JANINE GREEN ASB CHATS……DRUGS & ALCOHOL
As some of you may be aware, I have just launched a podcast, with episode 1 going live last week. Released monthly, each episode will feature a guest who has expertise in a particular area relating to ASB case management. I will be interviewing that guest with the aim of gathering lots of best practice tips and guidance that an ASB practitioner can take away and apply to their own casework.
Podcasting is on the rise however I do appreciate that not everyone will have the time spare to listen to an entire episode every month and, with that in mind, I will be following each episode up with a blog post, shared the week after the episode goes live, summarising the main points that arose. I hope this means that everyone can benefit from the same advice, regardless of the amount of time they have spare.
My first guest was Jon Bull, a manager of a drug and alcohol service. As anyone working in ASB will know, substance misuse and dependency are contributing factors to a great number of the cases that we manage. We recognise that long-term resolution to ASB cases is often only possible if the underlying issue of the dependency is addressed but often this can be very challenging.
Jon provided a huge amount of valuable information but he drew particular importance to the following points:
Avoid being judgemental
We are unlikely to be able to create rapport and trust with anyone if they feel that we are making assumptions about them or berating them. Whilst it is important that they understand the impact of their behaviour, as well as the consequences of causing continued issues, it should be done in a manner which is factual rather than judgemental.
Set meaningful, realistic and achievable action plans
One of the points that Jon referred to related to disguised compliance, this being where someone states that they will work with a support agency but actually they do not cooperate or comply. The challenge for an ASB officer is that the ASB may still be ongoing and therefore harm continues to be caused to the victim. When do we determine that there is not a genuine intention to cooperate and look to take action if the ASB is continuing? One of the suggestions that Jon had is to create an action plan with the person we are working with. This can set out the clear steps that we expect the person to undertake and within what timescales. The person cannot claim that they did not know what was required of them and it gives officers guidance as to when cooperation has failed and further action is required.
Jon advocated working with a support service to ensure that these actions are appropriate; for example, an action to never drink alcohol again is probably unachievable for someone who has relied on alcohol as a crutch for many years. A support service may be able to offer insight into what is more advisable.
Most ASB officers will have experience of working in this way through the use of agreements such as Acceptable Behaviour Contracts and it was clear that these interventions could be used well in these types of situations, giving the person clarity and absolute certainly on what is being asked of them. As an ABC is a non-legal and entirely flexible tool, it could easily be adapted (and even called something different) to work for situations such as these.
The importance of partnership working
We hear time and time again about how important partnership working is for resolving issues where there are complex needs. Jon and I spent some time discussing how to build good relations. One of the things that Jon greatly encouraged was the act of proactively seeking partners out and building relationships. His advice was to build links with partners before you need to work with them: invite them for a coffee, learn more about the work that they do and the thresholds that they work to, explain your role and powers, discuss examples of times where you may require their support and how best to seek this out. Doing so can mean that when you need to work with that particular agency they are already fully informed about who you are and have a level of confidence and awareness in what you do.
Whilst Jon pointed out that every person is different, meaning that they respond differently to different approaches, he did advocate the carrot and stick approach to managing cases of ASB that we have been promoting in the ASB world for many years. For some people, particularly those not ready to change, no threat of consequence will make a difference to their behaviours, however, for others, having the threat of some form of sanction will be enough to make them seriously considering making a positive change.
To be persistent
What became clear from our conversations is that Jon works for a proactive service that is keen to work in partnership to resolve issues. Unfortunately, we regularly hear of situations where ASB case workers try to engage support services and are unable to for a variety of reasons including reduced capacity or high thresholds of referral. I asked Jon about what could be done in these situations and his advice was:
• To continue to make referrals through the life of the case. The needs of the perpetrator might increase depending on change of circumstances etc, and it may be that the service is able to work with the perpetrator at a later time
• Persistence is sometimes necessary; if you feel that the support service is in the wrong in terms of a refusal to engage then the matter should be escalated through the relevant senior managers
Unfortunately, there is an element of needing to ensure that we protect ourselves and our organisations. Should something go wrong and a serious case review be required, your case files and actions are going to be scrutinised. It is important therefore that you don’t give up and record all your attempts to engage with support services on your case files.
I hope the above is useful. Please do let me know if you have any suggestions for future podcast topics or wish to be a guest.