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Damned!

Damned

I love Jo brand. Since I before I was old enough to understand her humour a (too young to be watching) young me would sneaky watch like it or lump it on a Friday ch4 schedule. I love her stand up and I adore “Getting On” which I think the UK should be proud of as a successful British export.

So when Damned came out you can imagine I was delighted. It is of course critised for portrayl of incompetence but I think it’s important to take it as it is. A sitcom.
Professionally I think it is so crucial we have positive representation however personally I also think it is so important to laugh at yourself, to make sense of your situation using humour, and one of the healthiest coping techniques I know of is gallows humour..

I don’t think we are always annoyed at the programme I think we’re annoyed at the accuracy and frustration we see before us, the subtle observations of office life, like the painfully routine discussions about diets and dietary requirements!

The kitchen is so gross that it makes me appreciate the one I spend my lunch time in and I wonder if that is a deliberate gift Jo brands writing offers to us on the inside..

Quick interludes of intake calls, some humourous, some concerning but also an authentic and raw narrative tool. Jo brand, perhaps tapping in to her past life as a mental health nurse to good effect here as she did in Getting On.

Al impresses me greatly if not because I find him to be the closest representation of a social worker. But of course I live for any line Jo brand spits out.

The case conferences compels me to the screen me, this is where I think the writing comes into its own. Quick witted, hard hitting and painfully uncomfortable ending in the no win moral dilemmas of sock work and I felt heartened that in the amusement of Roses slippers and the charecter flaws that Al who was subtlety but closely followed through his quick duty assessment of a mother carrying out prostitution to make a better life for her children, but leaving them vulnerary to exposure to the children being accommodated and him re-evaluating his career expressed by that all to familiar feeling of resorting to a job application. Now I would state most workers beyond a year or twos experience have had that day. Maybe not that case but definitely that day.

As may be obvious I am a big fan of Damned, I know it might poke fun at our daily reality, and we need good representation, but is that channel 4s job? Should we really need to rely on a sitcom to give us the positive PR we so often lack.. I would argue not.

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Kiri

There was no way I could allow Kiri to pass without posting it on the blog I claim interests as social work and media on.

I grappled with a weekly update but I just didn’t have time to write halfs and quarters of an opinion. So a week after the finale I find myself curled on my couch, absent from my own frontline self, but thankfully due to a tummy bug and not a malpractice, depression, alcoholism or suspension. And I thank god every day I come home from work that I did my best and live to see another day.

A few initial thoughts which I wrote included how well shot I found it, the small details of making eye contact on a car journey through the mirror, that it was directed in a kitchen sink reality that I find gripping, especially as a Mike Leigh fan. Sarah Lancaster was as they say a bloody revelation and I drank in every line she delivered taking meaning from every quick witted observation as if they were her own and not part of a script. I noted the relationship she held with her NQSW colleague, the well meaning presence she appeared to have in the community and like many on twitter I noted the shaggy dog and chunky knit clichés! Episode two got a bit eccentric and there were clearly issues all round about how going above and beyond can blur the boundaries when she turns up drink at a care leavers home.

The dilemmas about values and anti-discriminatory practice to the untrained eye perhaps it would be black and white and as it developed into a whodunnit I really wanted more time to explore these dilemmas on screen and the grey that real life often is.

I think there were some brave points made about class and racial tensions if it were an essay however I’d ask for it to be further analysed. I was reminded however of several articles I have read in mainstream media regarding cultural differences and understanding. I think the speech given to the media by Sarah Lancaster about doing “the right thing” was very powerful and resonated with my for sometime

Over time the social work part of Kiri diminished and it became very much a crime drama but certainly for the first and final episodes I felt that real practice issues were given the time they deserve.
I found myself through out making mental notes about “failure to protect is not the same as intent to harm”, notes about scapegoating and the final speech made to the HR board where she states that she shouldn’t have to be grateful, I agree where was the shared responsibility? I have thankfully never shared such as experience as portrayed in Kiri and I know it is dramatised but I still kept thinking… But for the grace of God!

‎So much more I could write about perhaps the child care system, but I am a great believer in writing about what you know and I believe my colleagues doing this direct work would be best placed to give the issues of maintaining familiar links and the complexities about finding the right place for children.

‎Again, this is a dramatised scenario but I felt quite emotional watching the care leavers group come together to show their appreciation. It felt like we were nearing a conclusion so close to the end of the four parts. But it suddenly felt like a blur with another bizarre twist as Sue Johnsons character was going to move out the care home, I did think that this could have been an opportunity to look at the role of adult children/ parent relationships but this is perhaps wishful thinking on my part.
I wasn’t surprised by the murders identify and i enjoyed the relationship Kiri and her foster brother had on screen, Finn Bennet who played Si, was probably my second favourite character he was complex, confused and just a little bit angry, I hope to see more of him on screen in the future.
However for now I would just settle for seeing more of an ending! The cut glass finish left me feeling cheated on a series I had been dedicated to for 4 weeks, other viewers shared this frustration and I was left with so many questions. Sometimes you watch things and the lack of ending is the ending. Sort of allowing you to fill in the blanks avoiding disappoment. In this instance the lack of ending was the disappointment and let down what had otherwise been a well written, thoughtful drama. I don’t want to be to harsh as I do think it is one of the fairest portrayls of social work I have seen in a long time.

Yeah it had some artistic license but it’s not a documentary and overall as a drama in still very much enjoyed it and in this netflix age we live in it was nice to look forward to a TV programme again even if I’m still waiting for the end….

Soap, drama, panto.

My mother has been unwell so like many my age we find ourselves increasingly taking time out our normal routine to care for older parents. Whilst at my mother’s home I have been further subjected to the misfortune of “the soaps”.

My mother who is a huge fan of them is keen to catch up whilst I have only fairly recently bought a TV again after leaving home 9 years ago. Safe to say I don’t regret being without one for so long when I see the horror that is day time TV and the after day time comes night time and all its nightly soaps. Quickly I feel like I am being attacked by neglectful and lazy writing. There’s a cocktail of soaps leading up to in my view “the big three”.

Now Hollyoaks I grew out of (despite its catchy guitar  riff), and the Aussies provide a nice bit of nostalgia for me and rover city always good for a laugh. But the big three Emmerdale, coronation Street and EastEnders.. they have a lot to answer for.. I don’t expect a bafta performance or even a TV quick award for their fleeting social worker appearances but it all just lacks accuracy and substance.. Unfortunately it would seem they have all Out done themselves this month in writing appalling “social services” plots.

Let’s start with EastEnders.
I heard about it before I saw the footage so not unlike the storylines we see I won’t go into a lot of detail… Essentially worker comes in, removes child, little compassion and lacks accuracy and from what I understand any legal context or justification. What disappointed me was that I remember a similar story line a few years ago with “Billy’s” young female relative and her child ( I think).

Then and now the response from the profession was the sound of frustration and disappointment. For this opportunity to be used as another panto villian child catcher in a half hour Melodrama

 

Emmerdale.
A character leaves baby in a&e. Medics are concerned but the family leave. Not unfamiliar scenario to those in a duty team perhaps. Then back home mum and gran talk when suddenly the phone on screen goes and I can tell instinctively as if it were the phone in my own living room.. that’s not expected and it will be the concerned GP or more likely… You guessed it “social services” planning a visit. Now we have yet to see the social worker but already the response from family who clearly would benefit from a little bit of early intervention… Is “put on a show” essential the dialogue was lie, fool and don’t let them take your children!! I couldn’t help but think it would give vulnerable young mothers the impression that’s what they should do it they ever had a call from “social services”. Stay tuned for the outcome… But probably not an outcomes assessment..

Finally coronation Street a mystery joint visit with friend and “social services”. More of a wooden and formulaic portrayal I have not seen. She wasn’t the panto visit granted but was very much the “do gooder”. She quickly offered a support worker and left with the friend who was not really a friend. The mother takes an overdose due to the stress of the visit and then very quickly the social worker does. Return visit with two police brandishing a court order getting in to a shouting match with the 16 yr old sibling deeming that the only option is to take them into care. Well slap my thigh here comes the panto villian just in time for christmas!

Now I don’t expect the break down of a parenting assessment to take place in the 27 mins on screen. There does not need to be a diagram of the  assessment  tool in the credits . However why the need to be caricatures. The medical staff, legal professionals and police don’t seem to be portrayed quite so deliberately badly. It all just seems to repeat like a bad sunday soap omnibus!

I may have missed it but given we looked at three distinct upsetting story lines of child harm, substance misuse and what seems to be post natal depression.. there were no helplines and nothing that would say to any young person or parent that it’s ok to seem advice or support. But after watching this why would they want to initiate such a call!?

I don’t really know what else we can do as individuals and professionals other than make ourselves vocal.
Be vocal in your living room like I have so my mother knows that’s not what I do. And maybe she will tell her friends and their friends will tell their family.
Take to social media so your friends know that you don’t condone that portrayal of the profession.
‎Get in touch with any agency you think might listen so that the public hear and see we don’t want people to fear the words “social services” or “social worker”!

Precious- film review (2010)

Film review from University, in hindsight I appreciate the film may evoke strong feelings given the subject matter. It is a powerful film and a film I still think of with great importance. It has no baring on survivor experiences and is purely a review on the film at the time of it coming out.

 

Set in Harlem, New York in 1987, Precious manages to explore – with honesty and courage – many issues including abuse, sexuality and poverty in quite a short space of time. It is a raw but moving fi lm based on the novel Push by American author and performance poet Sapphire. And although this can make the viewing quite intense at times, don’t be misled – this is more than just another trag-lit movie. Precious is the story of 16-yearold Claireece “Precious” Jones, played by unknown actress Gabourey Sidibe, who lives with her abusive mother and is faced with the prospect of her second child, conceived as a result of her father’s sexual abuse. The fi lm was deservedly nominated for six oscars, winning Best Supporting Actress for comedienne and chat show host Mo’Nique and Best Adapted Screenplay. Mo’Nique also won a Golden Globe award for her powerful performance as Claireece’s abusive mother. However, the fi lm’s success has to be attributed to the thoughtprovoking writing and screenplay which is so clever and original that it captivates and enables the viewer to share in the characters’ anxiety and despair. With the use of clever plot devices, you share in Claireece’s fantasies and escapism as well as her hope that there is a better life for her outside the closed walls and private hell created for her by her parents. And whilst your are on this journey you also share in her invisibility of what it is to come from an abusive family. This fi lm has a defi nite behind closed doors feel to it, from the insight into Claireece’s mind to the before and after scenes of when the social worker visits the family. Later on in the fi lm, Claireece fi nally has to speak out against her hidden home life and begins to attend an alternative school. It is here that the fi lm takes on a tender meaning and will also echo situations that anyone working in education or with children and young people will recognise. The role of Claireece’s classmates and her caring tutor change this fi lm from gritty and raw, to a story of determinism and inspiration. If you have seen or heard any of the promotion for the fi lm, you will probably know that Mariah Carey drabs down and sheds her vocal range and heels to play a husky and frustrated social worker. Her appearance is somewhat overrated as she only makes two fairly brief appearances. But she brings an unexpected sincerity to her role and provides a sympathetic and dare I say likeable character. In all fairness, the appearance of Carey is not hugely signifi cant to the role but if it gains the fi lm the attention and notoriety it deserves then it can only be a good thing. Sometimes this fi lm is uncomfortable to watch and contains graphic scenes of sexual abuse which are defi nitely not for the easily offended. But if you can overcome this then Precious is provoking, brave and will live on in your mind for days after. However dark it gets, it is littered with rays of light that will have you chuckling when you know you shouldn’t. It would be nice to have seen this fi lm shown more nationally as very few cinemas dedicated space to it. However, it defi nitely has the potential to become a cult success and do for issue of child abuse what Trainspotting did for substance abuse

Sex on wheels Ch 4 july 2013 Expanded

This was a review I completed of a one hour documentary special on Channel 4 (UK)

Soon after this programme was advertised I began to receive messages from my friends informing me of its existence so I was eager to see the goods for myself! The reason for the messages and my own anticipation was that this was the very topic I wrote my dissertation about and I am massively interested in the field of sexuality and disability. As the programme began I was sceptical that it might be another documentary focusing on the obscure – or worse a patronising portrayal of young people looking for love. The backing music and narrator’s tone, giving a tongue and cheek feel to the introduction, justified my fears as the viewer meets Leah in a high street sex shop. I was thankfully reassured as this quickly begins to highlight some of the programme’s many recurring themes and challenges. For instance, Leah discusses the lack of sex education she received compared with her sisters because she has brittle bone disease and it was assumed she may not become sexually active. Leah is clearly a very articulate, confident and attractive young girl who enjoys exactly the same things as her peers. At the opposite end of the spectrum is shy John who has learning disability. John lives with his mother and would like the opportunity to lose his virginity like his brothers as he feels left out and lonely. His mother feels she should support John by hiring an escort and compares the experience with learning independent travel or other skills. The documentary follows John’s journey to lose his virginity or as his mother puts it “become a man”. What is clear for all the males involved in the documentary is the prejudice they face in some way or another from not being viewed or feeling like a “real man” because they have a disability. Most people believe everyone has sexual rights but unfortunately due to common misconceptions disabled people are often viewed as unable to attain these rights or have a “normal” sex life. This is wonderfully illustrated by Pete who is trying to fulfill his ambition of becoming a porn star. There is also Carl who has a spinal cord injury and was the only participant who did not have a disability from birth. For me, Carl is a textbook example of what the majority of academic literature on sexuality and disability represents. Carl tries many solutions to regain his full sexual function but what this uncovers – and was highlighted for Leah and John too – is the need for a long term relationship and closeness. As was evident from several of the individuals featured, sex is purchasable but intimacy is not. I would applaud Channel 4 and the escorts and sex therapists shown for allowing viewers to understand what they did and explain it in an educated and sensitive manner. The programme gives a good overview of societal attitudes and also challenges Joe Bloggs’ perceptions by jumping straight in with positions, places and preferences. Although some of the use of language may make you uncomfortable at times, such as “freak” and “normal”, I feel Channel 4 used the hour to explain this complex topic productively. But what I asked myself whilst watching this programme and would urge anyone to ask themselves is: “How would my perceptions change if the person did not have a disability?” More of the same please on our TVs!

UPDATE

Since writing this article there has been a significant increase in programming focusing on dating, sexuality and disability. What instantly comes to mind is reality TV such as FIRST DATES and “The undateables” the titles misleading and perhaps not a fresh as they were in their first or second season but Channel 4 has clearly heard my previous calling of more of the same! My one hope is that such programming does not begin to be formulaic in its approach. It has been around 4 years since writing the original review and I suspect for better or worse “Sex on wheels” is no less enlightening for the untrained eye to view.

I would still recommend it as pivotal watching for any aspiring youth or care workers to watch and consider it very much as a exercise for your value base.

For further information see Channel 4, Sexuality & Disability by Maddie Blackburn or reuest a copy of “Thats a hard conversation to have ” from the University of Stirling.