Reflective Analytic Study
I was given the opportunity to work with a fourteen year old girl, whom I shall refer to as ‘S’. She is the eldest daughter of a lone female parent with alcohol misuse problems. Her mother and younger sibling were previously referred to the agency and as a result are now receiving support. S also has a thirteen year old brother who receives support from agencies relating to the youth justice system. In light of this S had been perceived as coping well socially and academically at school and within her family home.
However as work progressed with her mother, my practice teacher felt that S was taking on a lot of responsibility and was perhaps internalising the emotions this was creating. She had also been reported on a previous occasion to the social work department on a suspicion that she was a young carer. During supervision with my practice teacher, I was referred the case and the purpose and content of my role was discussed. It was agreed that I would take on a therapeutic role with S, allowing her the opportunity to express her emotions in a safe and secure environment (Catchpole, 2006).
In relation to tasks or aspects of work being carried out, I discussed my preference of using a partnership approach, where the worker and service user work together to solve problems (Thompson, 2002b). I viewed this approach as being appropriate considering the service user’s age and developmental stage. Catchpole (2006) states that adolescents are “beginning the long process of change from dependence to independence” (p. 0) and therefore I felt that it was important to include S in all decision making processes regarding our work together as this would promote a sense of empowerment and self-determination within her (Banks, 2006). I was aware that there would be a clear distinction of the power dynamics between us as I am an adult (Catchpole, 2006); therefore I took this approach to ensure S felt that her views and opinions were being respected which promotes anti-oppressive practice (Thompson, 2006). Through the effective use of supervision with my practice teacher I was able to obtain various forms of background information on S and her family.
This is an important aspect of the assessment process as it helps to form a picture of the family and provides the worker with an invaluable insight into the family dynamics and background (Thompson, 2002b). Therefore, during the initial stages of the assessment process, which I followed in accordance with the guidelines set out by the Scottish Executive, (2008), I accessed the initial referral form made by social work to my placement organisation, and the subsequent assessment conducted by my practice teacher of the family.
My practice teacher and I, then performed a mapping exercise similar to that of the KIT Model (Collingwood, 2005) which identified possible areas of concern for S and the theories which would help inform my practice with her, such as, Attachment Theory (Thompson, 2002b), Resilience Theory (Newman, 2002) and Lifespan Development (Bee & Boyd, 2003).
With relation to the legal and policy context which informed my practice with S, I was aware that the suspicion of her being a young carer raised issues relating to child protection, under the Children (Scotland) Act 1989, as the Act defines a child in need as one who has caring responsibilities (Gibbons-Wood, et al. , 2008, p. 81). Colton et al. (2001) conducted research which suggested that the Act covers three categories of children in need of services, these are: Children who are not likely to maintain ‘a reasonable standard of health and development’ without services; children whose health and development are likely to be ‘significantly impaired’ without services; and children with a disability”, (p. 88). They also highlight that the term “need is very broad and lacks adequate guidance on how a practitioner should define the term”, (p. 88). I believe S falls into the second category as she has a lot of responsibility at a very young age which is perhaps not appropriate for her developmental stage (Wilson, et al, 2008).
I am aware that due to her position as the eldest child and the fact that she is female she is socially constructed to take on this caring role and the responsibilities which it entails. As statistics show, young female carers’ are more common than males, this was concluded from three national surveys conducted in 1995, 1998 and 2004; that state that over half of these carers’ (from 6,000) were from single-parent families and looking after ill or disabled mothers, (Wilson, et al. 2008, p. 447). Information, which I believe, is directly relevant to S, as she has a brother close to her own age that does not seem to have the same level of responsibility. I had sufficiently prepared for contact and gained enough background information to begin engaging with S, therefore my practice teacher organised a suitable date to visit with S and her mother, which provided me with an opportunity to make proper introductions and inform her of my role and purpose.
S was very keen to accept my support and repeatedly stated how important it was to her to have someone to talk to. I also explained the purpose and content of the organisations confidentiality and sharing of information agreement, which S signed. I believe I provided S with enough information for her to make an informed choice of accepting my support (Banks, 2006). I think I provided S with a sense of empowerment, as she was able to make a choice independent of her mum which according to Crawford and Walker (2003) is appropriate for her developmental stage.
I communicated with S in an age appropriate manner suited to her age and stage, as I ensured she understood what I was saying by asking her to reiterate what I had informed her of in her own words (Wilson, et al, 2008). The reason for this was to ensure she fully understood my role, purpose and the length of time we would be working together, it was also important as I was aware that S was receiving additional support from the Learning Network at school.
Reflecting on the initial visit with S I would conclude that it went very well, as she engaged effectively with me, disclosing lots of information which was conducive to good relationship building (Thompson, 2002b). I was given the opportunity to concentrate on my reflective listening skills whilst visiting with S; however this was perhaps mainly due to the fact that I felt a little overwhelmed by the amount of information she was disclosing to me in such a short period of time.
She discussed her mum’s alcohol misuse and how it affects her, and disclosed to me that her mum had been sexually abused as a child and suffered subsequent domestic abuse by her ex-partner, who is the father of her youngest daughter. S also spoke about the death of her father in 2000 and the loss of her extended family as a result. S was very capable and articulate when expressing these emotions in accordance to her stage of development (Wilson, et al, 2008). I was aware that in order to build a good working relationship with S I had to allow her “to express her views and feelings as freely as possible” (Wilson, et al, 2008, p. 66). I found some of this information quite concerning and enquired as to how she knew this, S informed me that her mum had told her when she was under the influence of alcohol; she also stated that this is when her mum discloses lots of information to her which she would perhaps previously have not known. I did not believe that the disclosure of this information and the circumstances in which it took place were appropriate for a girl of fourteen to hear. I also did not know if it had been explained in a manner that S fully comprehended.
On reflection (Thompson & Thompson, 2008) I believe that this is a contributory factor that reinforces S’s need to offer her mother emotional support which she is perhaps not mature or experienced enough to deal with (Wilson, et al, 2008). I discussed this with my practice teacher during supervision as I identified this as a risk to S’s emotional well being (Jowitt & O’Loughlin, 2005). S stated that her mum’s drinking could result in her missing school, particularly on a Monday.
I contacted the school at a later date to verify this information, they informed me that S was a very able student whom they had no concerns with other than her attendance. I asked her how she felt about missing school as a result of her mum’s alcohol misuse, and S said that she wished her mum would stop drinking, that she prefers her mum when she is not drinking, and that she does not like having to help lift her across the street from a friend’s house when she is drunk.
On reflection (Thompson & Thompson, 2008) I believe that S is a very resilient girl who copes with the pressures of her life quite well, however, I am also aware that resilience can become exhausted and this can have an effect on a young person’s mental and emotional well being (Newman, 2002) especially if there are not enough resilience factors in place. It was clear after the initial visit that S felt the need to offload as much information to me as possible (Wilson, et al, 2008).
This did prove beneficial as it contributed greatly to the assessment process, however as our engagement continued, I had to interpret more non-verbal forms of communication with S as she was not as forthcoming as she had been in the beginning. I was aware however, through the work of Catchpole (2006) that non-verbal communication is a common trait amongst adolescents, as they can become withdrawn easily due to their developmental stage. I decided to present a KIT Model (Collingwood, 2005) on S during group supervision.
In addition to contributing to the development of my fellow students learning, it is also a useful tool to analyse and reflect on ones work. Since S had discussed issues surrounding her father’s death I knew to consult the work of Bowlby (1951, citied in Payne, 2005) as he was the founder of Attachment Theory which examines loss and separation. However, this theory has been critiqued as it is gender bias in relation to the mother-child relationship, and does not place emphasis on the father-child relationship; it has also been critiqued for being Eurocentric in nature (Thompson, 2005).
Therefore I consulted Thompson’s work on Loss and Grief (2002a) as this informs the assessment process whilst paying particular attention to the emotions individuals are dealing with when experiencing the effects of loss and grief. Since S had expressed loss in relation to her extended family I consulted her about the use of a Genogram (Colton et al, 2001) which she seemed very keen to complete. S was able to identify her extended family and was surprised to discover that she had quite a large family who provide her with varied types of support and comfort.
This realisation is apparently a common trait when using Genograms as it is a visual medium which can generate unexpected responses; it is also a more collaborative alternative to the more conventional verbal/written approaches of assessment (Wilson et al, 2008). On reflection (Thompson & Thompson, 2008) I do not believe that S has difficulties maintaining familial relationships, as she appears to have good relations with her immediate family members.
I was concerned however, about the types of role models that are present within S’s life, as my practice teacher informed me that alcohol and substance misuse is a common attribute amongst her family members. It became clear however that S could identify positive female role models within her family when completing the IAF (Scottish Executive, 2008). These females had attained well in life and S wished to emulate them. She expressed a clear vision of her own future goals, of becoming a police officer, something which I encouraged by directing her to the Strathclyde Police Website for additional information.
All information and interactions with S were recorded within the agency case file notes and the IAF (Scottish Executive, 2008) which is a useful tool used to gather information about the service user and their world using an ecological approach (Hothersall, 2006). In relation to communication and engagement I believe I used the exchange model effectively throughout my time with S, which invites the service user to tell their story, and help’s them to identify their sources of support, (Wilson, et al. , 2008). An opportunity presented itself where I could conduct some Crisis Intervention and Task Centered Work with S (Wilson, et al, 2008).
She had informed me that she was sitting her prelims at school and was finding this very difficult, as she had lost her spectacles and had not been able to replace them. She stated that the Learning Support Network at school was trying to accommodate her with the necessary resources; but she was continuing to find it difficult. I verified this with the school, which demonstrates my ability to liaise with other agencies (Jowitt & O’Loughlin, 2005), to gathering information, which will inform my practice and ensure I plan suitable interventions to maximize S’s potential.
I assessed this as a situation, which required immediate action as it would have an impact on her future goals if she failed her exams as a result. She also complained that she was finding it difficult to find a suitable place to study as her house was too distracting. I discussed possible intervention strategies with S and we both agreed that I would support her to the library and opticians the following week. This can also be viewed as a form of Task Centered work as it entails the worker and service user working collaboratively setting tasks in order to achieve set goals (Payne, 2005).
My practice teacher agreed with my plan of action and advised me to gain parental consent in order to carry out these tasks, which I did using the organisational consent form. I believe the work I conducted with S and the course of action I recommended provided her with a sense of empowerment, as she was able to achieve outcomes independently, which is appropriate according to her developmental stage (Crawford & Walker, 2003). According to Adams et al (2008) empowerment is a radical value, which enables people to have more control over their lives, which I believe is applicable to S.
On another occasion whilst working with S I was faced with an ethical issue (Banks, 2006) relating to child protection. S had informed me that her mum had a new boyfriend whom she thought was really nice. He apparently offered to buy S a laptop which she had been asking her mum to buy for some time. S seemed really hopeful of this happening, I on the other hand found it alarming, as it is unusual and concerning that a man would promise a vulnerable teenage girl such an extravagant gift when he had only just met her.
I assessed this situation as a potential risk to S due to her vulnerability. Although I followed procedure by informing my practice teacher immediately, it raised ethical issues (Banks, 2006) as I was advised to contact the allocated social worker and inform her of the potential risk, in accordance with Child Protection Legislation (Gibson-Wood et al, 2008) and Policy (GIRFEC, 2008) which I did. However, I was afraid that this action could potentially damage the relationship I had formed with S by breaking her trust and could possibly cause conflict between her and her mum.
I discussed these issues with my practice teacher who reminded me that it is the welfare of the child that is important in these situations, and that this was perhaps a situation where I was allowing my personal values to overshadow my professional ones (Banks, 2006), an insight which I knew to be right. I worked in partnership with other agencies ensuring the safety of a child deemed at risk. According to Thompson (2005) interagency communication is critical to achieving good practice, as it allows everyone involved to assess the situation together.
I also consulted the work of Hothersall, (2006) who states, that in terms of child protection one must pass on all relevant information in ‘order to prevent a child from being abused and/or neglected’ even if you feel that you ‘will offend the family by doing so’ (p. 121). Therefore, I am aware that I responded to the situation appropriately and professionally as I had previously discussed the confidentiality and information sharing policy with S ensuring she fully understood her rights.
Reflecting (Thompson & Thompson, 2008) on the case and my practice I do not believe that I would have done anything differently nor used any other approach. As I researched the case thoroughly prior to contact, and ensured I listened to S and assessed her needs accordingly. This was evident when conducting my final visit with S, which was observed by my practice teacher, as S stated that she had gained confidence through our work together and had enjoyed the things we had done, such as the Genogram, which she found very insightful.
I accessed invaluable support from my practice teacher and made the best possible use of supervision, ensuring I took on board what I was being asked to look at, in terms of theory and methods which helped inform my practice. I am aware of the debate surrounding the purpose of supervision where some people see it as intrusive or as a form of control by employers (Thompson, 2005) I however, perceive it as a very important element within practice, which I believe I would not have had the ability to develop my knowledge and skills without.
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