The aim of this piece of work is to analyse a work that I undertook with a service user and her family whilst on my 70-day placement. I am going to look at the way in which I practised my role and reflect on the methods that I chose to use. I am going o discuss the effectiveness of the theories and methods I used and why I felt these methods would be most appropriate, which was attachment theory, solution-focused/ strengths-based practice and person-centre and discuss ways I would change the way I practice in the future if I were to be faced with a similar piece of work.
I am going to critically explore my social work value base and how I worked within the professional capabilities. I spoke to the service user before commencing this piece of work and asked them for their permission to write about the work I undertook with them and they were happy for me to do so.
I assured them that the piece of work would be completely confidential, and that their names would be anonymised.
Before commencement of this placement I had limited understanding of supported housing and I was excited about the prospect of the experience I would gain having recently undertaken homelessness modules but was anxious about identifying the social work role within such a specific placement. During my placement, I worked as a supported housing officer/key worker in a supported housing unit with places for 11 families with child/ren under the age of two who were homeless or at risk of being homeless.
My chosen case is Claudia (pseudonym), who is 24 years old, unemployed and living in supported housing with her husband, Michael (pseudonym), and two children, Zach and Yashif (pseudonyms), aged 1 and 8 months. Claudia is a recent cancer survivor, who has struggled with her parenting capacity, while undertaking treatment and financial problems from previous debts and has been at risk of homelessness. In my placement when working with Claudia I have different levels of duty as a student social worker and supported housing officer.
I have duties to Claudia by respecting Claudia’s right to make decisions, even if I do not agree, her rights to confidentiality, and to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children. I have a duty to the social work profession by maintaining ethical and effective practice and following the professional code of ethics and a duty to the organisation to follow the prescribed rules and procedures safeguarding the reputation of the agency and all the residents (Walker and Beckett, 2011).
In addition to powers and duties of social workers, legislation embeds notions of partnership, respect, rights and anti-discriminatory practice, which are key elements in social work practice (Teater, 2014). All professions have ethical codes, which are put in place to prevent the abuse and misuse of power, but social workers in particular because they work with the least powerful people in society and so they need to be aware of how they use their power in practice (Beckett and Maynard, 2013). The BAWS (2014) code acknowledges this when it places a requirement on social workers to ‘use the authority of their role in a responsible, accountable and respectful manner’ (BASW, 2014, P.13). They should practice authority appropriately to safeguard people with whom they work with and to ensure people have as much control over their lives (BASW, 2014). As a student social worker/key worker I hold power because of my status and expertise and the social work professional capabilities are put in place to prevent these powers from being abused (Beckett and Maynard, 2013).
Elim Housing has multiple projects offering a variety of support to individuals, couples and families for example Phoenix Place, Lanercost and Wigton, Ron Jones House and Priory Court. Lanercost and Wigton is where I am situated, it is supported housing for parents with infants aged 2 years and under. At Lanercost and Wigton there are currently 11 flats with both couples and single parents with young children and the accommodation is self-contained flats. The current age range of residents is from 16-35. In terms of staff, Lanercost and Wigton is made up of 1 full-time supported housing officer and a team leader. Staff work 1-1 with residents and offer a range of support including housing advice, rent, universal credit as well as giving support to further empower and develop the positive wellbeing of residents.
Bristol Parents Alliance receive referrals from Bristol City Council as many families will approach their council for help because they are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Local authorities have a legal duty to provide housing to those that meet a certain criteria (Homelessness Reduction Act, 2017). Families who do not have a home may find it harder to gain employment, stay healthy and maintain relationships (Homeless Link, 2018). For some people, homelessness is not just a housing issue but also something that is inextricably linked with complex and chaotic life experiences such as increasing the chances of taking drugs or experiencing mental health problems (Homeless Link, 2018). A law passed in April 2018 requires local authorities to make housing families a priority, however Bristol Council is also planning on cutting £500,000 out of the budget for households who have recently become homeless, among other cuts to housing support services, illustrating the fact that authorities need to admit the reality of homelessness to build a more solid support system for homeless people of all ages (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 2018).
Research that informed my understanding of the service user group. Social workers need to understand the oppression and struggles that individuals face, due to individual experiences, such as homelessness as well as oppression from the environmental or political systems, such as sexism, racism and/or stigma (Teater, 2014). I proceeded to investigate theory of homelessness and poverty, as I have never experienced this before. This theory helped inform my knowledge and in turn helped me be empathetic towards Claudia. Fitzpatrick et al. (2018) highlights that the number of homeless people in the UK in 2017 has increased by 169% since 2015, and 15% since 2016, and they state that these statistics severely undercut the true severity of the situation. ‘As of December 2018, the number of families in the UK who are homeless has increased by 70 per cent since 2010 to 123,630 families’ (Homeless Link, 2018), which shows with the number of referrals put forward to Lanercost and Wigton and the turnaround for new residents.
The conditions of being on the homelessness pathway can have a consistent negative effect on parents such as mental health, depression and substance abuse (Morris and Butt, 2003). Homelessness can cause psychological trauma, which is a risk factor that could lead to substance misuse, anger or aggression (NSPCC, 2016). Due to homelessness leading to stress, anxiety and exhaustion, it can be hard to provide consistent and sensitive responses to child when coping with these other feelings (NSPCC, 2016). Research conducted by NSPCC (2016) has shown that ‘children in homeless families have an increased risk of being in contact with child protection services because of abuse or neglect’. Friedman, Svarsdottir and McCubin (1998, in Morris and butt, 2003) suggests the theories and methods used in social work should empower families, emphasise their resilience and ability to recover from adverse events and focus on the strengths and capabilities that influence the process.
Theories and Methods. The social worker and service user relationship is a crucial factor in effectiveness of social work theories and methods. In order to be a competent social worker, one must have knowledge and understanding of a variety of social work theories and methods, understand how to apply the theories and methods to various service user and social work situations and acknowledge the importance of the social worker and service user working relationship (Teater, 2014). The theories and methods I used when working with Claudia and the children is attachment theory, solution-focused/Strengths based approach, and empowerment theory and person centred approach.
Attachment Theory. Bowlby (1988) theorised that the ability or inability to attach to the parent, caretaker or significant other, the level of consistency of them meeting the emotional needs of a child and making them feel safe and secure. This will then predict how the child will develop socially and emotionally and view or react to others in future relationships. Field (1985) defined attachment as ‘a relationship that develops between two or more organisms as their behavioural and psychological systems become attuned to each other’. Clearly, it is through an intense and intimate relationship with the mothering figure that these essential biological and psychological connections can take place. Subsequently, security and trust can become established and the young child can begin to gain a sense of self (Archer, 1999). Secure base referrers to the caregiver to whom the infant visibly turns when threatened or ill, and who is able, to a greater or lesser extent, to provide the essential protection needed if the infant is to survive (Holmes, 2001).
Parents find that their relationships with their children are affected by the experience of poverty and homelessness, such as there being a lack of emotional closeness and the quality and quantity of interactions (NSPCC, 2016). Parents may find it difficult to parent their child if feeling unmotivated and inadequate due to their housing situation, which can affect a parent parenting style (NSPCC, 2016). Children need healthy early relationships, so caregivers to provide sensitive, responsive and consistent care, which can be difficult for parents who are under a lot of stress due to housing situation (Howe, 2011). If parents are worried or preoccupied with other concerns such as food, accommodation or finances, a child may be negatively impacted by not receiving a parent’s emotional presence or physical contact, which can also lead to insecure attachment (David, 2012). Although children have the capacity to explicitly express needs and the receptive language skills that allow them to be reassured and directed from a distance, they need consistent involvement and responsiveness from parents to remain regulated and when these exchanges are effective, the child develops a deeper sense of trust in the parent, and regulatory systems in the child become stronger and more elaborated (David, 2012).
Bowlby (1984) believed that the root of the development of personality lay in early childhood development, and that any trauma or failure in this early relationship would permanently shape the development of the child. Trauma may affect the individual’s ability to feel safe, to trust other people and to feel that they have any influence over their own destiny and it can alter the individual’s ability to modulate arousal and to regulate basic bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing rate and sleep patterns, as well as emotions such as anger and fear (Archer, 1999). If the child’s experiences have been so overwhelmingly stressful, or prolonged, that the normal ability to return to a comfortable basal level of functioning becomes a problem (Archer, 1999). A traumatised child may be prone to impulsive action, social withdrawal and be ready for the next danger and the child starts to feel unconnected and alone (Archer, 1999). One of the most lasting and profound effects of trauma is the interference with the developmental learning process of self-regulation (Archer, 1999). The premise here is that ineffective or the lack of attachment in childhood or the excess of it could have been responsible for the problems in this case study. The children’s difficulties may be due to ineffective or deprived affectionate bonding with Claudia during the early stages of their childhood (Archer, 1999).
My work with Claudia started with supporting Claudia and her two children transition to living at the project full time. Yashfi and Zach were cared for by their maternal and paternal grandparents for majority of their early childhood due to Claudia and Michael not being able to care full time for the children. This is due to different stressors such as financial debt cancer treatment and post-natal depression. The reason for this transition was because of several reasons firstly the children’s attachment towards Claudia and to follow organisational policy and the Children Act 1989. The organisational policy is to be living at the project and eligible for the accommodation the parents must have a child under two living with them and one of the main principles of the Children Act 1989, which is to ‘support children and family to stay together’ (Watson et al., 2004, p.107). Claudia and I took part in attachment building activities, such as playing lap games- blowing bubbles with your child, peek-a-boo and patta cake (David, 2012).
Solution-focused practice is a future-focused and time limited approach that pursues to magnify what service users are already doing well and help service users realise a future where the problem is no longer a problem by exploring preferred future outocmes and what the service user wants to gain (Proudlock and Wellman, 2011; Teater, 2011). In solution focused practice, practitioners will ask a series of questions about what life might be like if the problem was solved and as the answers to these questions start to unfold both service user and key worker have a set goal or task to undertake and measure whether the aims have been accomplished (Nims, 2007). Solution focused practice allows people to explore different perspectives when looking at a specific situation and therefore deepen their understanding of connections between certain behaviours or thoughts and consequences of these (Lam and Yuen, 2008).
As a form of strengths-based approach, this method of intervention works accordingly with the professional social work capabilities as it allows social workers to empathise service users strengths and resilience, which is a key aspect of empowering service users (Grant, 2012). Solution focused practice has been researched and used as an effective method to treat people with adverse consequences of trauma, such as depression. For example, service user may have low self-esteem and by focusing on certain strengths will increase their confidence and lessen their depressed mood (Jordan, Froerer and Bavelas, 2013).
A positive aspect of the strengths-based approach is the collaborative-working relationship (Teater, 2014). This is because social workers and the service user are acknowledging that the service user has the power and are capable of positively impacting their own lives, instead of having experts solve their problems (Teater, 2014). The strengths perspective pushes the social worker to look beyond stereotypes and focus on the capabilities of all service users to move towards a meaningful future. In addition, the strengths perspective seeks to emancipate service users from the negative aspects of oppression, discrimination, racism and labels and accompanying stereotypes (Teater, 2014). Another positive aspect is this approach can be used in combination with other theories social work theories and methods.
A criticism of the strength’s perspective is that it ignores the reality of client problems (Teater, 2014), which I found when working with Claudia. As the strengths perspective focuses on helping a service user reach a preferred future, I would come up with solutions to Claudia’s feelings and behaviour. In refection, Claudia needed a safe space to voice her thoughts and feelings and within these conversations Claudia’s strengths will show and build up her self-esteem about her parenting capabilities, while having the children full time.
Empowerment as a theory holds that individuals who have power and control over their lives, in the sense that they are able to access the necessary resources to meet their needs and rights, are able to thrive and develop (Teater, 2014). Through using a strengths based approach with Claudia I used an empowering approach, as she is the expert in her experiences
Strength of the empowerment approach is it is anti-oppressive, as it seeks to give service users the power and control to tackle oppression that the service user is facing (Teater, 2014). A limitation to empowerment is in certain situations where social workers are seeking to provide empowering environments and may lose the sight of individual needs (Adams, 2003). As a student social worker/key worker I was mindful of the support I provided without losing any in depth and meaningful work (Teater, 2014). Another limitation is social work practice is not always empowering (Lee and Hudson, 2011). Many social workers will work in agencies where clients are referred to receive services, such as child protection without choice and the nature of work can appear disempowering (Teater, 2014). As a future social worker I have learned to try minimise the extent to which similar experiences are disempowering and attempt to build a relationship, involving them in decision-making and being open and honest (Teater, 2014).
I used the person-centred approach throughout my key work sessions with Claudia by establishing rapport, which lays the foundations to develop mutual respect and trust (Koprowska, 2005). After some introductions and the setting of boundaries regarding confidentiality, I placed the agenda/plan into Claudia’s control with the appropriate use of open-ended questions. By recognising the power imbalance present between student social worker/key worker and service users, I was mindful to reduce the oppressive impact of hierarchy (Dalrymple and Burke, 2000). I also focused on eliciting information from Claudia first-hand to prevent any assumptions being made and made Claudia aware of this. During our key work sessions a key strength was the effective use of empathic understanding, which appeared to put Claudia at ease. Statements such as, ‘This must have been a very difficult time for you’ and appropriate use of eye contact and body language conveyed empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard and I feel that by utilising these skills, Claudia was able to speak openly about her concerns. These are three core conditions required in being person-centred (Rogers, 1980). The evidence suggests that congruence supports anti-oppressive practice by facilitating the development of a partnership (Miller, 2006).
I became familiar with the process of assessing and producing an assessment during my placement and when working with Claudia. Schon (1987) identifies that more than ‘a process’ is needed with service users and practitioners need to incorporate experience, skills and intuition for outcomes to be successful. The knowledge and skills that I identified, within my individual learning plan, were skills in working with parents and children, assertiveness skills, risk assessment writing and organisational skills. Assessment practice means working whenever possible, with children and families and building on the family strengths as well as identifying difficulties, which uses strength based approach (Walker and Beckett, 2011). An assessment is an on going process where the purpose is to understand people in relation to their environment; it is a basis for planning what needs to be done to maintain, improve or bring out change with the service users participation (Coulshed and More, 2006).
The Bristol Parents Alliance uses the family star as an assessment tool for all parents/families who live at the project. The original version of the Outcomes Star was developed over ten years ago by Triangle Consulting for the homelessness sector and tailored versions are now available to support and measure change for a wide range of client groups (Outcome Star, 2019). In 2009, Family Action formed part of the working group that developed the Family Star, which measures the journey of a family towards increased resilience, and is a strengths‐based tool (Outcome Star, 2019). The family star is widely used to support parents and their families by local authorities and voluntary sector services across the UK and covers eight areas of parenting to enable children to thrive: physical health, emotional wellbeing, keeping your children safe, social networks, education and learning, boundaries and behaviour, family routine and home and money (Outcome Star, 2019).
The effectiveness of the star as an assessment tool is the extent to which the star measures the eight areas and the star helps service users and professional to make sense of the family situation and to make the changes they need to make (Outcome, 2019). On the other hand a limitation is imposing the star on a servicer user runs the risk of the star becoming another tick box exercise and another brick in the wall bureaucracy facing service providers. The star can be invasive and not take in cultural aspects (Outcome Star, 2019).
I used the procedural and questioning model to gather information when completing the family star and explore how Claudia felt about certain aspects of her family life, such as promoting health, providing home and money and keeping my child safe etc. I also included the Exchange model in this assessment as I considered Claudia to be the expert of her own life, however I feel like I could of used the Exchange model more throughout the assessment to communicate effectively with Claudia rather than just form filling.
In the context of integrated practice, multidisciplinary and interprofessional working, there is an opportunity to maximise the effectiveness of interventions to meet the diverse needs of multi-cultural service users (Walker and Beckett, 2011).
When working with Claudia I asked for permission to liaise with other practitioner’s involved with Claudia such as the health visitor, Zach’s dietician, Claudia’s mental health support worker and the family’s support worker. Through working with Claudia I worked with a multi-agency team and used effective communications skills by listening to other professionals and ensure continuity for Claudia and understand how to ensure another agency responds, while maintaining a focus on Claudia’s best interests (Walker and Beckett, 2011). I had the opportunity to be involved in Claudia’s TAF (Team around the family) meeting, which is the opportunity to share information, hear from other professionals involved and hear from Claudia about preferred action points until next TAF meeting.
From using solution-focused allowed me to use other methods of intervention where it was appropriate, for example, person-centred to build up the relationship and advocacy. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Claudia and found the result so far of the intervention very fulfilling. When I first started working the family, I was unsure as to how I would deal with her complex issues, or if I was capable of helping them at all. My time-management and organisational skills were essential in facilitating my role and helping me to achieve positive results with the family. My intervention with the family also highlighted my weaknesses and I am much more aware of how my practiced needs to improve in the future. I have helped the family all-live together and provided support around housing, which was very challenging yet extremely satisfying at the same time. Seeing the family achieve positive change and create themselves a positive future has been gratifying and has made me even surer that social work is the field I was to develop in.
At the beginning of placement, I was concerned I would oppress the service users by having limited understanding about homelessness and supported housing. Through working with Claudia, I have found the experience to be invaluable learning. In regards to Claudia I have learned not to make assumptions or stereotypes before meeting the person or let these effects my practice as this can lead to oppression and even discrimination. I feel I completed the aims I intended to by supporting Claudia with having the children full time and managing her finances. I incorporated Rogers (1980) core skills into this model to help facilitate person centred sessions, and create an understanding that she was the expert, and I was there to listen and support her. In conclusion, I have gained a better understanding of homelessness in Bristol and the effects this has on families and how certain social work theories and methods can be used effectively.