Celebrating the paralympics

Tonight is the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics.

I have to confess, I haven’t watched as much of these Games as I did of the Olympics – in part because of the different broadcaster. I only have channel 4 and e4 on my freeview, so when coverage switched to more4 I wasn’t able to keep up – but what I have watched has just been amazing.

I’ve been so inspired by these athletes – who are showing the world that they are athletes first and foremost, and their lives are not dictated by their disabilities. I’ve also been challenged about my own preconceptions – I would love to say that I am completely non-judgemental and not prejudiced at all, but watching the Paralympics has really convicted me that while I may not discriminate against disabled people in that I absolutely agree they are equal and have the same rights as non-disabled people, I have held the view that they are limited in some way.

This is probably a very common misconception, and it’s not borne out of a nasty or vindictive spirit – instead I think that the Paralympics has highlighted that we are a nation of very ignorant people.

Margaret Maughan, who participated in the very first Paralympic Games in 1960

Fortunately there have always been people who thought differently, and recognised the extraordinary talents of disabled people. (For more about the origins of the Paralympics watch this stunning drama, the Best of Men www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01m1jqd/The_Best_of_Men/ )

I am so thankful for the dramatic change in attitude, from society then and society now. Today’s children and young people are witnessing one of the greatest sporting events ever, which shows that while someone has a physical disability, there is nothing that can diminish their potential.

During my second year of University I spent 9 months working with L’Arche, a community for people with disabilities. They were mainly over fifty, and the majority had spent a large proportion of their lives in institutions. Why? Because society said that as disabled people, they were imperfect. It was widely believed that it was better for everyone if they were hidden away. This meant that an entire generation of disabled people were kept secret, shunned and denied the chance for meaningful relationships and to achieve their full potential.

Like I said, I’m thankful for the change in attitude, and for the incredible people who have brought it about. I really hope that the Paralympics will help further the change in our society, so that in the future people will find it hard to believe that there was ever a time when disabled people were treated differently, as lesser citizens.

Hooray for the Paralympians!

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“What is it you do, exactly?”

Since the first episode of ‘Protecting Our Children’ was shown last week on BBC2 (http://goo.gl/5Uac5) I’ve had a lot of questions from friends/acquaintances asking about social work. One girl, who knows me well and therefore shall remain nameless asked me: “what is it that you do, exactly?!”

So I thought I’d spend a little time today explaining my job, since I spend the vast majority of my time working, thinking about work or recovering from work.

The simplest way to describe my role is “one row back from child protection”. Social workers like me come into play when the Child Protection work is over, or almost over.

Using the example of Toby (the child from the documentary) … he had a social worker Susannah, who had responsibility for ensuring his safety in his parents’ care. When he was removed from his parents’ care into Foster Care, he would then have become the responsibility of another social worker. This would be his Allocated Social Worker, and they would work in a Looked After Children’s Team.

I’m not one of those. My job title is “Supervising Social Worker”. We support the adults, who take care of the children.

Toby was placed with foster carers…his foster carers would have had their own Supervising Social Worker. This is a registered social worker who works for either the Local Authority (Social Services) or an Independent Fostering Agency (which is what I do)

A Supervising Social Worker is there to help the adults to give the best care they can to the child. We have a statutory duty to visit the home every 4 weeks, to provide supervision, practical advice and emotional support to the carer(s). We also meet with the children and talk with them about their experiences in foster care.

Many children placed in IFAs are there because there were no suitable options for them in Local Authority care. This could be because of ongoing child protection issues – e.g. needing them out of their local area for their own safety. More often it is because of their emotional or behavioural needs, and their having exhausted all local options for care.

Children in foster care all have their own unique ‘issues’ and difficulties. My role is to support the adult to enable them to continue providing a high standard of care to the child. If the carer is struggling, then the level of care they give is likely to suffer.

A SSW will attend meetings about the child, such as “Looked After Child Reviews” or “Personal Education Plan” meetings. Our role here is to explain our perception of the child, his/her needs, the positives and negatives that the carer has experienced in looking after him/her. Our role is directly and indirectly related to the care of the child; we ensure that the carer is doing all they can…but ultimately the ASW and the Looked After Child Team is responsible for the child, acting as their Corporate Parent.
I hope that’s a simple but clear explanation. You can read more about social work by going to http://www.gscc.org.uk and following the links.