The good disciple method of social care.

Summary

Drawing on parallels between early Christian/Jewish Disciples and current social care education settings. I explore the notion that teachers/educators/advocates place too much emphasis on reading, writing, publishing papers, attending conferences and web events …. to the detriment of good practice.I look at how to become a follower and put the ‘DO’ back into social work and personalised care.
Re written from an article I self-published in 2011.

Introduction

I was drawn to an article back on 2011  responding to a person who asked “Can we trust the message in the Gospels of Christianity”.  They were concerned that the biblical events were written down quite some time after they occurred. The reader wanted to know if they are truthful / accurate having being passed on by word of mouth initially.

 sermon on the mount
What surprised me was that the response to this article made me instantly think of how people learn and share information today – particularly within social care systems.
Throughout the early history of most cultures, information was passed on to generations of people through drawings, stories, dance, music, narrative, observation – long before written communication developed or became the main method or data preservation. People passed on skills through none written methods – and very effectively and accurately over thousands of years.
We might do well to relook at how  we learn and take it back out of the classroom and into real life.

I am going to highlight two of the parallels. 

It’s a cultural thing – we place heavy value on written works in the 21st century.

“Jesus never thought it important to scribble down a scroll of his greatest thoughts and leave them for posterity…. We live in a world where every leading thinker, teacher, politician … is in a desperate rush to record their views, insights and opinions for the benefit of the rest of humanity”. [Christianity Magazine: accessed 8 SEP 2010].

More often than not I was asked, as a social work educator/lecturer, to read and soak up every Green Paper, White Paper, policy document, book, journal article, news story / media article there was and condense it into a training session ‘to inform staff of the most important parts’ on some topic to do with social care.

I was asked to condense everything there is to know about Direct Payments or personal budgets into a few hours training time and spit out fully confident and knowledgable staff ready to convert those that live in the sin of dependency!

Social work students are told to read, read and read …. then listen, listen and listen again to lectures. Yes, placements occur – but they come with the burden of a whole stream of documentation and ‘writing it up’ or examining people on a well written essay. Those who are qualified are over burdened with forms and reports – spending less and less time actually visiting and getting to know and understand a clients situation.

We read and write ourselves to death. We Tweet, we blog, we Scope, we update our status and we think we are doing humanity a favour. We like to display our knowledge – our power. We like to think we are important and the more people who follow our blogs the more it boosts our ego? The more reTweets we get, followers whom we gather the more we show that we rub shoulders with the best? Is this networking or merely boosting our ego over and over again. I’ve seen a lot of ‘I shared it first’ syndrome and so many blogs are just a regurgitation of the same old thing – within social care information its no different.

We need to share information and learn from the best – but does our use of communication risk dragging us down and making us less productive or useful than ever?

I would rather a social worker who can DO rather than one who makes notes of every detail beyond the call of duty. Unnecessary details. Did my care plan really need to document I had 4 guinea pigs? Apparently it did.

We all know ‘form’ syndrome is not helpful. I would rather an adult service manager who demonstrates their management abilities other than to spend all day writing more sets of instructions to follow. I’d rather they acted on what they knew – and didn’t just pride themselves in being able to quote great chunks of disability theory at some higher level. Name dropping Finkelstein or Beresford during every conversation is not helpful – and I’ve known quite a few managers who have done this in the past.

Be a follower

The ancient way was for followers to have a relationship with their rabbi (and fellow learners) to do just that – follow every footstep, observe every practice.

“They watched their rabbi’s every move, noting how he acted, thought, responded in every given situation. They worked passionately to incorporate his actions and attitudes, as well as his words, into their lives. A disciple’s deepest desire was to follow their rabbi so closely that they would start to think, and act, just like him.”

We can take a lot from this. Social workers do not appear to get paired up with someone who is a good teacher – someone who is passionate and can show them what doing a good job looks like.  I saw new social workers who were being teamed up with others who were already tired and worn down to the ground. They barely had enough time to do their own work never mind support a new person. It’s that old expectation to hit the ground running – on your own.

Let’s look at personalisation, people have been given new jobs, new roles, new responsibilities and often a new place to work from (or working from the boot of a car). There is nobody to follow, learn from, observe because what they are being asked to do is like nothing they have ever done before. Social work and health care staff are left to rely on trying to fit in more reading or go to snapshot training events – and we wonder why personal budgets / health budgets are not happening for people.

Don’t just write about it – do it. There is no movement without ‘move’.

Christianity, like many other faiths, is a ‘living faith’. I always think it’s what you do on a daily basis that is important and not how many times you have read the Bible or been inside a Church. The way we live our lives is something that we can pass down to our children or be a role model for others – we are all teachers in that respect (for better or worse).

This passing down of knowledge, attitudes and behaviours is what occurred prior to the writing of the Gospels. The importance of passing down knowledge in many ways (song, dance, art, stories etc) can be found in many cultures whether it is how to prepare a ceremonial feast or skilling someone up to find food. You won’t find a twenty page policy on why the skill is needed, what the aim is, how to do it, who can do it, what not to do and a glossary of other notable texts to substantiate the document. What was important for a rabbi was:

“whether his apprentices had wrestled and engaged with his teaching on a personal level – did they really understand”. As opposed to whether they could recite chunks of text.

How true is that of social work? Many people recite the social model of disability but clearly have not understood it because of the resulting action or inaction? How many social work staff can recite ‘freedom, choice, control, flexibility, dignity’ in care yet fail on all accounts to make it a reality for disabled people?

It is all evidence that people have not successfully engaged with the ethos and practice of good social care. Staff are still refusing a disabled person who wants to spend their funding (personal budget) on going to a hairdresser – yet allow the same amount of money to be spent on a carer to wash the person’s hair at home because that is more ‘traditional’ or ‘familiar’. For those who can’t see their errors in thinking, throwing social care staff into a listen and learn environment or telling them to read something is not likely to work. They need to become a follower again. It’s uncomfortable, it strips you of your power – but it is needed. It is from this position that we build ourselves up just as the disciples did, to the point where we become the one who teachers the next generation and each other.

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