothing there that I could see. Again I said ‘Oh’ while my mind was racing trying to consider what my reaction should be. I was aware that there was a belief system that involved people considering themselves as witches and I didn’t know if the daughter subscribed to this. I was conscious that I didn’t want to say anything to Ada that provided ‘ammunition’ in her relationship with her daughter. I was also aware of my own wariness of things that seemed inexplicable. She then went on to tell me that she’d had a severe stroke with an extended recuperation and rehabilitation period. She blamed the daughter for not finding her quickly when she’d had the stroke. This alerted me to the likelihood that her perceptions were influenced by the damage to her brain from the stroke – she was quite proud of the fact that the doctors had told her that half of her brain had been damaged. She then went on to say some other unusual things – that she was being investigated because she’d paid a high fuel bill, that her daughter entered her room and took things, etc. While these things seemed unlikely, they weren’t necessarily untrue and I had no evidence either way. I decided to end the assessment at this point as I felt that her reality was becoming increasingly distorted.

My reflection afterwards was interesting. From Ada’s perspective, she had shared some information with me that she was aware other people didn’t believe. She was patently distressed by what she believed she saw and that people didn’t believe her. She was also distressed because she couldn’t understand why her daughter didn’t know that she’d had a stroke and helped her. From my previous degree, I had some significant knowledge about the potential effects of stroke on workings of the brain and understanding, realising that this might be playing a significant role in the lady’s perceptions. Alternatively, I considered whether I had been subjected to ‘grooming’ by Jane, so that I was more disbelieving of what her mother said about her. It was possible that she entered the room when the lady wasn’t there, possible that she took things – unlikely, but possible. I had no evidence to support either side and decided that I must take an anti-discriminatory approach until I had further information.

Don’t worry- this is not the end! Part 2 follows tomorrow morning at 10am so keep an eye for it.

If you have any questions you can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com – as always we’d love to hear from you.

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Behavioural Management- free extract

Sunny mornings are the best. They put everyone in a happy mood, suddenly everything is so much more positive.

And to add to such a lovely morning I have a free extract from ‘Supporting Primary Teaching and Learning‘. Fiona Hall yesterday wrote an entry on our blog about how vital a text this is to an aspiring teachers and today we thought “why not show you a snippet of what she’s talking about!?”.

So please enjoy this extract from Chapter 3 on Behaviour Management.

Supporting Primary Teaching and Learning-Front (1)

Individual Needs

Children’s behaviour will be impacted upon by their individual needs. A significant writer in this area is Maslow (1908 – 1970) who suggested that we have a range of needs that exist in a hierarchy starting with the most basic of needs, linked to our survival, at the bottom. Maslow indicated that the needs of one level needed to be met before it was possible to move to the next level. This is shown in figure 3.1.

SPTL photo

Activity

Consider how each levels of Maslow’s hierarchy can be applied to your setting.

If you have any questions you can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com – as always we’d love to hear from you.

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