My first week at York
I’m not usually inspired to write about my diary, but this week has been quite exceptional and renewed my faith in the future of mental health social work.
My first day in the employ of the University of York was spent in multiple meetings in London. An advisory group meeting for the Connecting People study confirmed that we are heading in the right direction. We discussed the findings of our three systematic reviews. The studies we reviewed had generally positive findings and we confirmed that the components of many of the interventions we reviewed could be found in our Connecting People Intervention. However, the reviews highlight the paucity of rigorous evaluations of social interventions that aim to enhance the social connections of people with a learning disability or a mental health problem (hence the need for our study). We are currently writing up the three reviews for submission to journals later in the autumn. Elsewhere in the Connecting People study, we are continuing the training (see below) and beginning data collection. With a recruitment target of 240 by the end of next January it will certainly be a busy time for the research team!
Monday also saw my first supervision session with one of three new PhD students. At York I will be developing a mental health social work research group and my three PhD students will make a valuable contribution to our work. Each are conducting empirical studies which will provide new evidence to inform social work practice. I will blog about them in due course to generate discussion and maximise their impact on practice.
Also on Monday we moved forward with the systematic review for the personalised care in mental health feasibility study. To ensure rigour we are applying strict inclusion and exclusion criteria to help us to make clear conclusions about the state of the international evidence base for personal budgets and self-directed support. Searching for relevant papers which meet the inclusion criteria is a lengthy process, but it ensures rigour and enhances the generalisability of our findings.
On Tuesday I had the opportunity to meet my new colleagues in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at The University of York. Everyone was very welcoming and I was quickly made to feel at home. With boxes unpacked in my office and my PC switched on, I was ready to go! I met the social work team in a meeting to plan a professional development group to help students apply research and theory to practice in their placements. I look forward to meeting the students in the context of these groups as I believe it is vital that university social work departments and social work placements achieve a greater degree of synergy to assist social work students integrate academic and practice learning. I was also able to catch a Social Policy Research Unit seminar on the barriers to research having an impact on policy and practice.
Meanwhile, the discussion about s.136 continued apace. More comments were made on my blog posts and the inimitable Mental Health Cop blogged about the notion of ‘appropriateness’ in s.136 detentions. Responses to his post argue that mental health crisis services should be doing more to responding to mental health crises instead of leaving it to the police. There is clearly a need for more work in this area. All the practitioners across the country I’ve spoken to this week agree that mental health crisis services are not functioning effectively and more needs to be done to reduce the need for police involvement in mental health care.
The final three days of the week were spent undertaking Connecting People training. This comprises two or three days training (usually separated by a week) on the intervention model and activities which challenge practitioners to consider how to apply it in their everyday work. Firstly, on Wednesday, we were in Gillingham with the West Kent Early Intervention Service (EIS). They participated in the ethnographic component of the Connecting People study – their practice contributed to the model itself. Needless to say, they were well versed in where we were coming from and what we were talking about. Interestingly, the training group was composed predominantly of health staff as the social workers in Medway have been withdrawn from the multi-disciplinary team. I think this is a missed opportunity as this EIS appears to be undertaking highly effective social work – it’s just a shame that it’s not by social workers.
On Thursday, we travelled up to Derby to train mental health social workers in the model. The following day we were in Boston, Lincolnshire, to also talk to social workers about it. In both instances the social work professional lead and their practitioners were seeking practice models to count as their own. They were looking for ways to say to health colleagues and senior local authority colleagues “This is what mental health social work is all about” in order to define their role and argue for their continued existence. It is rather depressing that this has to happen but, without the evidence for the effectiveness of social work practice in mental health services, this is happening up and down the country. Both local authorities are reviewing their partnership agreements which may change the relationship social workers have with their NHS mental health colleagues, so this is a crucial time for them.
I was heartened by the way these experienced practitioners warmed to the Connecting People model. They said that it accurately described good social work practice, which has been overcome by care management and care co-ordination processes. I saw the rekindling of little flames of passion for mental health social work during these sessions. Even cynical practitioners who usually give trainers a hard time spoke favourably of the model and appeared keen to implement it in their work. Furthermore, for a profession not renowned for its interest in empirical research, I was excited by the enthusiasm from social workers for the Connecting People study. When I began the study I set out to enhance the evidence base for mental health social work practice. With the support of practitioners such as those I have met this week, this goal comes one step closer.