Hilary Sharpe

Hilary Sharpe

hilarysharpe

Hilary Sharpe, the Founding Director of Family Focus, has spent her whole working life in social work working primarily with families and their children. She also worked for ten years as a residential social worker and for the past 16 years as an independent social work consultant. Hilary is also involved in the running of a small support group for retired and independent social workers.


It is 10.25pm on Wednesday night, a time most people will be thinking of turning in for the night, having had their hot chocolate and cleaned their teeth.

For some people, a read before sleep is a good way of winding down from the stresses of the day. I also thought this would be a good way to begin my rest. How wrong I was, and it is all the fault of the book I chose to read tonight. John Nickson is the author of Giving is Good For You. The covers inform me the book “shines a rare light on how little the rich give”.

I started to read this in the hope it would give me ideas for fundraising for the not-for-profit family organisation I set up, Family Focus. Well, it may well do this but in the meantime it has confirmed for me concerns and frustrations I have held for some time but John Nickson has also open up an Aladdin’s cave of concerns and worries for all of us.

Family Focus is based in an area of Lincoln that is recognised to be in the top ten deprived areas of the country. We know this, and we know all the problems and concerns that come with living and working in such an area. We are also aware that Lincolnshire, on the whole, is a relatively good area to live in. Many people I know moved to this area for cheaper housing, good standards of living as well as clean open spaces in which to enjoy and have the time to enjoy.

So what has got me so worked up that I find myself typing away at this time of night? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Lincoln, like so many other parts of the country is a city of contrasts. We can live in a relatively well-to-do area and within a short five minute walk be in area of outstanding poverty.

Admittedly, we are not living in an area where a house can sell for £10 million, as in London, and a short walk away be in deprived area — or are we? Maybe houses do not sell for £10 million, but do we know who are near neighbours are and whether they are struggling to cope, or do we not really care that much?

Over recent years I can see a really difference in people’s attitude towards others. At one time we would really care about what was happening to others. Nowadays we tend to care about our own needs more and more. We are living in a culture that appears to be happy to label people, for instances “people claiming benefits” or “immigrants doing our work”. We seem to be grateful for the media’s ability to label others as it gives us the opportunity and the credence not to care quite so much.

Yet the reality is that one in five of us live below the poverty line — that means someone in your street is living below the poverty line. Included in the official number of people living in poverty, there are 3.5 million children struggling to cope day-to-day.

According to John Nickson, the poorest 10% of households had a wealth of £13,000; the wealthiest 10% had a wealth of £967,000 or more.

What is interesting is that the poorest give more to charity. Proportionately the richest 10% give less to charitable causes per year than the bottom 10% of the population.

So why have we stopped caring, why do we no longer enough about others? Is it because we are living in a culture where it is okay and not frowned upon to just think about our own needs first that we have forgotten about what is really important? This came home to us recently at Family Focus in such a forceful way that it even took my breath away.

Over the last six or so weeks, we have asked for support in order to purchase much-needed books to help us to work with children who can only see their parents if this is supervised. In our naivety we thought this would be an easy task, not asking too much from the community and we even though how we could spread the cost. We needed £100 so asked for five organisations to consider donating £20 or ten companies to donate £10. Not much when you consider it can cost nearly £10 for a couple of cups of coffee!

John Nickson has made me cross and sad, all at the same time. He has found the need to write a book that years ago would have been unthinkable. The sad part is that I am not sure those people who could make a real difference will be bothered to read his book. He has also woken me up when I should be sleeping.

To date, we are still waiting for a single donation towards our books.

Hilary Sharpe, the Founding Director of Family Focus, has spent her whole working life in social work working primarily with families and their children. She also worked for ten years as a residential social worker and for the past 16 years as an independent social work consultant. Hilary is also involved in the running of a small support group for retired and independent social workers.

Much has been written and said about the very public case of four-year-old Daniel Pelka, who was beaten and starved to death by his parents, and we all have an opinion. Most people, we are assuming, would have been shocked that such a death could occur again after all the publicity surrounding similar deaths in the past. So who should be responsible?

Teachers, doctors, the police and social workers missed 27 chances to save Daniel Pelka, as the ‘invisible’ boy, was never asked about his tortuous life at home.

Commenting on the sentencing, British Association of Social Workers, Professional Officer Nushra Mansuri said of the Daniel Pelka case: “We wish we could say that the child protection system should be made infallible with no flaws, no gaps and no weaknesses, but we can never give a guarantee that cases like this won’t happen again.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eb8PI34alzs

There is a tool that can be used to begin the process of getting agencies working together, however for some reason this does not appear to work easily.

The Common Assessment Framework (CAF) process was developed for practitioners from a range of backgrounds to gather and assess information in relation to a child and families needs in development, parenting, and the family environment.

After gaining consent from the child/family to share information gathered from discussions, the initial task for a practitioner is to advise other relevant service practitioners to come together in a meeting called a Team Around the Child or Family – TAC/TAF to assess those needs and decide with the child/family a course of action to provide the services needed.

A TAC is a multi-disciplinary team of practitioners established on a case-by-case basis to support a child, young person or family. It is important the whole family are brought together for this process. These meetings support particular elements of good professional practice in joined-up working, information sharing and early intervention. This means a joined-up assessment, involving other professionals who may have knowledge of a child i.e., schools, health workers, GP, church/youth groups, community police, nursery.

This way of working should also deliver a flexible multi-agency way of working, so all involved are aware of concerns and what should be in place to ensure changes happen. The family is also part of this process. It should be very clear what is expected of them and the consequences of not changing.

However, a big problem can be in getting a person to act as the lead professional — the person who will bring all this together and make sure it works. Experience informs us workers are too afraid, or do not want to take on this role.

We suspect this is because the whole process is seen as the total responsibility of one person, the lead professional, when in fact it is the joint responsibility of all the professionals involved, with the emphasis on the family/child and how and who will help to bring about changes. It is not the responsibility of one person.

The vital element should be those agencies involved all truly work together, acknowledge when things do not go well, and bring in other agencies/workers at different and new stages of need.

A key element however, is to recognise that sometimes the best plan is to remove a child and accept that in some cases family is not always best. Removing a child can sometimes make it easier to work with families, it gives a clearer picture of what is happening, changes in a child’s behaviour can be a good indicator of concerns within the family i.e., a child gaining weight would be a strong indicator of the lack of food in the family home. All this can take place whilst the child is in a safer environment.

What stops social workers from acting in a proactive way? Is it cost saving, agency policy not to receive children in care — in which case why we hear about there is a shortage of foster carers.

Whatever the reason, Nushra Mansuri is right in stating “we can never give a guarantee that cases like this won’t happen again,” but maybe we should look to be more honest about how we work and own up when a system is not working or when we don’t want to be responsible for that system.

Hilary Sharpe, the Founding Director of Family Focus, has spent her whole working life in social work working primarily with families and their children. She also worked for ten years as a residential social worker and for the past 16 years as an independent social work consultant. Hilary is also involved in the running of a small support group for retired and independent social workers.