31 Jan 2012

Child protection

Everyone on my course was told to watch Protecting Our Children, which is a three part series on the BBC at present. I haven't watched it yet, I'm not very well and I didn't feel like being hideously depressed right before bed last night!

However, a lot of people have watched it and were shocked at the contents.
These are people about to start a university level course in health and social care. For the next nine months, they're going to be reading case studies, asked difficult ethical questions and it's not always going to be jolly outcomes and happy endings.

Now, while it's fairly obviously going to be a shocking documentary or there wouldn't be a lot of point airing it, the cases broadcast were nothing particularly abnormal for child protection social work.

I used to work in NHS admin, doing notes summarising, which meant I frequently came into contact with child protection case conference notes. I have read some dreadful things, that I cannot give examples of to protect confidentiality.
There are four main types of child abuse recognised by child protection - neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. As you can imagine, there is often some crossover between categories. Neglect is by far the most common, and probably the hardest to read about in a clinical setting because there is no terminology to hide behind. If you're fairly ignorant of medical terminology, a 'torn fourchette' in a six year old girl won't read as anything terribly shocking (it is). However, reading or hearing about the same girl being left alone for whole days and nights without food, ignored and having to sleep without blankets on the floor, you can't fuzz that out mentally.

Working in a quiet, small, rural practice for eight years, I came across case conference reports across all four of categories of abuse, to varying degrees of severity, and it never ceased to chill me to the bone. I had to fight to not take my work home with me mentally every time.

I am under no illusions. Parents and other caregivers can do terrible things to their children. Maybe the real problem that social workers face in this country, aside from funding issues and archaic communication systems with other agencies, is that the general public prefer to ignore that child abuse still goes on.

The same people baying for the blood of the social workers involved with Baby P would probably rather poke out their eyes than admit similar abuse might be going on in THEIR village.

24 Jan 2012

Getting To Know You

The boy has been de-tonsilled! His recovery wasn't entirely uneventful, as he had some bleeding last week which culminated in a midnight dash to A+E. However, he is now almost back to normal, and life can continue. Huzzah!

So, as my start date looms closer (10 days. Erk.), I've been flicking around course forums online.
The first port of call was the OUSA course forums. K101 runs twice a year as it's one of the most popular modules, but the forum mainly consists of people about to start who are looking for others in their area, or who are paralysed by terror. For most, this is the first time they've done university-level education.

I asked for people in my city, and found quite a few. Everyone seemed polite, even though the forums aren't strenuously moderated, and obeyed the rules.

I found a link to the facebook group for my course start date and joined that. I'd been there two minutes and noticed a flame war had broken out on a post bitching about course fee grants, to the extent that someone had actually decided to withdraw from the course! Some people have run through their 'first week induction' already. And some people have already read unit 1 and started writing their first TMA! The course website doesn't open until tomorrow!

I've added a few people on facebook already. I don't normally add randoms on facebook, but I may well bump into these folk in Real Life, so may as well.

I've had an introduction letter from my tutor, who seems very well suited to the job and friendly. Nobody wants a dragon for a tutor.

I'm starting to look forward to it. The fear has been greatly assuaged by reading the forums and knowing others are just as terrified as I am.

17 Jan 2012


I think the worst thing about waiting for an OU course to start is the not-knowing.
I don't know how much time it's going to take me, whether my essay writing skillorz are up to scratch, whether it'll be all be horribly beyond my comprehension.
I don't know how much I'll be able to work round the kids, and my commitments to them and general housekeeping. I have officially left work today - I am now scrounging off the state wholly, instead of partially. This is somewhat terrifying in itself as I have no idea how the reduction in money will work out for us.
I don't know whether I'll enjoy the course, whether I'll 'get' it, whether everyone else will loathe me entirely...

I can be anxious to the point of neurotic at times and I am about this course starting. Excited too, but primarily anxious.
The OU don't really help with the anxiety by basically saying 'Don't worry...all will become clear' in the preliminary literature. My poorly, freshly de-tonsilled toddler is sucking all my time into a vortex at present, so I haven't read through much of my course stuff yet (hence examination-spotting fail). I need to go shopping and fill my study with stationery. MOAR PENS!
My course website doesn't open until next Wednesday, so I can't go and bitch about being a paranoid idiot at everyone else for a whole WEEK and I don't really have time to anyway, until Jimmy's feeling better.

Instead, I dwell and panic and fret and stare at my study calendar, and fret more, and briefly consider weeping.

Ah, only two and a half more weeks until I can stop flailing and start working.

15 Jan 2012


I was saying to my sister only this afternoon that I need to read things more thoroughly, especially in academic context.

This was brought into sharper relief when I flicked back through my course materials and spotted a section at the back of my assignment guide titled "Examination".


How did I fail to notice this course ends with an exam?

So I panicked, as you do. I get incredibly anxious when travelling to new places. I may only live an hour from my exam centre, by train (plus a ten minute walk), but it's a city I've only ever shopped in and I don't know it very well. I envision being lost hopelessly, missing my exam and wailing until someone saves me. Possibly mountain rescue.

I've not taken a formal exam since my AS levels in June 2002. I was drunk through most of the afternoon ones. It's a slightly daunting prospect. Not that I plan on drinking; that would seriously impede my ability to get home afterwards.

This to shall pass.

12 Jan 2012

The Fear, revisited

My course materials arrived this afternoon.
I've been feeling particularly low recently, having a nasty dental infection and Jimmy's impending tonsillectomy. I was halfway through getting lunch when there was a knock at the door. I figured it was the chemist with all my tasty drugs, but no, it was Yodel with an enormous box.
Yodel man was a bit of a legend. He checked my name and then said "I have brought you an education".

So, I broke off my CLEAN ALL THE THINGS pre-surgery madness to open up my magic box of learning.

And promptly wished I hadn't.

See, it's a long module - 9 months for 60 credits. So this is the first two blocks, and I get a further four (FOUR???) in May.

My start date is the 4th of Feb. For the first week, they do a sort of online fresher's week, with less alcohol and casual sex. Basically, check you can use a computer (um, yes I can) and introduce you to the forums. "Oh hai dere, fellow learninzerz."

The first module starts on 11th Feb. And every week, there is a host of activities to do. There's a TMA per block and a whole bunch of iCMAs.
And an online project.
Nobody told me there was an online project.

Now, I work best on my own. This sounds bizarre, since all care work is done as part of a team. But I like to lead, and in teams where I am an underling, I get frustrated. I am, in essence, a bossy cow who always thinks she's right. So, I may piss off whichever poor souls I get in my group.

I'll cross that bridge when we come to it...

Meanwhile, back in reality, the boy's tonsils are being excised early in the morning. I am reaching the calm state that will power me through it, only to collapse on the other side from the withheld tension.
Once he's recovered from that, I'm going to see Cirque Du Soleil. I cannot WAIT! I'm going with my sister, a full day out without the children, and it will be epic. And since I've been and got a new pair of glasses, I will actually be able to see.
I have one badly long sighted eye, and one mildly short sighted, lazy eye. It's not as lazy as it was, when I was threatened with surgery, but it's still on the wonk. I get dizzy. And I cannot see the TV to play Skyrim. And that will never do.

8 Jan 2012


I have a confession.
I am 26 years old and I still don't know my times tables.
I can barely count.
It wasn't until a few years ago that I realised there was a name for such utter ineptitude with numbers - dyscalculia - and that it is a brain fault rather than stupidity. It's also known as numlexia, but I loathe that word. It is etymologically WRONG.
I wish I'd known about it in primary school when it took me about three years longer than everyone else to get my multiplication certificates, and when my dreadful grasp of numbers and mastery of English meant I was almost labelled special needs.
They then just decided I was a genius...

If I ask the average person to add two small numbers together in their heads - say 5 and 8 - they either know the answer from memory or by very fast calculation. Not me. I have to break each of the numbers into smaller numbers (3 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 3) and then add them together. It takes me a few seconds. I have no idea why my brain won't work in numbers of greater size than three, but it won't and it drives me crackers.
I tried to read a book called Fermat's Last Theorum, which was described as simple to understand for the normal, non-mathematician, folk upon the street. Not I. I gave up about seven pages in.

I love doing logic puzzles, and I'm good at them, until they involve numbers. Then I just cannot do them. I can do simple sudoku by imagining the numbers as letters. Otherwise, numbers are not my friend.

The paradox is that my job has been analysing data, working out percentages and patient numbers from those percentages, for eight years. I could never remember how to work a percentage out, even on a calculator, much to the chagrin of my boss ("How do you work percentages out?" "I just told you" "I know, I forgot"), but the actual numbers represented people and this made them easier to digest and organise.

I also can't tell my left from my right, which is described as a 'symptom' by wikiepdia. The only way I can give directions is by checking my wrists - my right arm has a big scar on it. It's a tiresome affliction and makes navigation take far longer. I am glad I cannot drive.

It is loathsome to be unable to do maths. I am glad on a daily basis that I don't have to do anything like a tax return and I dread the day the boys ask me for help with their maths homework.

5 Jan 2012

Nurture, nature, both, or neither?

What makes us who we are? That's the question of the last part of my mini-psychology course. I had an argument/debate/ramble with my atheist boyfriend about the existence of souls on boxing day. I know - we REALLY know how to live. I believe we (and all animals) have souls, he believes we are a combination of nurture and nature.

I have my two little boys. I saw them the moment they drew breath (well, slightly after that moment with my little, as he was all tangled up behind me) and looked into their eyes. An endless depth of blue and intelligence and humanity. A newborns eyes are not blank, there is something there. Someone.
You would expect two children, of the same parentage, born merely two years and five weeks apart, to be similar infants. But within hours, their personalities were taking shape. My younger baby is what we like to call 'zen'. From birth, he was happy to sit back and watch the world go by. As he's growing up, he's changing all the time, but he remains fundamentally laid back. My eldest has always been much harder to please. From the moment, aged 16 hours old, he decided he'd had enough of sleeping and wished to eat, he has been demanding my attention. These slight differences in babies were apparent within 24 hours of delivery. How much of that can be blamed on me, as their mother and single common factor?

Of course, I had two wildly different pregnancies. With Child 1, I was sick from conception. I was paranoid, bled frequently, spent most of my time analysing every single kick and twinge and gave birth, after a lengthy pre-labour, pretty much bang on time. With Child 2, I didn't feel particularly pregnant apart from brief hyperemesis in the first trimester and once his father had buggered, I didn't give a crap what was going on most of the time. He eventually emerged, two weeks late, without much fuss. Perhaps my maternal negligence contributed to his easy going nature. Perhaps my first-baby paranoia contributed to my eldest's demanding ways.

Perhaps it's that they have different combinations of me and their dad's personality. I am fairly laid back, it takes a long time to wind me up enough to snap, but when I do it's volcanic and I hold a grudge. Their dad is constantly on the very edge of flying off the handle. His temper is short enough to be considered non existant, but doesn't last and then is forgotten. I am happy just to sit, where their dad has to be on the go at all time. I certainly see aspects of both our personalities reflected in the children. But they are far from mere shadows of their parents. They are themselves and nothing less.

I worry about, and actively fight against, the stigma and emotional issues of coming from a broken home. There will be awkward questions asked, for which we have to try and get the answers right to stop them thinking it was ever their fault. And me and their father need to work together to try and stay stable. I've made it a point of honour to never fight with him in front of them, to never badmouth him in front of them, and to act like the whole situation is normal. I hate it when parents being divorced is used as an excuse for unacceptable behaviour. It is too easy, when divorcing, to become more childish than the children involved. Too easy to become petty, for it to all become a game of one-upmanship and taunts and vicious verbal swipes.
Not on my watch.

I'm very conscious of two things currently. One is that my eldest's surgery was postponed to the 13th of January. That is a mere 7 and a half days now. The second is that my OU course starts in 30 days. For my next preparatory trick, I'm going to poke a stick at a module on psychology in the 21st century. I'm considering doing a few psychology/neurology related units to top my degree up (in about four years, I don't know WHY I'm thinking about it now). But we shall see. It does not do to think too far ahead.