Hackney Child is a riveting book about the challenges a child encounters growing up in the care system. The book is based on true life events of author Jenny Malloy who uses the pen name Hope Daniels written with Morag Livingstone.
I had the opportunity to interview Jenny in order to get a first hand account on how writing this book has transformed her life. Jenny tells a tale of resilience and courage, but also one of system failures and needed programs to help families function better.
According to the Hackney Child’s website,
“Hackney Child is a shocking reminder of what some children are subjected to as they grow up. The scars can last a lifetime and there is no certainty they will ever heal. The best way is always to fight back. Hope Daniels has done this and displayed great courage in reliving the events of her childhood through this manuscript. I wish her all the success in the world’ Hackney Child offers a supportive Advice and Training role which will remind Social Workers why they chose the vocation of Social Work, and why Looked After Children are so special.
SWH: Tell us about your thought processes and decision to write Hackney Child, and how did you go about the process?
JM: This is such a big question! My thoughts on writing Hackney Child was that I was very very scared about being judged. I was adamant that I would remain anonymous, and this is why I have a pen name, Hope Daniels. I was absolutely paranoid that my mum would hate me for doing this but decided to write it with Morag and decided we would go ahead at the end.
I went through a massive rollercoaster of emotions and feelings throughout – and had to take a couple of months off at one point, as you see, when writing Hackney Child, I was totally transported back in a way that I had never experienced before. I found myself reflecting on my childhood, and my experience in Care, and whilst it was cathartic, it was also extremely painful. Myself and Morag had 1-1 interviews, I sent writing, we used my SS Files, and Morag interviewed 1 person who had applied to foster me. We spent much time sending writing between us until we got the story right.
SWH: As a result of your book and experiences, have you been engaged with the thought leaders within the social care UK system to implement changes or improvements for children who are cared for?
JM: Yes, in so many ways, and continue to do so. I was influential in producing the Care Leavers Charter, endorsed and implemented through the Care Leavers Foundation, Care Leavers, and the Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson. I am currently working alongside OFSTED, Martin Narey – Government TSAR on LAC, The Chief Social Worker, and many thought leaders in Scotland, including the Scottish Government.
I have also devised a training programme based on my own recovery from my childhood and addiction, and have been sharing with Local Authorities. It has received a response which I didn’t expect, one of enthusiasm, passion to carry the learning’s through to direct work, and an understanding of what it is really like to live through an abusive childhood, a life in care, and then life as a care leaver.
My time working with frontline social workers, Care Leavers and kids currently in the system is what drives me to work within the policy world. I have met huge number of inspirational kids and professionals, that when the going gets tough, and my frustrations at changes not happening quick enough, motivate me to stick at it.
SWH: What are some of the biggest challenges you face in doing outreach to practitioners/providers and children who are in long term care?
JM: Accepting the flaws in the system, and accepting that I cannot rescue the kids.
SWH: What is your mission and vision for Hackney’s Child, and what do you hope to ultimately accomplish?
JM: My mission is to make the UK Care System a place where LAC are loved, protected and successful.
There will always be a need for safe secure and loving places for some children to be cared for away from their birth families; to enable this Hackney Child strives to:
- Ensure all children in care are safe and protected by those who care for them
- Every child in care is expected to succeed, and receives the emotional and practical support to do so.
- All children in care receive equal opportunity to recover from trauma experienced.
- Those acting as corporate parents understand and take personal responsibility for developing and safeguarding the children they care for.
My ultimate goal is for the shocking statistics around Care Leavers, homelessness, drug addiction, offending, revolving door prisoner sentences and repeating, at times, the cycle of Care for their children to be seen as a failure, of the system, that served to rescue them, and the fire in your belly anger that should be aroused at these statistics by the policy makers raises itself, and changes happen.
It’s too easy to blame front line staff, who, in my personal view, are passionate, caring, skilled people who have an inner vocation to change children’s lives
SWH: Most importantly, what is your life like now, and have you found a sense of peace through your work and writing?
JM: My life is beautiful. I had no idea who I was, how I could ever have a life away from the pain, shame and guilt that I had carried for so many years, which I have discovered through Hackney Child and my direct work with the “Care System’, wasn’t mine to carry. I was a child.
I have worked through strategies on dealing with the sorrow that comes over me at times, together with the flashbacks of my childhood, some which are forever new and haven’t come to me in years, and now use these strategies with the children and young people that I work with.
I have 2 wonderful kids, now grown up, a husband who helped me to accept my character assets, and a beautiful, content granddaughter, who will never have to experience a mother with the pain that her grandmother had.
I’m now proud to say that I was raised in the Care System, and not ashamed to say that my family consists of people who were my social workers and care home staff. I love them and they love me. My family is now free from my past.
Getting Stuff Done
I used to manage a wonderful multidisciplinary team in East London, who prided themselves on going the extra mile for families on their teamwork and joined-up support. I remember an imposing senior manager visiting, and the staff sharing with her descriptions of their casework.
As she listened intently and I idly read the screen-saver on the computer behind where she was seated, I realised with dawning horror that it was repeatedly scrolling across the monitor “The East Welford Team* gets S*!%T done!!” It didn’t take long for me to find an excuse to show her another part of the office, making dagger-eyes at my team to get them to change the message to something more positively corporate-sounding pronto!
But I was very proud of that team, and I was reminded of them last week when I walked into the Project Room at work to offer to make a round of tea. I found Marianne (one of our team co-ordinators) talking excitedly with Emma and Theresa (two of our Family Workers).
The subject of the discussion was the intensive afternoon-into-early evening they had had the day before, “holed” up in an office at a GP surgery with a parent, supporting her and making phone call after phone call to get the various agencies to respond to the crisis she and her children were dealing with. The excitement didn’t arise from anger or triumphalism related to the battle with other services; it certainly wasn’t taking satisfaction in or credit from someone else’s misfortunes.
But what those team members were remembering and celebrating was a job well done and achieved through team work and partnership. Just for those 15 minutes, Emma and Theresa deserved their place under the spotlight, although to be honest most of their weeks are filled with unheralded skill and hard work to help parents, children and even other professionals achieve their potential. Marianne said that from this point on she would call them Starsky and Hutch because of their partnership, dynamism and commitment to getting the job done – even under intense pressure.
That made me smile, but also reflect on at what point we in the voluntary sector stopped talking about the “work”? And by the ‘work’ I mean the hands on engagement with and support given to our service users and beneficiaries. Don’t get me wrong – I know there are lots of people involved with charities whose work is little acknowledged and often not recognised.
A voluntary sector bulletin recently dropped into my inbox from a major national newspaper, and to judge from its contents, charities like mine are increasingly effective in our campaigning about we do, striving to identify outcomes for what we do, tweeting and blogging about it, and of course fundraising for what we do. All the people who undertake those tasks and who support the aims and values of their charities deserve to be appreciated and applauded. But lately, it doesn’t seem (purely a hunch – no hard research was undertaken) that we explain what it is we do exactly “to help”. Or that we celebrate that work.
Yes, we do talk about outcomes – but rarely about how those outcomes were achieved, even if it was only by simple but vital acts such as providing a space to talk, enabling respite for carers by finding children a holiday scheme, or setting up an awards ceremony and disco for young disabled volunteers so they can party and have fun like many of their non-disabled peers.
Under the stress and pressure, our wonderful staff carry on talking the talk and walking the walk. Sometimes in the face of hostility, but also receiving more gratitude and thanks from our service users than people would ever expect was expressed. Last month I conducted the final observation of our social work student on a visit to a parent and family she had supported during her placement.
Amongst lots of really concrete outcomes achieved by the student, including getting the children into an afterschool club and linking the family with advice around a child’s special educational needs, the parent told me that “you couldn’t wish for a better person to work with you”. When I passed it on I saw how my student positively glowed at that piece of feedback. And what could be a stronger endorsement than that someone is willing to open up some of the most private areas of their own or their family’s life to you?
If something is not talked about it is effectively unseen and unacknowledged. What we do – the day job – is a big part of our identity and people need to feel able to be proud of it. They may not look or act like Starsky and Hutch, but every day voluntary sector staff contribute to thousands of supportive conversations in bedsits, flats, living rooms, hostels, interview rooms and group work sessions to create the opportunity for positive changes in people’s lives. And we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about how they are getting sh…I mean STUFF! done.
Code Therapy – A Mental Health and Technology Documentary
Code Therapy is a short documentary about how technology is changing the way mental health services are delivered.
Mental illness, such as depression, is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. 1 in 4 adults in the United States experiences some type of mental illness every year, yet over 100 million people across the nation lack access to sufficient mental health services. In countries with less developed healthcare systems, the situation is even more troubling.
Code Therapy is a documentary short about the application of digital technology in the field of mental health. Behavioral intervention technologies, such as online programs and apps that teach evidence-based therapy skills have the potential to make mental health support more accessible and affordable. Websites and social media platforms provide another way to disseminate mental health information, particular to an increasingly connected generation of millennials around the globe.
Speaking on the barriers to receiving treatment and the benefits and limitations of emerging technologies in this space are entrepreneurs, researchers and mental health providers including:
- Alejandro Foung, Co-Founder of Lantern
- Rob Morris, Co-Founder of Koko
- Steve Schueller, Assistant Professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and Faculty Member at the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technology
- Jen Hyatt, CEO of Big White Wall
The film is narrated by Carl O’Reilly, a London-based architect, mental health advocate and author of the new book Defeating Depression, available on Amazon.
Code Therapy was filmed in the US and UK in 2016 and has since screened at festivals in England, Ireland, India and the United States. We were honored to be awarded Best Documentary at the 2016 Dublin International Short Film and Music Festival and has received commendation and nominations at other festivals around the globe.
BASW and SWU launch ‘Respect for Social Work’: The Campaign for Professional Working Conditions
With half of social workers intending to leave their jobs soon, BASW and SWU launch ‘Respect for Social Work’: the campaign for professional working conditions
The recent UK Social Workers: Working Conditions and Wellbeing study paints an extremely worrying picture of ‘spun out’ social workers at risk of leaving the job they love through high demand and austerity cuts. They are often invisible while other public-sector workers get noticed in the media. If social workers are to continue protecting and supporting children, adults and families, they need good professional working conditions.
This is why, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and Social Workers Union (SWU) are launching a new campaign ‘Respect for Social Work: the campaign for professional working conditions’
BASW and Swu are heading into parliament, to employers, to the press and to their members to get improved professional working conditions for social workers. There is urgent need to stem damaging levels of stress amongst social workers and the risk of vital, skilled staff leaving the profession.
‘Respect for Social Work: the campaign for professional working conditions’ is being launched today at the Social Worker’s Union’s AGM in London. It will see BASW discuss issues with MPs at the upcoming Labour and Conservative party conferences, with MPS and Peers in Parliament, with employers at the national Directors’ Conference in October. It will also link with members’ participation in anti-austerity demonstrations in October.
— BASW (@BASW_UK) September 22, 2017
BASW is taking this important action because of the alarming findings from July’s UK Social Workers: Working Conditions and Wellbeing study which highlights that increasing demand but diminishing resources has created a crisis in many social service departments, and social workers are bearing the brunt.
This has led to record-high sickness levels and over half of those surveyed reporting intention to leave the profession early.
The independent study by Bath Spa University’s Dr. Jermaine Ravalier was produced in conjunction with the BASW and SWU. Over 1600 social workers were questions about what is happening in the profession, how social workers are feeling and how they are reacting. It found social workers love their job – but conditions for practice are pushing many away.
It was the first research to look solely at the wellbeing of social workers, and the results are concerning.
A standout finding was that 52% of UK social workers intend to leave the profession within 15 months, this increases to 55% for social workers working specifically in children’s services.
The study also revealed that UK social workers are working more than £600 million of unpaid overtime.
Making the connection between the two facts isn’t difficult. The study went further, by shining a light on the chief reasons social workers gave for wanting to leave the profession.
High, unmanageable caseloads, a lack of professional and peer support and burdensome red-tape and bureaucracy came top for over 70% of social workers surveyed.
On behalf of BASW, Mike Bush, member and user of services following work stress and independent mental health consultant said:
“The concept seems to be that social workers can give endlessly to others and not need anything in return. Cars breakdown if they are not properly serviced and maintained – so do people in caring professions like social work.
“A burnt-out social worker is no good to anyone. Nobody is winning from this situation. We need to address this now and it would be wise for the Government to listen to what BASW and SWU are saying and take heed of the solutions they recommend.”
So how can we reverse the conveyor belt of talent leaving social work?
As the professional association for social workers, BASW’s manifesto is to work with partners across the sector to ensure social workers have manageable workloads, effective organisational models and the right working conditions for excellent practice.
Another cornerstone to the manifesto is to end austerity policies that cause harm to children, adults and families with care and support needs
BASW and SWU believe it is possible to create professional working environments to keep social workers in practice.
“We know the key elements of success: access to professional supervision, manageable caseloads, good leadership and management, fair pay, reduced unnecessary bureaucracy, time to spend with individuals and families, and access to ongoing professional development and wellbeing support,” says BASW CEO Ruth Allen.
“Peer support amongst social workers is also crucial and protects against burn out, as the study showed,” adds Allen.
“It is essential social workers are supported, both through SWU their dedicated Union and the professional body, BASW, because this combination ensures social workers are empowered to improve their working conditions and their standing as skilled, dedicated professionals.” Says John McGowan, SWU General Secretary.
Which is why BASW and SWU are leading a new drive to work positively with employers and politicians, and social workers in practice, to promote these solutions.
- Treat social workers like professionals who have solutions as well as legitimate concerns
- End management regimes of unmanageable workloads to reduce stress and attrition rates: employ more social workers, ensure good caseload management, enable flexible working and smarter use of technology
- Ensure time for reflective supervision to work through complex cases
- Ensure all social workers have access to good continuing professional development
- Ensure social workers’ managers have completed relevant training for their job
- Provide administrative support to enable social workers to focus on people they serve
- Lift the public pay cap for social workers, as for other public professionals
- Ensure social workers have independent professional support, through their professional body (BASW) and other resources, readily accessible through various touch points such as a ‘hotline’.
“A stable and well-trained workforce, with replenishment of new joiners as well as ongoing development of advanced skills is essential to meet social care and social work needs of children and adults,” says Allen.
“Less experienced social workers need mentoring from experienced staff. We must stem the risks of losing – and wasting the skills – of experienced staff.”
Together with the author of the report, Dr. Jermaine M Ravalier, BASW will be meeting MP’s over the next couple of months to press the case for a government rethink on its continued austerity measures regarding social services, as well as to challenge further barriers to good social work practice.
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