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Archive for July, 2011

It’s an interesting day for news.  The justice committee have revealed today that probation officers spend just 24% of their time interacting with offenders.  This has been blamed on a “tick box”, “bean counting” culture.  But the question is who sets the targets that create the culture? … A rhetorical question – it’s the civil servants responding to the MPs.  But, it’s not the same MPs as the news reports today are pointing out, the current government are blaming the last lot!  This simply doesn’t stack up, not least because ‘the current lot’ are in control when the other news story of the day was about the new policy for inspections of social workers.  Surely something like this is going to send teams into the offices to ensure all the boxes are ticked and beans are counted…

It’s really tough getting the balance right, but the way to get the best out of people is to put the most you can into them.  One of the reasons we don’t take government funding for our work is to ensure we spend as much time as possible supporting people and keep the paperwork to a minimum.  This is crucial with our service users – click the empathy exercise at the top of the page to get an idea of why people need some really intensive support to change their lives.

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Today we are going to the funeral of one of our service users.  In the ten years that I have been involved in this kind of work I have been to far too many of these.  As with any other funeral it is a time to reflect on the good memories we have, which really helps us to forget about the challenges people face and ensure we bring their humanity to the fore.

The guy whose funeral it is today was a fantastic story teller; and he had some great stories.  What I’ll remember about him is the way in which he always told his tales in such hushed tones that you had to lean in to hear him properly, it created fantastic anticipation for what you were about to hear…

The other side to this for us is how the other people we support cope with the death of a friend.  For many it is a double edged sword, not only is there the grief of a lost friend to deal with but also the reminder of how fragile their own life could be.  We aim to use this fragility as a way to power motivation to change, but sometimes it pushes people deeper into their feelings of hopelessness.

That’s why we can never lose hope!

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Listening to BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show yesterday left me feeling deflated.

In a debate about the archaic cliché “the deserving and undeserving poor” the overwhelming message coming back from callers and interviewees seems to be that we should stop giving out state benefits to those who are not deemed to be deserving of them, i.e. those who do not actively try to secure work, those who have ‘too many’ children, those with addictions and endemic social problems. 

One particular caller spoke of her belief that the children of these so-called undeserving poor were not at fault for their situation and therefore should not be deprived of the benefits afforded to their parents to care for them.   This was met by a counter argument that this was not the way to support these children…but not followed up with any productive suggestion of how the state should intervene to support them and break the cycle of poverty and benefit dependence. 

What struck me throughout this debate was people’s inability to make the link between the children in question who are often lacking in balanced diet, education and opportunities; the “deserving poor”, and the adults being described as “undeserving”.  These deserving children are the undeserving adults of tomorrow and I can’t help but wonder when and how exactly these callers and politicians will nail down the transition from one to the other?   Taking benefits away from this group of people is not going to miraculously fix society’s ills, but rather exacerbate them.   So long as we live in a society that seeks to deprive those without skills, opportunities and education, there is always going to be a need for the support workers in organisations such as Simon On The Streets.   It will be a fantastic day when there is no need for our service!

Helen, Simon on the Streets

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Today “The House of Lords science and technology committee said ministers seemed to be mistaken in their use of what is known as the nudge theory.”  ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14187802 ) Nudge theory is the idea that changes are made to the social and physical environment without legislation that encourage (or discourage) specific behaviour. One example of this would be for fast food restaurants to have salad rather than chips as the default side order.

The committee made the point that a balance of approaches should be used rather than relying solely on ‘nudging’ people.  This seems a blindingly obvious ‘finding’ for anyone who has worked personally or professionally around changing problematic behaviours.  Perhaps this is more about where power and influence truly lies rather than personal perspectives on what is a sensible approach. 

My point here is there is already a very well balanced set of approaches to something like illicit drug use where the agenda is quite simple.  The problems with balanced approaches and the use of legislation become far more complicated when things like minimum prices for alcohol and supermarket food labelling are on the agenda.  The challenge with the use of legislation here is that some influential organisations and individuals might lose money; suddenly there is apprehension about moving forward.

It’s great to see all the ‘courageous’ stands by politicians about ‘the press’ in light of the News of the World scandal.  But it seems unlikely that the same courage is going to follow through into other areas.

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According to a report out today:  “The gap between the poorest pupils and their better-off peers in struggling  schools in England is wider than in other schools, research suggests.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14082644

In schools below the national average standard a Sutton Trust study found that primary school children eligible for free school meals were half as likely to achieve their targetted standards as other pupils and by secondary school this had dropped to one third as likely.  The BBC news report commented that “these attainment gaps are significantly larger than the gaps between free school meals-eligible pupils in all schools and their peers who are not eligible for free school meals” .

It seems, from the news report, that this is to cause a high level of focus on these underperforming schools, and through them target the children who are struggling.  Although this is a necessary measure there is little or no mention of interventions outside of school.  From our experience of working with adults who have been undeperforming poverty stricken children it seems obvious that support needs to be offered in the homelife to give any chance at all of positive changes in the school life.  It’s a bit like focusing on achieving housing for a rough-sleeper without taking account of any of their other issues.  But sadly it seems by the time someone has ended up sleeping-rough or similar they are fairly used to having their life divided up into silos of support need instead of being treated as a whole person.

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The Children’s Society yesterday reported on the numbers of pre-teen runaways increasing (link below) and the risks that these young people face once they have fled their home or care. The report noted that a child runs away from home every five minutes in the UK and one in three of these will go unreported.

As a society we seem easily able to understand the impact that this type of thing has on children and how unacceptable it is that they are left in such a vulnerable position. The report also said:

“Agencies are unaware of the scale and nature of the problem and often fail to see runaways as children in need. Yet the report reveals that a quarter of them are forced to leave, often fleeing violence, abuse and chaos at home.”

For us we know these young people who miss out on a good start in life and then slip through the net of services all too often end up as adults with some fairly challenging support needs. The tough bit for us to swallow is when these people aren’t children anymore ‘as a society’ we seem to think differently. But they are the same people with the same traumatic pasts, they simply can’t be seen as ‘helpless’ anymore even though they are officially vulnerable adults.

A few hundred years ago these people were known as ‘sturdy beggars’, and were punished for begging when they were physically able to work. Today society is still obsessed with people’s physical ability to work and blames ‘choices’ to become drug or alcohol dependent adults or their irrational and problematic behaviour as the reason for their situation. As the above shows we have to get away from the physical and have more capacity to work with the emotional and psychological state if people in this situation are to find a way to reach their own potential.

http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/news-views/press-release/report-worrying-new-trends-increasing-pre-teen-and-male-runaways

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After blogging yesterday about the Local Government Ombudsman warning councils about their conduct we encountered some challenges!  The Ombudsman’s report stated:

“We may criticise councils that:
use homelessness prevention activity to block or delay the consideration of a homelessness application

insist that applicants for help with homelessness must complete a specific form, or be interviewed by a specialist homelessness assessment officer

place the burden of proof on the applicant – authorities should make their own enquiries when considering applications, or

defer taking an application because the application appears to be a non-priority – any applicant claiming immediate homelessness should be assessed on the day.”

Yesterday one of our workers was supporting a rough sleeper with many complex needs including some real health problems and pretty much got a full house on all the above, leaving him to sleep rough again last night.  The problem is that this individual (like so many others) is a vulnerable adult and very unlikely to get through a local authority’s complaint procedure – getting everything set-up right to approach for a homelessness assessment was hard enough!  Therefore cases like this will never get as far as an ombudsman making poor practice in Local Authorities very hard to root out!

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