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

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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.

(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 – as always we’d love to hear from you.

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Our welfare system- is it enough?

Good Monday morning to you all.

Rebecca Joy Novell, one of our most acclaimed writers and author of the hugely popular book ‘Starting Social Work‘, has put together this insightful passage inspired by her own experiences as a social worker.

Do you think the welfare system as it is is enough? If not what can we do to improve it? 

See what Rebecca has to say below.

Starting Social Work-Front (1)

The Reality of Social Work in the Age of Austerity


I’ve worked as a Social Worker for four years now; and have worked with young people in the criminal justice system for eight years. Over those four years, I have always found being a Social Worker stressful and emotionally demanding beyond comprehension. I have always had disappointments with the fact that our Government and our society does not do nearly enough to support the most vulnerable people.


In 2014, I stepped out of Social Work for a year and went in to Policy work to see if I could make some of the changes I believed to be necessary. I found that I missed the day-to-day practical support of frontline voluntary sector Social Work and so soon returned back to the coal-face. 


Since returning in September 2015, I can honestly say that the state of our Welfare system and social and health care provision has transformed beyond recognition, in that short time. Our country is on its knees and I witness, on a daily basis, the poor and vulnerable being told, there is no more help for them.


In case you think I’m being dramatic or trying to score political points, I want to share just one of the many stories of people I am currently working with.


Bella is a young woman, aged 22, who has grown up on the same deprived estate her whole life. Crime, anti-social behaviour, drug use, domestic violence and long-term unemployment are the norm in this white, working-class community. Bella began taking drugs before the age of 10 and was raised by an Uncle who taught her how to burgle houses at the age of 5. By the age of 17, Bella was a Mother, by 19 she was a heroin addict and by age 21 she was in prison.


On release from prison, Bella decided she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life like her siblings, going in and out of jail – so she sought support from her local community centre, which she began attending every day. The community centre I manage. In addition to asking for help, with her own amazing strength and resilience, Bella detoxed completely from heroin within two months. 


Bella’s main issue, like many people leaving prison, was having no home to go to. Fortunately, she had some friends who would allow her to sofa surf for weeks at a time, but she was left with no stable place to call home. We supported Bella to apply for housing through the Council. However, she was denied any form of housing whatsoever and was informed that she could “cope well on the streets” and therefore did not meet the threshold for Council support. 


Of course, in addition to this, Bella faced enormous barriers to employment due to her criminal record and was repeatedly rejected from jobs, meaning she had no income other than benefits. 


Somewhat predictably, Bella suffers from acute mental health problems and recognized that she needed to address this in order to stop her offending behaviour. However, after supporting her to put a referral in, we received a voicemail from the local Mental Health Service saying, that due to cuts, there are no longer any counselling services available, as all staff have been asked to work in the acute ward. Therefore, Bella did not – and has not since – received any support with her mental health.


Four months after her release from prison, Bella gave up. With no home, no job and no mental health support, Bella began using heroin again and begged her probation worker to send her back to prison. When her probation worker said no, Bella stole £17 from a purse and was sent to Court, where she begged the judge to send her back. And despite it not being a custodial offence, the judge agreed, stating that there was more support for Bella in prison than there was in the community. 


As I write, Bella is currently sitting in a prison cell; where she has a stable place to sleep, no financial worries and weekly mental health and drug rehabilitation support.


And the real tragedy is that Bella is one of many who will have a better quality of life in prison than they will in society. Our welfare net is so broken that it is the criminal justice system that is now picking up the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. This is not what the criminal justice system is for.


As a Social Worker, I get up every morning with the sole motivation of working with people to give them the happiest and healthiest lives possible. The day Bella was sent to prison (effectively for being homeless) I cried myself to sleep. Partly because I had seen how hard she had worked to make a success of her life on the outside; and partly because, unless something drastic changes in terms of the resourcing of support services, Bella, and many others I work with, are truly better off in prison. For many Social Workers in the voluntary and charity sector, we have been stripped of so much that the only resource we have left is ourselves, and unfortunately, it isn’t enough.


What do you think? Email with your thoughts.

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