Every child deserves to have an equal chance to reach their full potential. Great social workers enact real change that supports children to do this. However, social workers require the skill, confidence and time to build trusting, impactful relationships with families.
Two Frontline programme participants, Sally and Jacob, worked with parents-to-be, Lacey and Lee. Due to a family history of abuse and neglect, a decision had to be made whether their unborn baby Logan, could stay in their care. Sally and Jacob worked hard alongside Lacey and Lee to ensure that Logan would be able to remain safely in the parents’ care once born, but with intensive support from professionals.
“As I’d had three children removed previously, I knew there was always a chance Logan would be taken. Me and Lee have changed and felt ready to have a baby, settle down and be a family, but I’d had a really bad experience with social workers before so I was really anxious. We accept our past and know we didn’t do things right, we hold our hands up to this, but this time we were going to prove we could be good parents. We just wanted a chance to show that.
“It’s hard to be open to or trust people you know are coming to decide whether you’re good parents and whether to take your baby away or not, so we didn’t know what it would be like with Sally and Jacob. But straight away something felt different. They made us feel at ease and didn’t come across as negative; they wanted to listen to us and focus on the present. When we opened up to them about our past, they could have judged us but they didn’t, they listened and were honest, breaking everything down for us so we could understand and be a part of what was going on.
“Sally tells me when I’m doing a good job, and told me not to keep putting myself down. She knew I didn’t believe in myself and reassured me. This doesn’t mean she didn’t tell me when she felt I’d done something wrong, but she told me what I could do to make it better.
“This all meant we started to really trust them even though we didn’t know whether we’d be able to keep Logan, and I’ve never had that with social workers before. We were always open with them because we knew they were being open with us. They helped us to look at the whole picture but focus on the future rather than the past. We have so much respect for them, and can’t thank them enough for giving us a chance.”
This was both Sally and Jacob’s first time completing a pre-birth assessment. They spoke to us about some of the challenges, and how their training on the Frontline programme guided their approach.
“We both had reservations from the beginning because of both Lee and Lacey’s history, as well as feeling nervous about completing our first parenting assessment on a child protection and public law outline case. The systemic approach helped us to focus on and be curious about what might have been going on for the family in the past, and what may have changed, rather than focusing on just the referral information. We knew they hadn’t felt listened to by social workers in the past, so had to build a relationship with them from a place of distrust. We gave them space to share their experiences and be the experts of their own lives, then used this information to consider the risk factors and establish whether the parents were able to understand and consider the needs of the baby.
“We had strong concerns at the beginning, but by being open to understanding the wider context we avoided thinking in a fixed and linear way that would only prove these concerns true. Having the space to critically reflect on how we felt about the case with Alicia (consultant social worker) as it progressed enabled us to balance statutory requirements with a non-judgemental and holistic approach.
“Without this supervision, it would have been very hard to remain curious and empathetic despite emotional conversations with the parents that conflicted with our value base. This was crucial as it meant the parents felt comfortable enough with us to share their experiences and talk on a level they hadn’t previously, which in turn helped us with the assessment and putting a support plan in place.”
Alicia, Sally and Jacob’s consultant social worker, added that, “One of the advantages of allocating Logan’s case in the Frontline unit was that I was able to ensure that the family would experience consistency without a change of social worker occurring. This also enabled Sally and Jacob to invest more time into building a relationship with Lacey and Lee. At a meeting with other professionals to discuss whether court proceedings needed to be initiated, it was commented on that, based on the family history, it would have been easy for the decision to be made for Logan to be removed at birth.
“However, the assessment Sally and Jacob completed presented a creative and innovative support/safety plan that would enable the opportunity for Logan to return home while sufficiently managing ongoing risks. Both parents have made significant and sustained change by addressing their own needs and trauma, which was facilitated by Sally and Jacob working in collaboration with them, reducing the imbalance of power and exploring strength and resilience factors.”
The number of children in care continues to rise. We are working to develop social workers who invest time in building good relationships with families, who demonstrate skill and judgement in challenging situations, and who take measured risk to bring about the best possible results for, and with families.