Tag Archives: social work

Guest Post: Creating a strong support network for social workers

Zoe Betts

Zoe Betts

In 2012 I created a support event called Confidence and Competence specifically for social work students and newly qualified social workers (NQSWs). It has run for 2 consecutive years and is now an annual support conference held in London, set to go ahead again in April 2014. I’ve devoted many hours over this year so far to it and have already confirmed names and speakers. It’s very much a work in progress though and being that it’s not until April, this unofficially gave me some time to expand the concept by taking a bit of a gamble and diversifying the idea.

In 2009 I didn’t know one social worker. I started my masters and I didn’t have a social care background, which didn’t put me in good stead to build links. It’s part of the reason I created these events in the first place, because I learnt that I had a responsibility to strengthen my new professional career. Today, many of my good friends are social workers – and to credit them – the valuable and informal support I derive from them has meant my confidence and practice has strengthened as a result. By meeting people who really understand what this role entails, it’s easier to debrief – and above all – they just ‘get it’ in ways that my dear family and friends can’t, because most people still do not know what a social worker actually does.

I know social workers who have a wealth more experience than me. We meet regularly and unquestionably, they better my practice. We debrief, talk about practice, policy and about intricacies of cases and caseloads. I’m in awe of their legislative knowledge and personal management, which their years of experience have brought them and can now be shared with me. I am able to talk about things I find difficult, ways I can improve and we can identify, informally and together ways of developing and bettering all areas of practice; including time management, being assertive and  communication. It’s incredibly valuable and it’s also very enjoyable.

The idea to diversify the Confidence and Competence events evolved from one of these meet ups. Acknowledging the benefit a mutual debrief provides, not just for students and those in the early induction years of practice I thought this would be valuable for all qualified professionals. Each year my inbox was busy with emails from people 10 years+ qualified asking to come to the Confidence and Competence event. I’d had to explain that the benefit wouldn’t be there because the event is so tailored for students and NQSWs but I was beginning to realise support is needed, regardless of experience.

I put the wheels in motion to build the foundations of iamsocialwork: London: October 1st, 2013. Date agreed, venue secured – now why not aim big?! Let’s go inter-borough, every borough, but let’s go beyond that – lets go out to the counties. Let’s reach Kent and Herts….and Essex and the SW and SE and the voluntary sector and social workers who work outside of a statutory setting. Let’s be as inclusive as possible. I hope the event will grow beyond London because our support links are often weak and need improving regardless of location.

We know professional support is there. There can often be overwhelming amounts of support – that we do not know where to go to, but I feel there’s a special requirement and a void for us to link with each other. And having felt the benefit of this I will happily devote an evening to it. Every time I connect with social workers from other teams or depts. I leave feeling more confident about my practice, reassured and slightly less alone out there. That is a fact and my motivation for running this event. I know the value and now I want to spread that and inject a level of energy, inspiration and just something different to the day job.

I am under no illusion that it does not need to be big or successful to the outside community. The reality is that if myself and two others turn up – we will benefit from that time together and leave motivated, inspired and having had a great time (albeit awkwardly in a very large and beautiful room). The aim is not success of the event in whole, its success of the event based on the benefit gained per person – and my feedback form will tell me this.

So aside from owning iamsocialwork, I work full time in adult social care, which yes, is a complex role. In fact it’s extraordinary and it can exhaust me. The workload is heavy, the pressure is high and two years qualified I learn every day. But I laugh every day. I have a great team. I take hours to write an assessment and I sometimes wake up at 4am thinking of a resolution to a situation. I wake up at 4.38am going through my case load alphabetically (yes, really). But it’s a journey and a constant learning curve. I’m being so open because I want to highlight that I run these events because I’m very much on this journey with you. I’m not standing back having perfected this role watching you struggle; I feel every step of this struggle with you. I know most of you reading this are sighing in agreement with me, if we weren’t bound by confidentiality the remit of our workload would astound most people. But what we can do is to share experiences together to ease the strain and – more importantly celebrate the success we do achieve and remember why we do it.

I often meet my friends, who have great jobs in industries such as travel and fashion, they manage accounts and teams – their perks are holidays to far off exotic places and enormous discounts on very beautiful clothes (a ‘perk’ is not something we naturally associate with our role…) upon an often dishevelled, apologetic and late (*cough) arrival I submit a synopsis of reasoning to them with an overview account of my day in generic terms. They’re enthralled and shocked and intrigued. As a result I have become their baseline of reasoning when it comes to their bad days. Their jobs are far from pressure free, but as they learn a little of the tasks and complexities of the unknown world of social work – their rationale is shifting and they remind themselves that it’s “just jeans and t-shirts” or “just a missed connecting flight”. No one has died, or tried to. No one’s health is suffering beyond medical repair and no one is experiencing poverty in 2013, no one is at significant risk or in immediate danger. Switching off from the emotional tolls of social work is not so easy. I’m no saviour and lots of you know because you do it too. But we need to reflect on the practice and remember why we do it and importantly – protect ourselves along the way, which ever field you happen to be in. We need to step away and remember what we face on a daily basis can be  extraordinary, difficult and not the normal 9-5pm because it is human behaviour and that is never straight forward.

Please go into work tomorrow remembering that we are great as individual practitioners, but we’re a lot stronger connected together. I could write for hours and cover every aspect of my thought process on social work and the ways we work  but it’d be much more fun for you to come and hang out on October 1st. I’ll give you 30,000% of my time and we’ll talk till you drag yourself away. I know that together, in serious numbers, we are stronger.

Book now for the iamsocialwork inter-borough networking evening

London 1st October 18.00 – 21.30 

https://iamsocialwork.eventbrite.co.uk/

Contact me iamsocialwork@hotmail.co.uk

Connect with me on Twitter @iamsocialwork

Thoughts about social work, housing and integrated working – a guest post @tomemurtha

Integrated working and multi-disciplinary teams are not new in the housing world. In 1976 as a newly qualified teacher I started my housing career in Leicester’s Renewal Strategy Team under the leadership of John Perry. The Team comprised of many disciplines including social workers. The reason was quite simple. Urban renewal and housing is as much about people and communities as it is about bricks and mortar. This point is in danger of becoming lost in the current housing environment.

Recently I was asked to give a talk to a group of trainee social workers at my alma mater Goldsmiths College in London. The subject was a career in housing. I was surprised to see that a majority of the audience had not considered this as it seems to me that the qualities of a good social worker especially those relating to empathy and understanding are exactly what are required in housing today.

I used two periods in my career to make my case. My first job as a housing manager was with an organisation called Coventry Churches Housing Association which is now part of Midland Heart. The housing management team which was then called the tenant support team was made up of people with a housing, social work and a community work background. This is what attracted me to the post. From its origins CCHA had realised that all of these skills were required in order to offer real support for people and communities. I believe that this is as true today as it was then and that there are real opportunities in housing for people with a social work background. In fact the values and passion that often motivate people to consider a career in social work are exactly the values of the pioneers of the social housing sector. These values are required even more in this period of austerity as the demands for our services grow daily

My time as Chief Executive of Midland Heart, one of the largest housing and care social businesses in the country, showed the importance of these qualities even more. People with a social work background played an important role in many of our teams. Specialist social workers were employed in our care and support teams, working with people with learning disabilities, people with mental health issues, young people, and homeless people. Others worked in our extra care schemes and in our services for older people. You might argue that you would expect to see this and you would be correct. However the extent and diversity of our services in care and support and the opportunities offered are often unknown to the non-housing world.

More generic social workers also played a part in our housing management teams. Some doing very specialist work on family intervention project and others providing general housing management support, often working in the most deprived neighbourhoods and communities. I believe that there is no greater career than that offered in the housing and care sector.  There are not many professions where you can honestly say that your job does make a difference and that you help transform lives and communities. Throughout my career I have watched many do this and I am proud to have worked with such wonderful and inspiring people, who often made the extra-ordinary, appear ordinary.

About the author: Tom Murtha is a retired CEO and Chair of HACT – ideas and innovation in UK housing. Tom tweets as @tomemurtha

 

 

 

Can Twitter make our care and social work organisations more “social”?

twitter“Social media is a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. All the time online conversations are happening about you, your brand and your organisation. It’s not a choice whether you DO social media, the choice is how well you do it” Erik Qualman author of socialnomics.

Social networking has the potential to put the “social” back into social work and social care. So it is sad to note how few care organisations are actually engaged and using social media to communicate and debate with an increasingly diverse group of stakeholders. Children and adult care is on the edge and urgently needs public support to show politicians that there is widespread support for properly funding the services which  millions of people rely on daily. How could we be using social media to counter the negative media perceptions  and reporting about social work and care services?

Twitter is a rich source of instantly updated information and it is how I stay updated on an incredibly wide variety of topics. What makes a care tweeter valuable? Generously sharing knowledge, passions and links to useful resources and blogs. Listening, challenging, informing and making a difference.

If you are an organisation funded to engage with the public you need a strategy for responding to questions and comments online. This should include contact details for senior staff which is available on your website.

What is a turn off? Broadcasting, constantly selling and promoting yourself, not listening or interested in conversations which may be critical of your organisation. Having a Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn profile  and rarely updating shows a real lack of interest in being social. I will leave you to judge how social our care tweeters are!

This should be a simple request but…. it does require an understanding of the complicated and fragmented social work and social care sectors. Care services are provided by a diverse range of providers including local authorities, health, housing, charities, social enterprises and the private sector. This list focuses on organisations and individuals who have a specific social work or social care brief.

Who is currently using Twitter?

Association of Directors of Adult Social Services @ADASSdclode

Eddie Clarke Director Adult Social Services Worcestershire @eddiec10 

Sarah Pickup President ADASS and Director Hertfordshire @adassspickup

Sherry Malik Director of Children & Adults, LB Hounslow @sherry_malik 

Lorna Payne Group Director Adults and Health LB Havering @Lorna_Payne

Barnet Council’s Adult Social Care and Health Service @lbbadults 

Sean McLaughlin Director of Housing and Adult Social Services @SeanMcLaughlin

Simon Birch Director of Social Services in Monmouthshire @MCCSimonBurch

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services are not using Twitter  

Dave Hill Director of Children’s Services Essex County Council @DCSEssex 

Social Care Service Managers 

James Lampert Social care Commisioner Kent County Council  @uk_james

Guy Stenson  Service manager (planning & partnerships), Children, Adults and  Health South Gloucestershire Council @guystenson

British Association of Social Workers @BASW_UK

Awaiting confirmation of whether the Chair and CEO are using Twitter

Care Quality Commission @CareQualityComm

Chair David Prior and CEO David Behan are not using Twitter

Care Providers

Bill Mumford CEO Macintyre, Chair of VODG and on @TLAP1 Board  @billatmacintyre 

Centre for Workforce Intelligence  @C4WI 

Peter Sharp CEO @CfWICEO

Rhidian Hughes Head of Social Care @rhidianhughes

Children’s Commissioner for England

Maggie Atkinson @ChildrensComm

College of Social Work @CollegeofSW 

Awaiting confirmation of whether the Co-Chairs and Interim CEO are using Twitter

Disabled People’s User Led Organisations (DPULOs) 

Rich Watts National Lead for Disabled People’s User Led Organisations (DPULOs) @rich_w 

Kings Fund @RichardatKF  Senior Fellow

National Skills Academy for Social Care @NSASocialCare

Awaiting confirmation of whether the Chair and CEO are using Twitter

Skills for Care @skillsforcare

A disappointing response especially when there is a lack of clarity about the role of Skills for Care and the planned amalgamation with the National Skills Academy for Social Care.

Social Care Institute for Excellence @SCIE_socialcare

Current Chair not on Twitter

CEO Andrea Sutcliffe @Crouchendtiger7

Think Local Act Personal Partnership @TLAP1

Programme Director Sam Bennett @samhbenn 

Scotland (links thanks to @jonbolton )

Wales

Care Council for Wales @CareCouncil 

No doubt I will be adding to the list. Do let me know if I have missed any  social care tweeters you feel I should add to the list.

Reflections from #localgovcamp

I spent Saturday in Birmingham, attending ‘LocalGovCamp’ an ‘unconference for local government’.  I want to share some of my initial thoughts, impressions and reactions and look at ways forward particularly for the social care sector where I work.

This was the third ‘unconference’ I’ve been to but I’ve not been specifically to LocalGovCamp before. As it’s my third, I feel almost like I’m beginning to understand the process but each have their own flavours and soon I realised that the melding of blogging/tweeting anonymously and turning up at events which have an underlying assumption of openness don’t always meld!

There are a lot of people with a lot of confidence, experience and knowledge and they actively want to share. I felt that at times I had to stop and absorb in order to learn and the live tweeting tailed off as I found it difficult to think, tweet and reflect simultaneously. As someone who is a bit ‘arms length’ from my employers, it was good to feel a part of the ‘local government’ community and I think it’s really important that people like me (not necessarily me personally, I’m probably less confident at these things than I should be) who are on the frontline of practice and service delivery attend as we can add something to the mix – I think!  It’s easy to be a bit intimidated around impressive and confident people but everyone was very kind, warm and welcoming.

I attended a number of sessions including one specifically about social care. I was able to get a broader idea and impression of the place of social work within social care and the place of social care within local authority services.

I want to reflect particularly on that for a moment.

The broad theme of social care drew more interest than I’d expected. I think I always assume that there’s little interest in our work in the ‘town hall’ because we don’t get much feedback and feel a bit distant – especially as I’m seconded into a Mental Health team and can’t get my intranet/email from my local authority employers, let alone accessing any of their databases!

I kind of suspect that they forget we exist so even by proxy turning up at broad ‘local government’ themed events maybe tips a few people off that we are out there, visiting people in their homes every day and actively conducting local authority business, implementing the  policy decided in offices and being a crucial contact between the citizen and the organisation.

A lot of opportunities exist at present in the context  of the recently published Adult Care White Paper which pushes a ‘digital by default’ agenda to local authorities in terms of ensuring information is well propagated beyond those who are ‘eligible’ for care services. There are also increasingly going to be stronger pushes forward to ‘ratings’ sites and responses being collated into information that is vibrate and responsive rather than static.

So where is this work going to fall? Will it be a task given within a back office in commissioning or communication departments? Probably.  I made a plea that there is some involvement from the frontline services that currently exist and hope at least that will be considered in parts.

In some ways health are further ahead with more useful information sites and some of those will be rolled out into social care including 111 telephone response services  – I wonder if local authorities really know what they have been tasked to provide at this point.

Social care is an area where work and progress can make an immediate and active positive impact on the lives of those who might not be those who are shouting loudest.  Broadening commissioning will help, as explained in the White Paper and that will be done by broadening conversations about commissioning and honestly about what is working badly as well as what is working well.

One day, I’d love to see some more  senior people within my own council attending events like this.

Could there be a similar event specifically around social care? I’d like to see it. There are a lot of people who have great passion for the sector but the true value in these unconferences, particularly those outside working hours, are that the people who attend are those who choose to and who want to make things better, differently.

It isn’t all about new technology and new media. It’s sometimes about those meetings, those one to one conversations and discussions by people who can inspire and jog each other to promote change in the areas they work in.

A last thought, which is to mention #lgovsm . I attended the session discussing the community that meets ‘on Twitter’ between 8.30pm and 9.30pm on Tuesdays and provides an opportunity to build discussions outside our specific areas of specialism and expertise across local government as a sector.  It was great to meet some of the people behind the conversations and I’m enthused to follow and attend these chats more regularly.

Top down and bottom up conversations are becoming more common as some of the ‘traditional hierarchies’ are being challenged by new ways of communicating–  let’s have more of the cross-sector horizontal conversations. Let’s learn in social care from health, housing, environmental health and street cleaning about ways to engage and grasp the imagination of the public and the sector in terms of promoting new ways of doing things. Let’s learn from our comms teams about how they work and operate and the stories they want to hear from us.  Let’s not hide in a ‘social care’ silo when there is so much information, knowledge, sharing and desire to share with us. Those are opportunities and they should be grasped in any and every way possible.

Let’s make social care and social work work better, but let’s also make local government and local government provided services work better all round. The two are inherently linked and I am passionately committed to being a part of a local authority that delivers the best services it can for all the citizens for whom it works – yes, my ‘specialism’ may well be social care and health but my interest is in involvement and participation at a fair broader level. Thinking ‘holistically’ needs thinking beyond the sector and that’s the joy of these events.

That’s what I learned.  That wasn’t bad for one Saturday in July. I’ll take that.

Thanks to those who organised, coordinated and sponsored this event. It was a pleasure to attend and be a part of it and like a slow cooker, I’m germinating a lot of ideas that I expect will take a good few months to bubble to the top.

Why Social Care needs Social Media

… And Why Social Media needs Social Care

This week, I was fortunate enough to attend a couple of events as a part of Social Media Week London. Ideally, I’d like to have attended more but combining evening activities with a full time job can be difficult to pace at the best of times.

The two events I went to, one about Blogging specifically and the other about use of Social Media by Nurses and Midwives were very different.

One took place in the downstairs room of a pub. The other in a flash office in central London. I’ll leave you to guess which was which.

Both had an underlying theme though – and that was the positive value of conversation and interaction that is entered into when media becomes social media.

It left me thinking about what needs to change both in Social Care (and more specifically, Social Work) to enable the positives to be accentuated while both practitioners and users of these services remain safe and within professional boundaries.

I considered the three networks than can improve work practice. How I use them and how they can be used.

Professional to Professional

We can build networks of conversation across social work and social care which can enhance knowledge and professional practice. Some examples of this might be both Twitter Chats (#swscmedia #sm4sw #nurchat) but also networks built based on forums such as Community Care’s CareSpace, KnowledgeHub and their specific interest groups relating to Social Care (I’m in a few Mental Health and Safeguarding Adult Groups) and the GSCC forum which is locked to those registered to the GSCC. There are also LinkedIn networks such as the Advanced Social Work Practitioners Network and Groups on Facebook such as the Masked AMHP page.

These have and can be immense sources for support and information. I believe they can also, particularly useful in a profession like social work which has been poorly served by ‘leaders’ who may seem sometimes more focussed on self-aggrandisement than professional representation they can firm up a professional identity and sense of ‘belonging’.

There is also a much freer flow of information between university academics and researchers and front line practitioners which has allowed me access and information about the most current research which has significantly fed into my practice knowledge and understanding.

Within these criteria these spaces are usually inhabited by those who are aware of professional codes of ethics.

In the absence of such specifics, it is obvious that even behind a closed network, no confidential information should ever be shared and that bullying of other users is just as unethical as it would be in ‘real life’. Hiding behind an anonymous user name does not excuse poor conduct. I’ve seen all these ‘precepts’ being broken by people professing to be ‘professionals’ online.

Professional to User and Vice Versa

I’m being a bit lazy with use of the distinction between ‘professional’ and ‘user’. Not least because it is entirely possible to be both. However the context in which I am referring to this here is where a personal self-identifies as someone within a particular profession and someone (not necessarily known to them) may seek them out for guidance on the basis of that professional role.

It might be a general call out for information on aspects of the Mental Health Act (1983 as amended 2007). I know I’ve responded to those kinds of requests on Twitter.

However in the absence of specific social media guidelines from the GSCC, I refer to those used by the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) about not using social media or social networking sites to build or pursue relationships with people for whose care you are responsible or were ever responsible.

Though social media can be used to share information and we shouldn’t be afraid to signpost information. One of my sadnesses (and joys) was to hear about nurses talk about positive use of social media to inform and share factual information to people who might find it more accessible.

Some twitter chats and fora again open up to users and professionals in different ways but if they do and if they are intended to, I think it’s important that they are accessible and open to users by remaining jargon free and informative rather than building further divides in both knowledge and power between those who work in social care and health and those who need those services.

Multi-Disciplinary Forums

This was one area I’d have liked to discuss in more length at the Nursing and Midwifery Council event because for me, it’s been one of my sharpest learning curves in social media and my own professional development.

Too often we hear about ‘health’ ‘social care’ being divided and these social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Blog platforms, Forums, LinkedIn and I could go on, allow me to build links with those in health, and policing, and law and communications and for us all (I hope) to grow more knowledgeable and understanding as a result.

I’ve personally benefited immensely from the Twitter Chats at #nhssm and ‘#lgovsm as well as #polmh from Mental Health Cop. I have found in my professional life that silos are best broken by personal relationships which are made and formed and being able to see these ‘other professionals’ as people before representatives of ‘Nursing’ or ‘Occupational Therapy’ or ‘Social Work’ or ‘Ambulance Staff’ or ‘Academics’.

This is a real way that social media can benefit understanding in the delivery of better care for those who use and need our services and that has to be the outcome that we are all looking for.

And of course, my own witterings at Not So Big Society involve a collaborative element between social workers and nurses!

The Future

There’s a well known saying that the past is another country but then, so is the future. I think the future is very exciting. I’d love to see the College of Social Work establish some guidelines for professionals in the use of social networking in similar lines to the NMC.

I know that we should be able to extrapolate out these guidelines from the current Code of Practice but I feel that more guidance is needed to protect social workers and social work students as well as users of social work services – for clarity and to ensure and promote safe practice.

In the meantime, I’ve said it before and will again, pseudonym or not, be sensible. If you identify yourself as a professional, behave like you. Blog, Tweet, Link as if your name was attached. If you are not happy with that, think about what you are posting/writing before you press send.

Connecting

The title of this blog is ‘Connecting Social Care and Social Media’ and this post by the excellent Mental Health Cop reminded me of the importance of the very first word, ‘connecting’.

What is it that needs to be connected or more importantly who is it that needs to be connected? This, for me, is one of the key factors in my continued use of social media outlets.

What is the appeal of the social over the mainstream? It’s the connections that we make. It is the connections that can have higher barriers to climb in less egalitarian settings.

As someone who has been working in social care for more years than I’d like to relate, I can see tangibly how these connections have improved my own practice and how they have the potential to change the landscape in social care (as well as other areas) for many years to come.

We are on the precipice of changing paradigms of communication and it is exciting but it’s important that we remember it that the goal is ‘connecting’ not talking.

Who do we connect with?

We begin to connect with each other. We find others who do similar things to us or who work in similar ways or who have similar politics. People in ‘our worlds’ who we can relate to and have easier conversations with and with whom we can share news stories, information or chatter.

Then we connect with people who might work in similar or related fields – the police, lawyers, academics, doctors, nurses but also those within the public sector who are linked to us whether in private organisations or the public sector – by connecting social care with social media we can explain the stories behind the headlines and the role and importance of social care in the fabric of a functioning society.

Most importantly though, we connect with those who use the services we provide. I have seen a drift towards a professionalism in social work which is all very good but it should never come at the price of building barriers between ‘professionals’ and stakeholders in the profession. I see the ability to communicate more freely and openly with those who use the services we provide to be one of areas to promote social work.

How do we connect?

‘Social Media’ is more than a blog, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Social Media is a means of communication which allows more accessible two-way dialogues. It includes newsgroups, forums, social bookmarking sites. Increasingly I think we are moving to a place where sifting information becomes more valuable than finding information but the key to social media is the social. We are people behind a screen and the relationships which we make are real. I’ve met a few people with whom I’ve only had contact via a screen and made real ‘off-screen’ relationships but the dichotomy between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ is becoming harder to separate and are merging.

Why do we connect?

My perhaps oversimplistic answer is to ‘make things better’. I see faults in the systems that I work in and I want to improve them. Having conversations with experts, users who access the services, carers, colleagues in other locations, in other countries can refine thinking about planning for the future.

Social Work has been in crisis for as long as I’ve been in Social Work but I try to remain hopeful. I hope we can push the profession back towards a true advocacy role and towards the promotion of social justice. We have more tools at the ready and more voices to use.

Social Work is built on relationships. We have new ways to build these relationships and new ways to open communication channels.

Looking ahead to the new year it’s important that those in this area of work or with an interest in it, use these means to promote not just the profession but much more importantly, those who rely on social care services who are yet to find voices.

We are living in interesting times and the social care sector can’t afford to be left behind because those relying on it need these voices. Not all, of course, many users are far more adept than most professionals but I work in an area where there are a lot of the quieter voices who ‘don’t want to make a fuss’. I see it as a part of my professional ethics to provide, promote and advocate for those who might not be replying to government consultations or participating in user-led groups.   I also see it as a professional duty for me to take responsibility for my own learning and to understand the world and the ways it is changing better.

While ‘social media’ isn’t a panacea – perhaps ‘connecting’ is. We need more connections and this is another tool to use to connect.

Social Media and Social Care/ Work Education

Social Media

In advance of the SWSC media ‘Twitter Chat’ on the use of social media in social work and social care education, I thought it was a good time to pull together some of my own thoughts as a frontline social worker about using social media to learn both formally and informally and what using ‘social media’ has meant to me as a social worker and how I have practically used ‘new media’ forms to promote my own learning in the field.

While Martin Webber has written about how he uses Social Media in Social Work Education as an academic and Jackie Rafferty has given us a historical context about the use of social media (or technology as it used to be called) in social work education – I thought it would be useful to add my own insights as a current, frontline practitioner who is not currently enrolled on any formal post-qualifying programme. Education is something that we, as practitioners have to take responsibility for and ensure it doesn’t just happen ‘to us’ when we are enrolled in specific courses. Education and learning happens around us and we need to take responsibility for it ourselves to become the best and most up-to-date practitioners that we can be.

I participated in a #lgovsm chat a few weeks ago which had the use of social media in social care as a ‘theme’ and provides some interesting background to the issue as a whole, I want to explore the subject in terms of my own learning as a neonate in parts who is experimenting with a lot of different forms.

The important distinction between media and social media is conversation and two-way discussion. As a practitioner, I see opportunities to have a voice and to feedback with academics, managers and service users in ways that have not been possible before. Using these methods wisely gives us more control over the direction of our profession and the leadership that we demand, rather than allowing those self-appointed leaders whose agendas are sometimes seem to be more around self-promotion than the sector itself.

I wrote a broad post about why I think Social Workers should use social media and some of the challenges that we might face.

There is though a difference between uses for different purposes and I see my use of social media as a way to both promote my own learning through conversations and links but also to educate others about social work and social care as an ‘ambassador’ for the sector.

I want to explore the different methods I use, have tried and have found useful (or not). I’d love feedback about what others have found through their own trials and errors!

Dell Connected Classroom

Forums

Online communities and forums are some of the older types of social ‘discussions’. It was from the early days of email lists and Usenet groups that the internet sprung in those heady days before the World Wide Web had been created. The heart of these first forums – which tended to exist in academic communities (as universities had the hardware needed to run the networks) – was one of open sharing of information and discussions. Academics could ping ideas to students in universities across the world. It was about being a part of a knowledge community. In some ways, forums are the core of sharing. They allow interaction and static postings to hold information and links. Often they develop their own cultures and communities. We can look at the way Community Care’s CareSpace has grown to see that there is value in professionally based communities – but it is easy for powerful voices to ‘take over’ groups.

We can see how a useful resource is only as powerful as the members it attracts and the ways that they use it.

Forums are also generally a form of ‘top down’ trickling. Organisations/hosting companies/individuals start forums and often they create their own hierarchies but used well and responsibly, they can be one of the strongest learning and communication tools. Closed and limited forums have a particular use and it’s important to differentiate between open and closed and to find the value and strengths in each.

I am a member of an email ‘yahoo group’ devoted to the Mental Health Act and Mental Capacity Act and while there are significant ‘voices’ it is one of my best resources in keeping up to day on Mental Health and Mental Capacity Law.

But if you take anything from this post, you will check out the ‘Communities of Practice for Public Service’ and join their free discussion groups . I have gained a broad base of knowledge, access to free webinars and have found endlessly helpful groups of people in relation to social care and social work that it has been an absolute gem of information to me and helps me grow and learn as a practitioner.

More open forums, like the one at Community Care allow for different voices to join in and should never be discounted. Often the key in learning within the world of ‘social media’ is about developing skills to sort the wheat from the chaff – and to never take a disagreement personally!

Blogs

I’ve written posts at the Not So Big Society as well as here and  have to admit having a fondness for the long form post. It can help with elucidating ideas beyond short phrases and can act as a repository for groups of ideas. Communities can grow around blogs. There are many different blogging platforms but they are enormously accessible and the world of social work blogging is developing and becoming more sophisticated as the form develops. One of the joys I’ve found about both reading and writing blogs is the ability to comment in threads on posts which ‘keeps’ the conversation static.

As far as education and training go, they can be good for reflection and discussion of research and for keeping up to date with news and policy issues. The benefit of a blog is that it can be whatever the author chooses it to be and gaining immediate feedback is something that can challenge and promote and disseminate ideas.

We learn through both reading, commenting and writing. It is a potentially powerful tool for a practitioner to share their voice and insights ‘from the frontline’.

Twitter

Twitter and similar micro-blogging platforms show their strength in providing an open, democratic – if somewhat chaotic – platform for driving together ideas and information. You can challenge people directly on Twitter and you can collaborate and build knowledge, understanding and learning. This blog is a case in point as I only ‘met’ Shirley through Twitter but our connection has led to an immense amount of learning on my part.

My most positive uses of Twitter in forms of gaining knowledge are in respect to conversation and content curation. Having access to social work managers, academics, practitioners in different areas and in my own field across the world has opened up my mind to different possibilities and ways of doing things. I can ask a question about a piece of policy and receive answers from those who might have been responsible for creating it. I am pushed towards interesting articles and thoughts and I can build links with service user groups in ways that were not possible previously as power is stripped away to a great extent.

The democracy of Twitter charms and educates me. The cream rises to the top but there are limits to the medium. 140 characters. Writing concisely is an art form though and it does help sharpen the mind.

Facebook

Facebook is where the ‘eyes’ are and most people I know have Facebook pages. It is a useful tool to build groups and discussions as long as privacy settings are acknowledged. Personally, I don’t use my Facebook page for professional knowledge and growth but that’s my choice and there is no reason not to as long as you use the page as if your parents/children/boss/service user were able to read it and bear that in mind when you write. Particularly Facebook groups can be useful in particular circumstances but it’s important to remember the limits of the form. It’s easier to let down your guard if your friends are doing the same.

Google Plus

I’m going slightly left-field here and saying that I think there is a role for Google+ in education. Similar privacy issues exist as they do with all these networks but it has the ability to create ‘hangouts’ – group voice and video chat and it allows many more options to ‘group’ people and information according to whether someone is a close friend, acquaintance, work colleague or family member. Facebook has developed these but as someone who likes to separate personal from professional, it allows another platform for me.

It is still at an embryonic stage at the moment but I’ve found it useful to tinker with and think there’s potential scope if people do seek an alternative to Facebook to build connections and build conversations.

There isn’t enough traction to have promoted it as a true educational tool yet, but I’m biding my time.

LinkedIn

Personally, I’ve never really ‘got on’ with LinkedIn – I dabbled briefly but it didn’t seem to be functioning well for me. That isn’t to say it isn’t enormously helpful for others but it seemed to be very ‘top down’ in focus, building on heirarchies and I saw no benefits that I did not gain from forums. It focuses on creating a professional ‘brand’ and I’m not sure how well that fits with front line statutory social work but I can see a role for those who wish to promote their brands and ideas across more traditional business sectors. Maybe I’m just not as invested in it as others but I wouldn’t rule anything out as having potential in the future or for different groups of people.

Within the statutory setting, I’ve found the Communities of Practice far more valuable as a learning tool but that’s a personal decision that I’ve made and would be interested to hear about other experiences.

There are other means that I haven’t mentioned but these are the first that sprang to mind – please do contribute in the comments with others and with thoughts about these forms and particularly, bring up your thoughts in the Twitter Chat on Tuesday 29th November run by SWSCmedia!

There are other platforms such as Second Life that I’ve never even attempted but perhaps a game-based platform isn’t as strange an idea as it initially might sound. I suspect that might be some way off though if we’re still trying to encourage people to join forums and contribute to blogs!

SL - National Educational Technology Plan, Public Forum, 2009

Education in Social Work and Social Care has never been something I feel I should be ‘given’ by a place of learning but in order to benefit, I have to truly engage myself in the learning process and more and more, I have learnt to take responsibility for my own learning – especially as council budgets are being squeezed and access to training is limited.

Social Media gives me as a practitioner a chance to build and make my own training and education opportunities and to challenge some of the status quo about trickle down ‘drip drip’ of knowledge.

I use these different methods to inform and research my own understanding, to develop a wider range of skills that I can use in practice and to ensure I take learning seriously as a personal and professional responsibility.

We all owe it to ourselves to become the best and the most knowledgeable practitioners that we can be. Social media provides a tool. We do not need to wait to be ‘given’ knowledge but we can search it out, challenge it and benefit from it ourselves.

Use it. I know I am!

5 reasons Why Social Workers should use Social Media

Firstly, thanks to Shirley for setting up this site. It looks like an exciting space to share information about using social media for people in the social care sector.

I’m very far from a ‘pro’ when it comes to getting to grips with technology but that’s part of the reason I find the world we are living in so fascinating at the moment. Technology is a part of daily life in ways that it never was even five years ago. Yes, for some who are involved in the industry, this is all ‘old hat’ but for people like me who have always shown an interest rather than an enthusiasm, the opportunities to engage and enjoy different ways of making contact is both fascinating and exciting.

I wanted to start by writing up a few of my thoughts about the proliferation of social media and technology over the past few years and how I, as a currently practising social worker, have found them useful and why I think other social workers like me, should ‘take the plunge’.

1. Knowledge building

Last week, I wrote on the College of Social Work site about the importance of knowledge as a social worker. Knowledge isn’t static it is a work in progress. I now have access to blogs and websites that allow me to read and understand social work in a broader context and allow me to take much more responsibility for my learning and knowledge base through ‘standing on the shoulders of others’.

I can follow Twitter feeds and draw in links from those who work in different practice areas and internationally. I can follow publications through Facebook and join conversations there.

Since jumping into the ‘social media’ pool, my knowledge base has expanded exponentially. I follow the news from different countries and organisations with more interest. I can hear ‘voices’ directly from those areas affected rather than relying wholly on the mainstream media interpretations of those events. I can ‘speak’ to people in local authorities and health services and understand where my role fits in among wider systems.

I learn and I grow as a social worker but more importantly as a person.

2. Making Connections

The fact that I am writing this post now is a testament to my second point – one of making connections. I am a frontline social worker and I am not involved in any of the social work management type career path. I do my job and I hope I do my job well but I don’t have a wider ‘voice’ as relates to the ‘leaders of the profession’ or at least, I didn’t until I started to use Twitter more frequently.

Mainstream Media uses Twitter and Facebook to build stories and follow stories so ‘being there’ helps me understand how news cycles work and how journalism works and as such, it means my critical analysis about the ways that stories are put together and fed to us are sharper. The Guardian is using social media to share it’s daily newslist. Community Care has a very strong and responsive presence on Twitter and Facebook. You go where the influencers are and you can join in with the influencing.

If I say pertinent things, people will listen but it isn’t just about making connections with those who are influential in much easier ways, it is also, perhaps far more importantly, about making connections with those who use services in very different ways and learning directly about what makes a good social worker from people who have met many bad social workers. It makes my practice more person-centred and gives me a voice in dimensions that would not have been possible in previous generations.

I also think of people who might be affected by disability or illness who are able to make broader connections to feel less isolated. I have been involved in providing direct payments for people to include use of PC and broadband connection.  I was told it would improve the quality of life of the service user and carer and  I experience it so I understand it.

This is going to become much more common. As  I connect with people who use the services not directly by me but in similar settings in other areas of the country and in other service areas. When we connect in the  social sphere, I learn and I understand better  and it will make me a better practitioner as a result, I have no doubt of that.

3. Building conversations

Connections are built on relationships and they are grown through conversations and one of the real bonuses I’ve noted recently are the ways that conversations can grow – either planned, like the Twitter Chat from SWSCMedia or on an improvised basis around particular topics. Facebook and Google+ are also good spaces for more extensive discussions to develop and extend beyond the 140 character limit that Twitter imposes (which has both advantages and disadvantages).

The great thing about ‘Twitter Chats’ or any chat that takes place in the open ‘social’ space is that it allows anyone from students, users of services, heads of services and run of the mill practitioners to join in, speak to each other and contribute – a real stride on the path towards equal voices being heard and a true revolution in terms of the way that information is shared and the way that knowledge can be shared.

4. Constructing and Reinforcing a Professional Identity

Social Work suffers from a image problem. Social media and non-traditional media offer us – as social workers – an opportunity to really reclaim that image without having to rely on organisations or management to do it for us. We do that by using this media responsibly and building links with service user organisations. We do this by sharing the work we do and the way we do it according to our ethical standards and by emphasising that one individual’s bad experience with a particular social worker does mean the whole profession is rotten.

We can explain and expand on what we do and why we do it directly with the mainstream media when we haven’t been given space to in the past. We can prove that it is a valuable and honourable – but oft-ignored profession – which is worthy of respect.

Social Workers are all about Social Networks. We use theories to explain relationships and networks so we have to use them too and prove we can use them successfully.

Social Networks are useful to me because they make my world bigger. They can also be very useful to the people I work with and if I am going to meet people where they are, sometimes that will be (and more increasingly so) the ‘social space’ created by technology.

5. Building Support and Resilience

I’m fortunate enough to have very supportive managers and colleagues but I’ve worked in situations where that hasn’t been the case and it can feel very isolating. Sometimes it feels like no-one can understand the stresses and pressures of the job as much as someone who is actually doing it and social media allows us ways to make contact, from home, both with other social workers who can share their own knowledge and experiences but also with our own friends who we might not have as much time to see as we would like.

We can remain in touch with our support networks and build new support networks which can help us understand what are acceptable and unacceptable expectations by our managers and find ways to talk to each other about things we find difficult (but always remaining conscious of confidentiality issues).

And sometimes, all you want to do is browse kitten photos to lift your mood.

It is important to have fun and have interests away from work – to chat about Strictly Come Dancing or follow the X Factor or to post, yes, .. kitten photos!

I’d be interested to know other reasons. These aren’t meant to be definitive and this is an area I’m interested in exploring and continuing to explore.

The point of this is to learn from others so please do share reasons and examples of positive uses for social media platforms!