Onward and Upward, a BIG Thank You

Hello all!!

Thank you so much for following this blog. However it has only just occurred to me that running to blog sites isn’t the most efficient use of my time, nor is it a particularly bright thing to be doing. SO, I am going to focus my energy on my other blog. The posts will remain (and some will be reposted on the other blog) so feel free to continue following for reference.

The not so new blog is American Social Worker in London (http://survivinginsocialwork.wordpress.com/). If you alreadey follow it. THANK YOU SO MUCH for your support. If you are not yet a follower, please do follow me there as that is where I will be posting my up to date “2 cents”.

Thank you all again and I hope you have gotten something out of these blogs and will continue to get something out of future ones.

Ciao, ciao!

Serious Case Reviews: How much are we really learning?

I went to an event where they asked this question and my response is, we are good at learning lessons. I think the reviews themselves are quite good at pointing out where there need to be improvements. Where we go wrong is what we do with this information once we have it. I am not speaking, necessarily, of the local authority where the incident happened. It appears that, when it comes to local authority services, all the learning from others is very much externalized. Executives and senior management recognize the importance of the key themes but don’t really make internal changes based on the reports from the case reviews from other authorities. Most have internal quality assurance process and case audits but it isn’t until something tragic occurs in the particular local authority that systems/processes are checked and/or reviewed for failings.

 We need to learn from the mistakes of others. I think serious case reviews should prompt internal mini reviews. Take the learning from the case reviews and do a mini internal review to ensure mistakes are not being replicated locally. The review may not raise any issues about replicating mistakes. However, it may highlight issues in other areas.

 The Individual

I tend to be of the opinion that if as you (as an individual worker) are committed to your work, quality assurance will be a critical part of your overall practice. Not just token quality assurance – coming from a perspective of political agendas, but from a point of doing the absolute best and delivering a high standard of services. In this way you can catch any mistakes before they become tragic events. You won’t be able to account for absolutely ever eventuality but it is inevitable that you will be able to catch a few things before they escalate. Of course, a big part of this and good practice in general is evidencing the work you’re undertaking. So, if there is ever a time when something tragic does happen, there is documentation of the actions you took to do all that you could with the information available to you as a practitioner.

 The Organization

It is the responsibility of management to convey messages from serious case reviews in terms of how this will impact the way of working within the local authority and what changes are coming. This is where I believe there is a gap.

Change management programs are not managed as well as they could be from what I have seen. They all start with recognition of a need for change. It is then discussed at the executive and senior management levels (which also happens to be where the final decisions are made); and may include one or two staff consultations though I am not sure to what degree these are considered in the final decision making. Then, the change program starts. It is almost like the decision is a target holding practitioners over a dunk tank and senior management have the ball. The final decision is the ball hitting the target, dropping everyone sinking into the water.

If we look at change programs in the private sector you can see why they are successful. Two of the more popular change models are Kurt Lewin’s model and John Kotter’s model. Both models emphasize the importance of a staged change program. “Change needs to understood and managed in a way that people can cope effectively with it.[1]” Management need to ensure if they cannot get complete agreement from their staff that their staff at least understand the need for change. It is suggested to use workshops to achieve understanding, involvement in plans, measureable aims, actions and commitments. It is the responsibility of management to manage change. It is their responsibility to facilitate and enable change.

Within social care, it appears that there are lots of reflection and lots of thought, work groups etc. that get established as part of change programs. What’s missing is the lack of work to embed learning and help practitioners internalize lessons learned from serious case reviews. Without this any change management programs that need to occur will not be as effective as they could be. Embedding only works when the lessons are internalised by frontline staff; that is, they need to understand how it applies to them and the work they are doing.

One possible reason for this is the lack of space for practitioners to understand the lessons and assimilate it. They are busy trying to manage the day to day that they don’t get much time to take on new ways of working. It would help for management to give staff the same space they are afforded to think about lessons and any possible changes that could be made to assimilate the new knowledge into practice. I think there need to be designated practitioners to be part of management meetings who are tasked with taken messages back to staff in workshops where they are given space to come up with some solutions that they believe would work on the ground. They could then own the change instead of having changed imposed upon them. Involving staff will also give the message that they are valued. Allowing them to drive the change on the frontline will empower them to make changes. It will give them confidence to speak up and give them a voice so they can identify areas that need to be changed before these issues come to light in serious case reviews.

Management needs to help staff understand what is in the real m of possibility. Staff need to understand the limitations present so when they are a part of the change process they can make informed decisions. Fore warned is fore armed.

 Going forward

1.  I think it is crucial that managers’ institute staged change management programs with thorough plans to feedback to stakeholders to alleviate any fears about drift and avoid being pushed into quick change programs that produce token change at best.

2. Involving frontline social care staff is another part of the process that will yield longer term change. If they are involved from the start in the readiness evaluation, planning and implementation it is a change they can own; a change in which they are invested. Critical to this is that staff understand the why and the how.

3. Annual reviews of improvement and quality assurances frameworks which include frontline staff. It is important that staff understand the standards against which they are being judged. It is important for them to understand why this process is important, what it is and what it isn’t. I believe involving staff in these processes gives them a better understanding and demystifies anxiety provoking processes. It also helps with their ability to do individual quality assurance. They are more aware of what is being scrutinized.

4. Anticipated or planned changes can be incorporated in the learning and development strategy for the local authority. Internal audits can produce a wealth of information that would be invaluable in terms of courses needed to ensure that staff are prepared to do the job for which they were hired. Change management programs can inform strategy by informing management what new skills their staff may need or skills they may need to develop.

5. Even though we can recognise that senior management are getting better at identifying themes and reviewing performance from serious case reviews, but they cannot ignore the need to make sure frontline staff are on board because the culture of the organisation may need to change and this means changing the way they work. As I have already mentioned this is important because if they are able to own some of the changes it is more likely to be embedded into practice and become a lasting change.

6. I mentioned this previously but we need to make sure that not only the messages from serious case reviews are filtered to staff but it needs to be communicated just how the organization intends to use this learning. That is, does this learning mean there will be changes in the Social Workers own organization.

The key to ensuring lessons are learned and embedded are to ensure there is a strong stable line of communication throughout the organizations. This communication needs to incorporate key learning, what is going right in the home authority (if this is an external serious case review) and what might need to change within the organization to ensure it is not replicating the mistakes outlined in the review. This is setting the stage. Once you have done that, then managers needs to sit down and plan (or outsource) a change management program, a thorough one. Making sure that staff are involved and kept informed at every stage of the process. There is too much shrouded in secrecy. People operate much more openly in a structure that not only supports such thinking but operates within it.

[1] Organizational and personal change management, process, plans, change management and business development tips http://www.businessballs.com/changemanagement.htm

Nominate an Aspiring Youth to Work with Steve Harvey

Nominate an Aspiring Youth to Work with Steve Harvey.

Scapegoating in Local Authorities

This very poignant article was written for community care and very articulately outlines a very destructive practice that exists in local authorities. This needs to change immediately. We are not only leaving Social Workers in unhealthy environments we are then exposing new qualified Social Workers to these highly uncertain, unsupportive and unstable environments which then replicate the same results – burn out, high turn over, lack of stability for clients. A complaint should not become and attack. A complaint is not an open door for a local authority to punish its workers. This is positively ludicrous.

Social Workers here are not given the appropriate level of support but this goes in two directions. Managers need to take responsibility not only for the case work but also for the well being of their workers because as effective managers they recognise that if their workers are healthy, content and supported, then their work product will be of a high level. But unfortunately it seems we work in a system that protects its managers not its workers. The most unfortunate part of this is that these decisions the disrupt the lives of clients because either they then get and agency worker who can go at any time or the work is filtered out to the rest of the team that is already overworked with their own caseloads. It is a never ending cycle.

However, Social Workers need to be looking out for themselves. They need to be advocates for themselves and not be afraid to speak out. Are there risks? Absolutely, but when it comes to your health and well being it is better to speak up than bottle it up. I firmly believe that monthly supervision should incorporate a conversation about a workers well being. Where it does not, I would say that Social Workers need to ask for it to be documented that they would like this to be part of their supervision. Supervision notes should be signed by both parties and signed copy provided to the worker. This way, even if a manager is tempted to alter documents, the worker has proof. We need to speak up for ourselves and let managers know what we need as workers. Yes we work for our local authorities, but they should also be working for us. In terms of ensuring we work in healthy conditions, have access to professional development, and are appropriately supported.

In the scenario posited by the author I would have encouraged the Social Worker to go back and ask for a resolution to the complaint. I would have taken it further and asked for an independent enquiry as to why the local authority felt the need to undertake an investigation at the point which they did. I would make sure that I have documented evidence of my requests for further support. If that didn’t work I would take it to a major publication and make it known that I was being targeted and bullied for daring to speak out for the support necessary to provide the best possible service to my clients. This cannot be allowed to continue. We cannot afford to sit back and allow ourselves to be bullied or intimidated into silence. It does more harm than good.

I urge all Social Workers to ensure they are being heard in supervision. I urge everyone to ensure that they keep signed copies of their supervision notes and where key issues have not been recorded that they ask for the notes to be altered or the add it in themselves before they sign it and return to their managers. Do not allow others to take advantage of you. We are trained to advocate for out clients but we also need to advocate for ourselves. It is imperative to positive well being, job security and on going professional development.

Councils told to stop housing vulnerable children miles away from home

images The Dfe (Department for Education) distributed a press release vowing to improve the use of residential placements for looked after children. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/councils-told-to-stop-housing-vulnerable-children-miles-away-from-home?utm_content=bufferd5bf7&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer

The release states in part:

Announcing the changes, Edward Timpson said:

“It’s totally unacceptable for local authorities to routinely place children miles away from their homes for no good reason. Far too often an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ culture prevails, and I’m determined to tackle it.

“In future, only senior council officials in charge of children’s services will be able to place children out of area and only when they judge it to be the right decision for a child to be moved away from their home area. There will be one individual in each local authority who is directly accountable for these decisions.

“I’m also removing the secrecy around residential care by putting more information in the public domain than ever before on the location and quality of homes and working with Ofsted to improve inspection. There is still more work to be done, and I expect councils and care homes to rise to the challenge.”

I agree with the Miniters in certain respects. I think there is an over use of out of borough placements but I think this needs to be responded to on several fronts. I think:

1 – there needs to be greater support for local foster carers. There is a financial incentive to care but this unfortunately can sometimes get the wrong type of people approved. There needs to be immediate intensive support for carers taking on children just coming into care to ensure they are helping the children to cope with the change/transition they are experience. I feel this would reduce the amount of moves as well as start to address those behaviours that lead to breakdown before they become unamanageable. For those children who have been in the care system for a while and are exhibiting behaviours that are making placements difficult, there needs to be extensive support provided to the carers, or local authorities and fostering agencies needs to have a pool of “special rate carers” – carers that are paid extra to support children with behavioural, learning difficulties, mental health issues etc. With the financial incentive should come increased supervision, increased training and respite. It should be a complete package. I think these particular carers should have a more stringent assessment process because what we are asking them to do will require the normal skill set required by a foster carer as well as more time and involvement.

2 – I think the demographic of local authorities needs to be considered. There are high concentration of carers in certain areas and minimal in others. This may not be down to the local authorities efforts to recruit. It may have to do with the make up of the area. This needs to be considered because it may mean a local authority has no choice but to go outside. Of course, every effort should be made to place the child as close as possible to the local authority to ensure, where appropriate, they can remain connected to family and friends.

3 – Social Workers and managers need to get much better at explaining the reasons and providing evidence for placing children and young people outside of the borough. Sometimes this is a very valid and needed decision; especially in instances of gang involvement, exploitation, dangerous families, lack of placements, etc. There are a number of reasons why it may be appropriate to place a child or young person outside of the borough. But this will need to be explained in full and evidenced by professionals. As a Social Worker and a former manager, I find it completely unacceptable to get a request that is not evidenced and other professionals are upset because they are no getting the response they are seeking. Our responses need to be based on the need of the child or young person, first and foremost. So our professional judgement needs to be robust enough to withstand scrutiny; and sometimes will go against what the child or young person would want for themselves. We are still the adults. We are still the professionals.

4 – Robust and appropriate residential facilities need to be developed locally. We cannot ignore the fact that foster care will not be appropriate for every child or young person. We need to account for the fact that some children will benefit more from a residential placment. This does not have to be severely restrictive and it is possible to have placements that operate at different levels to benefit the needs of the children and young people they house. I think the government needs to offer some incentive for locally developed facilities (if they haven’t already) so that where such services are needed they can be offered within the borough. I think there needs to be a gap analysis done by local authorities looking at the number of children and young people they have in out of borough residential facilities and how many of those that are appropriate to bring back into the local authority. If the response is such that it is warranted, a tender should be put out for the service. If it is found that there is a small proportion of children in residential facilities or that the majority of those placed in these out of borough facilities are not appropriate to return to the local authority there should be a joined up response with neighboring boroughs to reduce a cost.

It does appear that things are heading in the right direction. The release goes on to state:

We are also:

•introducing rules so homes must tell councils when children move into and out of the area
•changing the regulations so new homes only open in safe areas, run by competent providers and ensuring homes already open in less safe areas evidence that they can keep children safe, or face closure
•improving the quality of care by requiring staff and managers in homes to be suitably qualified within a strict time frame
•working with Ofsted to strengthen their inspection and intervention powers so ‘good’ is the only acceptable standard, and unsafe homes close unless they can evidence swift improvement
•putting much greater information on the quality and location of children’s homes into the public domain – this autumn we published an extended data pack to improve accountability and drive improvements by sharing best practice.

I would like to see this change managed well because it could be a great service provided to looked after children and go a long way to improve their outcomes. I am seeing changes happening with Minister Timpson and hope they continue for the better.

Professionals missed significant opportunities to protect murdered toddler

This appears to be a running line across serious case reviews but it is unclear what happens once it is uttered. The one thing that is clearly done within a local authority, once a serious case review has been undertaken, is that there is a slew of either “vouluntary” resignations or outright dismissals. In terms of practice however, there doesn’t appear to be a change if we are getting the same outcome/recommendation from every case review.

Of course, being me, I have some recommendations.

1- it needs to be drilled into the minds of medical staff and professionals that Safeguarding is EVERYONE’S responsibility.

This comes from a range of things from their unwillingness to report, the signing off of sick notices on the word of a parent, over reporting or escalation of details to warrant a response, unwillingness or lack of confidence in challenging parents of children with significant injuries, etc. I am sympathetic to the fact that they have a limited amount of time in which to do their exams etc. but I would challenge them with this: If this was your child being brought in by the person who you charged with their day to day care while you were working, how would you like it to be handled? Whatever their answer, that’s what you should be doing for everyone’s child. There shouldn’t be one rule for how your child is managed and how everyone else’s child is managed.

2 – professionals across the board need to become more confident in challenging parents and being more aware of the care given to children.

This includes those across housing, education, and any other public service. I have to say that I have seen partners in education really step up and are getting in right in many places but we still have work to do.

3 – this trend of blaming IT needs to STOP!

We already know there is a problem but what is being done about it. Why isn’t there a national medical database with indicators that can inform other medical professionals when an injury is suspicious, i.e. it is not discernable whether or not this is an accidental injury? Why isn’t there a system in place to alert other locla authorities to homeless families entering their area?

4 – Blame should not be the game. Change should be the game.

I don’t understand, from someone on the outside looking in, what is being done to change the way practice is being supported to ensure these things don’t continue to happen. In the case of Keanu Williams it is said that the Social Worker actually presented a “well-argued” case to have Keanu on a child protection plan but this was not taken up by conference. That is reflected in a small section. I am sure that had this Social Worker not idetified this risk it would have been on every page about how he/she failed in her duties. As a matter of fact the first line of the Community Care article says “Social workers and other professionals missed significant opportunities to protect a toddler who was murdered by his mother in Birmingham two years ago.”

Where is the recognition that a Social Worker did raise this concern and it wasn’t taken up? There is one sentence. It is not to say that there shouldn’t have been challenge or a further attempt to push the agenda (this is something that needs to be present throughout all professionals), but at least have equality in how things are reported.

There has to be themes that run through these serious case reviews and somewhere that records what these are. I am going to go on the hunt for them. I know one theme is parents who themselves have been through the care system. But there have to be others, like frequent moves etc.

Once we get the themes we can create a plan. Another theme that has run throughout is for “more joined up working.” This is just another useless phrase unfortunately. It has been talked about in circles but nothing has been done about it. How do we as professionals share the relevant information needed to protect children from abuse? How I ask?

Louise Casey is wrong to accuse social workers of collusion

Louise Casey is wrong to accuse social workers of collusion


How Dare You??? Crushed in a day

For the first time in my career I had a young person walk off from me. I did what I was supposed to do and reported him missing after consulting management on what to do as I had never been in the situation before. After I had reported him missing to the main non-emergency police number, I received a call back from an officer whose only purpose was apparently to reprimand me. He asked me why I didn’t grab him to stop him from walking off…… yeah you heard me!! He asked me why I didn’t do what would have been considered physical restraint. Initially I said to him that we are not allowed to do that because it is considered physical restraint, to which he replied that it’s not against the law as we have parental responsibility. He told me that it was just some rule of social services but it wasn’t against the law. Huh?!?!?!?!?? My reply, “I am not putting my hands on a child”. His response was I didn’t so now he’s gone missing. Again I said, quite sternly that I am not putting my hand on a child and that Social Services does not have parental responsibility for this particular child due to his legal status which means I cannot do anything without the parents’ permission and even so I am NOT putting my hands on a child!! I said it 4 times if not more to this man….4 times!!

I don’t believe this!!! Now, had I grabbed him and he screamed. I would have gotten arrested for assaulting a child! And, I’m sure this particular police man would have been in the crowd telling everyone how inappropriate my behaviour was. I mean, don’t Social Workers get enough bad press without having inconsiderate, ill informed, insensitive police officers reprimanding them for not grabbing a child. Where does it end???

It is days like this when I consider if this remains the profession for me. The best of intentions, to help others and see everyone get the best they can, to be the best they can, is being tainted by professional inconsideration. I was already having a bad day and felt genuinely bad that I couldn’t reach this young person enough to keep him from walking off then to be struck in the ribs so to speak by this officer’s ignorant behaviour and suggestions.

It is not a bright day in the life of my career but it’s not pitch black.

Louise Casey: Social workers ‘collude’ with problem families

Louise Casey at the LGA conferenceSpeaking at the Local Government Association’s annual conference in Manchester, Louise Casey, troubled families tsar, has made several accusations against Social Workers.

Among these accusations are that Social Workers collude with families and make excuses for children’s behaviours. This is completely against the ethos of Social Work. We do not collude with families; partnership working with children and families to achieve positive and lasting changes. A working relationship thrives through mutual negotiation and agreement. You have to give as well as take. Social Workers have to be suspicious of those who acquiesce to our intervention too quickly because this may be disguised compliance. We have to be aware of those who parents who were embroiled in children’s social services and have learned to manipulate the system. Working with families sometimes mean addressing some of the things they see as issues in addition to those we have identified. It is about helping them understand why we are involved, what it will take to make us go away and what will happen should we have to come back because inevitably the risks and the stakes will be higher if we intervene, withdraw, then have to return to intervene again.

I do agree that sometimes Social Workers are not assertive enough with families and professionals. I think Social Workers allow professionals to “push us around”. Personally I believe it is because we don’t always know the full remit of other professionals and thereby take on work too much. I believe it is due to a lack of confidence in their own practice and themselves as practitioners. I believe it has come from this blame culture; Social Workers seeing managers not standing behind Social Workers when decisions are made. Ms. Casey says there is a lack of decision making and I think she is right but this doesn’t fall squarely on the Social Workers. When you lack strength and decision making at the management level, what follows is a Social Work workforce that does not trust their own professional judgement or they know what is right but they acquiesce to the decisions of managers instead of fighting and challenging for the sake of the client.

I think Social Workers need to be able to challenge clients more. There is nothing wrong with listening to a clients’ story and challenging it where you have information to the contrary! I think we don’t make enough use of professionals meetings as a means of gathering and sharing of information. These meetings should include parents and families as it creates an open and honest working environment, a transparent working environment. It reduces the chances of splitting amongst professionals. But this only works where other professionals are working with us and not against us.

Ms. Casey calls on Social Workers to be more authoritative. This needs to be true of every professional working with the client. I have been told and heard on many occasions by professionals that they are remiss to challenge parents and families for fear of damaging the relationship. Instead they call Social Services as an afterthought to report what they have seen or heard with the expectation that we will take this on board and run with it. When challenged and asked what they did at the time to address this or what they are doing to address it, they quite happily respond by saying their “intervention” was to call Social Services! Well Ms. Casey, until you are ready to address the entire professional network involved with a family I am afraid there will be no changes. In most cases there are many other professionals involved with a family long before Social Workers ever become involved. How are these professionals being challenged? What accountability is being attributed to their role and relationships with families?

Having worked here for over 5 years, I must say I do think Social Workers need to be more challenging of families and professionals alike but similarly other professionals need to be willing to address their concerns with families and inform them that these will be shared with Social Services to improve service provision and working relationships. Professionals in general, not just Social Workers, need to establish their authority from the outset and not be afraid to inform families of what they can and cannot do – and what they will and will not do – to safeguard children.

Ms. Casey talks about professionals being “nice” to each other. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that people take being clear and seeking clarity, solid decision making, which incorporates roles for all professionals involved, and challenging anyone and anything as being aggressive. Personally I don’t care about being friends with other professionals as long as they do what is expected of them in order to safeguard children and help families. However, when you are assertive – which is necessary in Social Work – it is wrongly categorized as aggression and ignored because it makes others uncomfortable.

I believe it to be possible to establish authority and be clear about your role as a Social Worker without being aggressive, overbearing or blaming. I have seen Social Workers use their authority as a shield when being challenged which further damages the already tarnished view of the profession. Screaming “I am a Social Worker” when being challenged by a family – which is automatically heard by others as “I can take your child away” – is counterproductive to any working relationship. Despite the reigning view, we are not baby snatchers and in many cases we do not want to take children away; not so much because we think the parents are wonderful and blameless but because we know the negative, traumatic effect it has on children. I don’t want to make a child scream and cry any more than I want to hammer a nail into my hand, but where that child will not grow or thrive in that environment it is necessary. Do we get it wrong sometimes? Yes. Have we gotten it wrong in the past? Yes. Do we overreact in times of political pressure? Yes. We are after all human. But what I would say to Social Workers is that an open, honest and transparent relationship with families really does work. I would also say, admitting that you were wrong and apologizing, goes a very long way. We don’t know it all and although we all may have our area of expertise, we will not always get it right. It’s about working with instead of against. It’s about admitting the system is flawed but working within your remit. It’s about acknowledging your authority but not lording over families and professionals. It is possible to work within a mutually beneficial environment, achieve positive changes with and for families while meeting your responsibilities.

I don’t think Ms. Casey was absolutely right in all her statements. I also don’t think she was horribly off the mark. I think what she did do was publicize a few of our professionals relationship failings unnecessarily.

I never understood the reason so many people did not want to put things in writing or are so remiss to set a firm standard until I realized how literally the people take things. It appears that there is no room for insight, inference or interpretation. It’s as if everything has to apply in every situation, no one is fighting the cause. Everyone says “one size doesn’t fit all” but where a circumstance does not fit the established mould, very few are willing to push beyond the precedent. Every Social Worker is not the same. Every Social Worker does not practice in the same way. Some of us are actively challenging families, professionals and managers alike. I recognize that my job is about much more than what makes me comfortable and there may be an actual life at stake if I don’t get it right. I do for families what I would expect to have done for my own should they need assistance.

Professionals, politicians, clients and the public at large need to stop making blanket statements about Social Work. You have not met us all. You have not worked with us all. You cannot possibly speak to all that we do. As a Social Worker, I want the respect I give to others.

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