A few months ago, I was talking to a social worker. She was telling me about a man called Peter that she had worked with. She told me that Peters relationship with balloons (as in the ones you see at a birthday party etc) is a critical feature of his life. She went on to explain how in agreeing the support plan with Peter they made the balloon central to everything. She then told me about when she had to articulate this support plan in Court and how she really got into her stride talking about the importance of the balloons and how without this Peter would very much struggle to function. She explained to the court that without this relationship with balloons the restrictions on this person’s liberty would be so severe that they would, in her opinion, leave the person bereft, at risk of behaving in a manner which would challenge the service and prone to increased social control in response which would likely including two to one staffing being imposed on him.
The social worker explained how she had ensured that others in the multi disciplinary team recognised the importance of balloons to Peter, as strange as the concept was to them and how some had struggled with the idea of balloons and how some had tried to divert Peter from balloons for many years. Peter had a good life and was happy but clearly he was happier because balloons where in his life. Yes, his life may be enhanced by a partner, children, increased social opportunities, and all that was for the social worker to continue working with Peter on. But for now, Peter, who was subject to a Deprivation of Liberty, was significantly emotionally attached to balloons.
The Judge listened to the evidence provided by the social worker and nodded throughout her testimony. At the end the judge said to the social worker, ‘If Peter’s world is, as you say, so wrapped up in the world of balloons, why then is there no mention of balloons by the Section 12 approved doctor and the Expert Witness, who is a psychiatrist?’. The social worker said ‘because they are both experts of Peter’s health condition. However my observation is that they have never taken the opportunity to get to know Peter as a person. If you know Peter, you know his world revolves around balloons’. The judge smile and said ‘quite’.
In my experience I have found it common for Social Workers to significantly struggle to articulate what they do. In the example of Peter and the balloons how do you wrap that up in a competency or a task or a function of a role? Understanding the relationship between an adult man and inanimate colourful, party accessories isn’t something that can necessarily be defined. In terms of our work across health and social care understanding the issue of Peter and the balloons and using that to help secure his happiness and minimise state intervention in his life does not neatly sit near a healthcare procedure, an assessment form or a three conversation model. The skill of social work comes from the critical understanding of the social worker, who is then able to explore the relationship to such an advanced level where they can passionately advocate for the protection and upkeep of that unique relationship in court is exactly the whirly and almost too abstract, just out of your minds eye, not quite able to put a finger on it, beauty of social work when we get it right.
Happy New Year to Everyone from all at Last Quango In Halifax and thank you for all your support, contributions, reads, comments and tweets over the year.