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.
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org – as always we’d love to hear from you.