I was at work today and got a text from Fran saying that her social worker had come, unannounced. I froze. Getting a message like that from Fran is one of the few things that will stop me in my tracks and worry.
Before I go on, let me be clear as to what the purpose of this blog is (and is not) about. It is not about having a go at social workers, the majority of whom in my experience, do a great job in increasingly impossible circumstances due to the chronic underfunding of social care (gotta love those Tories, he says, with deep sarcasm!) It is though to show how as a disabled person, that there is very little that is private, and answering deeply personal questions is the norm.
I was annoyed. The social worker had come unannounced. This is not unusual for this to be the case. It was an important visit too, so I was frustrated that I could not be there to support Fran. The potential power that social workers can have over your life is scary. A few strokes of a pen can radically alter your life, especially in the aforementioned financial climate when everyone is under pressure to save money at any cost. We have not long (well, I say this, 9 months in!) moved house so that has the potential to change *everything.* Luckily it did not.
The funding for social care has come under particular stress, especially after the closure of the ILF at a time when Local Authority budgets are under unprecedented pressure. Following a drastic reduction in Fran’s support we’d written to our local MP who had investigated the matter for us. Surprise surprise, the interest of the MP meant that the initial decisions were reviewed and Fran had escaped with much less severe cuts, which she has still noticed, but is able to get by.
Given this backdrop I was relived when Fran said that the social worker had discussed her funding with her and it was staying the same. I wasn’t sure whether this would be the case, particularly as it was a new social worker. Fran and I tend to struggle a bit with social workers. Our lifestyle just doesn’t ‘fit’ with the way ‘the system’ works. Basically it is set up on the assumption you don’t work so things are more difficult if you do (how wrong is that?!) and Fran tends to be about the only one on the social workers current case load who actually works. The social workers we have seen just aren’t used to dealing with that and the way we lead our lives.
All of which goes to show how scary it is when a social worker comes calling, even with the nicest of social workers. And that is for us…when we have 5 degrees between us and an understanding of how ‘the system’ works. I really don’t know how people who struggle to have their own voice are able to navigate the system. Mind boggling in so many sad ways. Then the questions start..being asked about every aspect of your life from how you wash and go to the toilet to asking for your bank balances to see how your money is spent. This is all par for the course, and the social worker has their job to do but can feel really intrusive.
Next comes the revelation that Fran’s referral for an Occupational Therapist is 18 (yes 18) months overdue. In theory it should take six weeks. That’s one long six weeks. We have moved to a bungalow which is much more accessible but in the mean time Fran has been showering on a garden chair and struggling to get in and out of the house. You try to find workarounds (hence the garden chair in the shower!) but these aren’t always great for your self esteem or morale!
So, another social work visit safely negotiated. Fran even told them that we were thinking about having kids and the social worker managed not to fall off her chair in shock. That’ll bring a whole other set of questions assessments and visits as, if and when we decide to take the plunge. That challenge can wait for now.
I know its easy to say but it shouldn’t be like this. Social care and social work is on its knees and struggling to cope. There has to be a better way to support people.