A Day in the Life of … Karen Weir, Social Worker/Operational Lead
Hi. My name is Karen. I have been a Social Worker specialising in mental health for over twenty years in various teams including the Early Intervention Team, Young Onset Dementia Services, CMHTs, AOT, etc. I am also a qualified and practicing AMHP of many years and am trained as a Best Interests Assessor. I have been working in the Liaison and Diversion Service for the past two years. We are currently in the process of expanding our service to extend our remit to deliver an all age service supplementing the Youth Offending Team’ working hours. This will include triage and assessment to those in Luton and Kempston custody, Luton Magistrates and Crown Courts as well as referrals from those engaging with Voluntary Attendees. Our hours will also extend to include a rota from 8am to 9pm seven days a week.
What time does your day start?
I tend to wake early at about 5am to see to family needs and walk the aging dog, do a few conscientious exercises and have a quick tidy up before leaving for work about 6:30am, beating any traffic through to Luton or Kempston. I tend to take breakfast with me and will eat this upon arrival whilst attending to the first of many emails for the day.
What is the first thing you do on arrival at work?
Every morning is different and it depends which satellite base I may be working from: Luton Custody tends to cover an urban area and is recognised as the busiest custody suite in the UK (Have you watched 24 Hours in Police Custody?); Kempston Custody is based in the more rural countryside of Bedfordshire and work there tends to be less busy. Court is a whole other beast which can be discussed in another dispatch! Because I work early, I tend to arrive at Luton Custody most days.
We now have ELFT internet at Luton Custody (hurrah!) and this makes life much simpler and work more efficient. After a quick check of my emails, I will switch on the police NSPIS computer and monitor “the board”: this provides information regarding who is in custody, any vulnerabilities that may have been identified, whether they need to be referred to L&DS or the HCP (Healthcare Professional provided by G4S) for physical health concerns, who may be on a cell watch, if there are any children, who may need an Appropriate Adult, who has had to be taken to hospital, etc.
I then pop into the DO’s office (Detention Officer) and speak to them and to “Sarg” (the Custody Sergeants) and ask if they have any concerns or preference for who is seen first (eg the PACE clock may be running out, eg an interview can’t be undertaken until the detainee has had the “all clear” from the L&DS and if the clock runs out then the detainee can “walk”). I will also check with the HCP to see if we should joint assess anybody who has been referred to both services.
I then return to our tiny office and check the referrals against ELFT IT systems. Once I have this information, I return to the DO’s and ask for them to open up a cell so I can speak to the detainee.
What is the key objective when you assess someone?
Engagement with the L&DS is on a voluntary basis but we want people to engage as the theory is that if you can address health and social care needs then this will reduce the risk of further offending behaviour (although the detainee must still be supported to be processed safely through the criminal justice system and with a fair criminal justice outcome).
I have a 30 second rule for engaging with those who have been referred. I have no plan or set ideas when I approach someone but instead have learned to quickly amend my approach to accommodate the needs of the referred person. Sometimes I am sympathetic, sometimes authoritative, sometimes I have to return and try again, sometimes I promise only to ask five questions but by question 4 they are willing to engage. It is rare that someone will not speak to me. I have only had to run or rather lurch out of a cell once but the person was ill and later detained under the MHA.
During the course of the assessment, I will be looking for any vulnerabilities with a view to referring to other services for support. This may include a referral to the Local Authority when someone is homeless (think new Homelessness Act!), referrals to alcohol and substance misuse services and/or the CMHTs, sharing information with respective GPs; we have STR workers who can support individuals to first appointments such as GP registration, CMHT assessment, benefits advice, etc. If individuals are already open to services, we will look to update and inform the service with the capacitous consent of the individual.
A couple of times a week, we will need to refer someone to the AMHPs for consideration for a MHA assessment which means we are looking to divert someone from the criminal justice process at this time, to return for interview upon discharge from the ward. We may write a report to court recommending consideration for a Mental Health Treatment Requirement as a part of a Community Order. On these occasions it is necessary to liaise with Probation and the judiciary and my colleagues based in court who will facilitate this work when the person arrives in court.
At times, the nature of the offence is so great (eg Murder, Attempted Murder, GBH) that we cannot look to have someone detained under Part II of the MHA. On these occasions the detainee will attend court and will likely be remanded to prison and we will write a report for court making a recommendation that the person has a psychiatric report which will advise court regarding a fair criminal justice outcome. This may include detention under Part III of the MHA to a secure unit, such as S.35, S.36 or S.37.
What has been the feedback from families?
Unfortunately, the nature of being detained in custody means we cannot take electronic items in to interview rooms with us. The circumstances of being in a crisis in custody, means that those we come into contact with do not wish to discuss their feelings about our service.
The L&DS are currently looking at different ways to obtain feedback from those referred to us and from any family members if we have had significant contact with them.
What do you bring to the triage team that is different from the other members of the team?
As the Operational Lead, I am also required to undertake supervision and performance management if required with team members; prepare and chair team meetings and business meetings, attend meetings with other agencies and allied professionals.
Liz Munday is the Transformation Lead for ELFT in Bedfordshire. Liz has been amazingly supportive and seems to accomplish double the work in half the time of anybody I have ever known. With Liz’ support, I now get to attend many more meetings in relation to the development of the service, ratifying a new policy with agreed pathways to other services, establishing IT systems in satellite bases, recruitment and retention, meeting training needs specific to the team, etc. We wouldn’t have made it this far without her, so thanks Liz!
As an aside, we will be recruiting for Band 6 nurses and Social Workers, so please look out for our advert and please do email me if you have any further interest in working for our service: email@example.com
Do you finish work on time?
Our work needs to be completed on the same day as tomorrow brings a whole lot of new referrals. On the whole, I find the team tends to finish work on time and if they don’t, they are encouraged to claim TOIL or Bank hours. I rarely finish work on time but I am getting better at it!
How do you relax after a shift?
The work we do is quite intense and so it can be difficult to switch off at times. I do yoga, walk the dog, play tennis, have something nice to eat, meet a friend, check the social media, watch a good film!
What attracted you to this innovative team?
I have always wanted to work in forensic mental health and so have tried to guide my work towards this goal. I do like law and case law and a bit of policy thrown in so it’s the perfect job for me. I also quickly realised early on in my career that my strengths lay in assessment and report writing and this is perfectly suited to this work.
Upon joining the team two years ago, I recognised there was potential for improvement and development and I am very proud of my colleagues, of how supportive and engaging they have been in this process, of the work they do and how they do it, how passionate they are about fair criminal justice outcomes and supporting health and social equity. It really is a privilege to come to work and love what you do.