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Schrödinger’s Cat, Pandora’s Box and the Duty Social Worker….

December 1, 2011

I started this blog to give insights into the world of social work. While a lot of the time it is a place for me to vent, I do want to try and share the job with those not familiar with it,  share how it feels to be on the coal face of child protection. Having looked at a day in court already, I felt it might be interesting to share that first home visit to a new referral.

The office receives referrals from a variety of sources, phone calls from schools or concerned relatives, Garda Notifications, faxes of standardized forms a youth projects has pulled from Children First. Each one needs to be followed up at least in some way. While some can be dealt with on first sight, and hopefully closed or passed to another area, some do need a greater response, including  if appropriate, an unannounced home visit, calling to the house and knocking on that door with no prior appointment.

Social work predominantly deals with families at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, dealing with neglect, alcohol abuse and drug use. Invariably as the social worker you find yourself standing outside a house or a flat owned by the local council, in a rundown deprived area. The street is well known to the office, half the street has been referred in at one point or another, usually more neglect, drugs, and alcohol. This is the real presence of poverty and social exclusion. Often the house will be unkempt, with what passes for a garden overgrown with weeds and rubbish. Discarded bags, cans, washing machines, even broken down cars littering the front. Not every house in the neighborhood will be like this, some will be but not all. Nevertheless, the house you have received concerns about probably is.

You stand there, a fish out of water, because while the client list is dominated by the lower end, the staff list is very much from the middle of the socioeconomic scale. This is not a criticism, it’s just a fact. Some social workers deal with this better than others, some handle it so bad you wonder how the hell they can continue to be a social worker if that are so disgusted by the reality of our clients’ lives. There are enough other things to fuel your anxiety though. The uncertainty of what you’re going to find on the other side of the door. Will they be strung out, or aggressive, or violent? Will there be a child at immediate risk and in need of a section 12? On top of all this weighs your statutory responsibility, and the defensive practice that goes with it; will this a family you will be talking about in front of some future inquiry into social work failures? Again some deal with this better than others, some are so used to working in this mix that it becomes normal and seeps into the rest of your life, others an anxious wreck every home visit. Depending on your confidence in your own skills, standing there on the doorstep is when you most question yourself as a practitioner and ability to get the job done.

As you ring that door bell one of two things can happen. First is nothing. This is the Schrödinger’s cat moment. Sure you can get the hell out of there, you have a one line case note (Home Visit – No Answer at door) and you leave it for the next duty worker. However, this is when the anxiety steps up. What IS on the other side of that door, is it a baby at immediate risk? Is it a child home alone? Is it a mother too wasted to answer the door? You can’t know until that door opens, and until it opens anything is possible. The second thing is the door could open, and the social worker lifts the lid on Pandora’s box to have a look inside…..

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Eoin permalink
    February 4, 2012 08:51

    Well done. Great article, sensitively written. It’s our own fault that no one knows what we do, and you’re setting that right. Keep up the good work.

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