Friday 1 May 2009

Profligate Waste and Resident Involvement Nonsense

The country is now indebted to the tune of well over a trillion pound, an unprecedented level of debt, and an enormous burden on children yet to be born. Now, with all this borrowing one would like to think that the money is going to be used wisely and on services that most reasonable people would agree are worthy and essential to the functioning of society. I'll leave it to you, the reader, to decide whether the following scenario is worthy of having a penny of public money spent on it.

A few months back I had a placement for a few weeks at a large supported housing unit with about forty residents. Quite a few agency staff had been drafted in, mostly to update files and get paperwork in order as most of the previous staff team, who had almost all been sacked, were too busy drinking with the residents to bother with the paperwork.

Writing 'support' plans that explain to members of the underclass how to go about signing on and how not to knock up your on-off girlfriend and her best friend is a thankless and soul destroying task and would lead the most virtuous to seek solace in the bottle. Socialising with residents is a massive no-no (why would anyone want to?) and having sex with them is most definitely out of the question but that didn't stop the security guard or a particular female member of staff, both now sacked. That's a whole other story.

Anyway, for the couple of weeks that I was working there, myself and my colleagues were meeting with the residents and updating their 'support' plans, as there was an imminent inspection from Supporting People (a regulatory branch of the Department of Communities and Local Government that allocate grants that keep these projects functioning).

Besides the team of six agency support workers, there was another team of three administrative staff and also three managers, all overseeing that the signatures were in the right place and that the sheets were dated and numbered correctly and that the proper cover sheets were in place in any given resident's 'support' plan. In terms of salary expenditure for all these staff, you would be looking in the region of £200-300,000 for the year. Money that could be better spent elsewhere. Pick your cause.

Meanwhile, whilst we were in the office ticking boxes and managers checked that we had ticked the right boxes so that external state bureaucrats would be happy that the right boxes were ticked, the residents were in their state sponsored bedsits getting high, drinking, missing appointments at the jobcentre, fighting and impregnating each other. It is like this in most large supported housing projects for 16-25 year olds, despite all the wonderful, expensive and well documented 'support' they get.

Now, the criteria by which the Department of Communities and Local Government evaluate supported housing projects is known as the Quality Assessment Framework or QAF as we call it in the industry. The QAF consists of many ridiculous 'performance indicators', the most ludicrous being an insistence that residents be involved in the running of the service. This can be evidenced by allowing residents to interview new staff, sit in on staff reviews, make suggestions on rules, organise events and so on. This all sounds great but you have to remember that the majority of people we deal with are dissolute and feckless individuals and giving them the impression that they have power is a recipe for disaster(Later posts will show why).

In order to evidence that the residents are involved in the running of the service I've been asked to help facilitate a meeting with them to listen to their ideas. At this meeting one of the things the residents are asked by a Senior Manager is what activities could the project provide for them to make their lives more fun. Is being drunk at noon, having multiple sexual partners and smoking joints first thing in the morning not enough fun for them?

By the end of the meeting the manager has committed to a Karaoke night and the purchasing of a communal Nintendo Wii video game. This meeting took place during the day when these young adults should have been working or training and not being interviewed by an agent of the nanny state which is now so over reaching it is even involved in helping people organise their recreational activities.

Many large supported housing projects employ what is called a Resident or Client Involvement Officer whose job is solely to bribe and coerce residents in to being involved in running the service so as to comply with the QAF. This post usually commands a salary of between £25-30k. And in the words of one Resident Involvment Officer I spoke to last year, "Any in house activity that the residents help organise is evidence of compliance with the QAF in relation to resident involvement. Last week in my project I helped the residents organise a DVD night and it was a great success. Mind you I had to put on some free soft drinks and Pizza to get a fair few residents to attend."

Of course he had to entice them out of their pot filled dens with free food. They all have TVs and DVDs in their rooms but by getting a few residents to stick up a few posters advertising a prosaic activity like watching a film he is able to tick a box entitled 'resident involvement'. It all helps to keep the funds flowing in to the project and keep the Resident Involvment Officer in a job. Nice work if you can get it and nice to know that some of the exorbitant public debt is being spent on such laudable and worthwhile initiatives.

I now await the usual comments from the Guardianista brigade telling me how worthwhile all this 'support' is.


mrfish said...

I think I'd like to get in on one of these residencies. Not as a worker but as one of the "clients". I've had enough of working, behaving and paying tax. Shagging, drinking and fighting all day long without consequence sounds quite appealing, thanks. Where do I sign up?

On a similar note though, I used to work as a community family worker. One of my clients was a single mom who'd never worked a day in her life. She lived in a brand new 4 bed council house where the toddlers' bedrooms were bigger than the living room of the house I (privately) rent. She was a chronic asmathic to the point she sometimes needed an oxygen cannister but wouldn't quit smoking. She had four kids (and one taken away by social services) - as she was judged not to be able to walk her kids to school, they got taxis there and back on the state. But because the taxis wouldn't bring mom back to her house, she refused to use them and sometimes kept her kids away from school instead. She was also banned from the school office as she had a habit of going up there shouting and swearing if they told her kids off. Part of my job was to write hardship begging letters to charities to buy her some of the white goods she hadn't been provided with free of charge by the state. I would have to write letters saying how "she was desperately trying to keep her family together in the face of her illness". The charities would often stump up and then my job would be to, yes, write the thank you letter for her, print it, stick it in an envelope and add a stamp (paid for by the tax payer of course) and send that off again.
I decided I had enough of that job when she started complaining one day that "no-one had ever given her anything".

Dick the Prick said...

Geez Mr Fish if you'd have stopped after the first paragraph I'd have laughed. My old dear fostered kids for 7 years whilst I was living there too. Funny old game.

Winston - it's £1.25 trillion and counting. Should nip along to

We're are soooo monumentally fucked it's quite unbelievable and when the cost is giving kids a bit of discipline, giving professionals a bit of trust and integrity and allowing for coherent & recognized achievements et bloody cetera - then I don't think that's too expensive.

They're shifting the argument to the state being as 'effective a parent' - WTF? If they are to be effective parents then default response to any question is 'no' or 'we'll see' it is never ever an immediate 'yes' unless you've played a bloody good shot.

Andy said...

Great blog. Please keep it up!

Anonymous said...

keep up the good work. I know its all true- that's the really scary bit!

Bill Mac said...

You know, everything you have written in all the posts I've read rings seriously true with me too. However, I want to ask this question. If we all believe that things are wrong, what are we doing to start getting things put right?

WinstonSmith33 said...

Hi Bill,

What Im going to do is train in the longe term as a counsellor and work with children and young people heading down the wrong path. I get to help some young people I work with go forward but its them that lead the way due to innate strength and insight.

Luckily, they have this because the system, both care and supported housing sets so many others up to fail. Why? Because it gives the kids and young adults too much choice and too many rights and not enough responsibility. What happens? They are too immature to deal with all the freedom they have and many of them go completely off the rails or just become feckless individuals.

I dont blame the kids and young adults but rather the system in that it doesnt give them enough in terms of boundaries and consequences. Instead, all of the focus goes on their rights and the relevant bureaucracy that is a full time job in itself evidencing that their rights in one form or another are being repected and catered for.

Look at the state of society and ask yourself does that ethos help our young grow up to be responsible and considerate adults?

I know its not all our young people that fall in to this category but many do to varying degrees.

Anonymous said...

Hi, first time I've read you- I'm 42 and thinking about changing career to social work. Any advice?

WinstonSmith33 said...

Im not a social worker as such. I do various jobs with a social care agency. I work as a Support worker in supported housing and in children's care homes. I can advise you on these jobs if thats what you are going in to. Social work has a very high turnover rate and has large amounts of vacancies for a reason. Unless you are specialising working with older people or can buy in to the underpinning left wing philosophy involved in social work I'd give it a miss. There was a senior social worker on TC the other day talking about how many of her staff are afraid to visit the homes they have to. Says it all really. Do you want fear to be part of your working life?

A Train Driver said...

Just found this blog today, very interesting (and depressing) reading.

Winston, in the blog you mention "Quality Assessment Framework or QAF".

This sounds almost as ridiculous as the "Organising for Quality" scheme we suffered in the dying days of British Rail.

That was known by everyone up to and including BR Board level as "OforQ" - say it out loud!

The railway has gotten worse since the days of OforQ, but I really wouldn't do your job for toffee, Winston, never mind the pittance people in your line of work actually get paid. Many kudos to you and all those like you who actually do try not to drown under the bureaucracy and idiocy of it all...

Unknown said...

The Scary thing is that Brown wants to give these feckless 16 yr old the right to vote!

Good job that people who can't sign on are unlikely to be bothered.

Jukechst said...

Hi Winston, as always, I love to read your blog.

You will be saddened to know I am a 'Guardianista' as you put it (love that phrase) and in your response to the last column, I feel that involvement in young peoples lives is the very essence of the projects work! so seeing as you do it as an occupational hazard anyway, I think it would be wiser to pay you a little more money, for the work you do instead of paying a full time Involvement Officer.