Hertfordshire Family Safeguarding: Stories of success
Strengthening Families, Protecting Children (SFPC)
Families share their journeys
Claire, Parent, Family Safeguarding, Telford and Wrekin
Claire’s two children first became known to the local authority in July 2021. The children were 13 & 11 at the time and had been exposed to their mother’s problematic substance use, which she had been having difficulties with for over 30 years. Claire’s substance use had increased and become more chaotic, and she was struggling to engage with her treatment, all of which was having an increasingly negative effect on her children.
Reflecting on the experience of her two children, Claire admitted that they had, “only ever known their mother as just a drug addict.”
Introducing the multidisciplinary team
Following a significant relapse, Claire was quickly allocated an alcohol and drugs recovery worker, although engagement continued to be a challenge with repeated missed appointments. It was at this point that a decision was made by the family’s social worker to move into pre-proceedings due to the significant harm that the substance use was having on the children.
Claire had worked with social workers previously and with substance services before, it had been disjointed, the social workers didn’t have a full understanding of substance use and how this affected the family and children.
Instead, through the Family Safeguarding multidisciplinary team, the social worker worked with and alongside a recovery worker. This was groundbreaking for Claire who was supported by “a team of professionals all working closely together and in constant communication with one another.”
The multidisciplinary team supporting Claire included a social worker who listened and acted upon concerns, building a relationship with the two children, and a recovery worker who was, “honest and straight talking” as well as, “hard working and caring.”
Preparing for change
Working together, the multidisciplinary team were able to identify and support a residential placement for the two children during the period of pre-proceedings which allowed Claire to focus on her own needs and recovery. This enabled the children’s father, Steve, to focus solely on ensuring that the needs of the children were met, whilst a structured plan was put in place to support Claire’s recovery and abstinence including time in rehab. A plan was also made for how the children’s needs would be met upon Claire’s discharge from rehab.
Through working together, building on Family Safeguarding’s strengths-based approach to working with families the multidisciplinary team supported Claire and Steve by supporting them to make a change.
Motivational interviewing was a key focus for how the multidisciplinary team worked with the family. This helped to develop a partnership between the team and parents and provided a framework of support for preparing Claire and Steve for change.
Working in the family’s context
As a result of this support Claire demonstrated remarkable change and the decision was made to step the children out of pre-proceedings and eventually the Child Protection Plan as well.
Reflecting on the role of the social worker in particular, Steve identified the “hard work and dedication” shown in the work “with his daughters and that she [the social worker] has made a difference and has changed the life of this family”.
“Having a team that works together has been invaluable and although it’s not been easy as a family. we are much happier.”
Working closely together over many months ensured that the multidisciplinary team understood the recovery journey and the impact this can have on parenting capacity. This enabled the team to create and safely deliver a plan that was appropriate for Claire and her family. It was this cross discipline understanding of the family’s context that enabled them to provide the support Claire needed to make positive changes where previous attempts had failed.
*For anonymity purposes, the names Claire and Steve are pseudonyms.
Sue, Social Worker, Family Safeguarding, Cambridgeshire
Sue has worked for the Cambridgeshire local authority for 18 years in several different roles.
“I have always held on to the hope that people can change. If people could do it themselves, they would have done, they wouldn’t need us, some people just need support in understanding how they have got to where they are, how they can do things differently, and then support to do it. It’s about working alongside families and working with them not doing to them.”
Working differently with families
Developing strong relationships with families has always been Sue’s focus. “I always say to parents ‘I want your child to be with you, I do not want your children, I don’t want to take them from you, I want your children to be with you, they have to be safe and that is my priority.’ And I am yet to meet a parent who says they don’t want their children to be safe.”
Sue worked with a family who had moved from another area where they had been known to that local authority for several years. Older children had been previously removed, the mother was now pregnant with a new child and there were professional concerns for the welfare of that child.
“Our model was ‘we know your history, we know what has happened before, what is the situation now?’ We were able to look at it from all the different perspectives and see that the historical situation was very different to the situation now.
“Mum had always felt very judged by professionals. We talked about her situation before and it had been horrific domestic abuse and she had always felt like she couldn’t do anything right, she was always getting it wrong. I made sure to manage her anxieties and work with her and support her so that she could feel comfortable with me.”
Sue wanted to make sure that she worked differently with this family. She wanted to make sure that she would do everything she could to support positive change and keep the new child at home.
“I’ve always held the belief that I can’t say that if I were given the circumstances that some of the families I’ve worked with have or the choices they’ve been presented with that I would have made any better decisions or choices. Sometimes I hear people’s stories and I think my knees would have buckled if I had lived through that. Family Safeguarding is a way of working with people that enables you to have that empathy and understanding that their lived experience has brought them to where they are. it’s about breaking a cycle of what has happened to them and making sure that it doesn’t continue to happen to their children.”
Sue worked in partnership with the family and maintained an open and honest relationship with the mother. This approach encouraged the mother to do the same and engage with the different aspects of her plan.
“The mum told me that she knew she could say anything to me, and I wouldn’t judge her. It’s a much less punitive way of working with people. We got to the stage when I would visit and we would talk about the weather because there was nothing else to talk about, everything on the plan was being taken care of and we reached a point when my work was done.”
The remarkable change seen in the family resulted in an end to the statutory intervention from the local authority.
The mother was glowing in her feedback to Sue, “It’s been an absolute pleasure working with you, you have given me such confidence as a mother and I thank you for it… you’re everything a social worker should be, and any family you work with in the future is lucky to have you to help them with their struggles.”
This job is about relationships
Sue is clear as to why she was successful in working with this family and achieving a positive outcome.
“This job is about relationships. If you can’t form a relationship with someone you can’t work with them.”
For Sue, her role as a social worker is to support families, to build upon the strengths that are already there and encourage positive change.
“We give people the wings to fly. Sometimes people don’t have the confidence to parent, and we are there to tell them they can do it. People can do it you just need to give them the right tools. If you give someone a set of flippers they can’t, give them a set of wings and they can fly.”
I didn’t come into this to take children out of families. I do this so that one day families will say ‘do you remember that social worker? It was alright working with her and it was good.’ I don’t care if they don’t remember my name, as long as the changes that are needed to be made are made then it is job done.”
Helen and her family were receiving lots of visits from Social Workers from Children’s Services because of concerns about Helen being able to keep herself and her children safe. The children were assessed as suffering significant harm. Helen had a long history of involvement in other Local Authorities prior to moving to the Walsall area.
A referral was received from a Health Care professional working in the local Hospital Accident and Emergency department about a Domestic Abuse incident. Helen described how her partner had been physically and emotionally abusive towards her during their relationship, and tensions had continued to increase within their home. Her partner left the property following this incident and the relationship subsequently broke down.
Helen struggled with her mental wellbeing following the breakdown of the relationship and she found it increasingly difficult to care for their children alone. Her mental health was so poor that when looking back she said she was not able to recall certain events. She lacked motivation and used alcohol and substances as a coping mechanism.
Helen’s former partner was offered support. He started to work with the Domestic Abuse practitioner, but he did not complete the programme and declined any further support.
Support from Family Safeguarding
Helen received practical support from her Social Worker and a Family Support Worker who undertook direct work with her around morning and evening routines, behaviour strategies and management, one to one play and the impact of domestic abuse on the children. This assisted with confidence and empowered Helen to give guidance and direction in the home to more effectively parent her children.
When our involvement began, Helen said she felt ashamed and ‘watched and monitored all of the time’. She described being very standoffish as she expected a lot of blame.
“I didn’t need it hammering home, I knew what was wrong, but I was in a bad place.”
Helen said she hated Children’s Services having had previous involvement with Social Workers. Helen felt scared that if she didn’t do what she was told to do, her children would be taken from her.
This was a barrier to working with professionals initially, however, she described how the approach of the Family Safeguarding Social Worker was different.
“She came at me like a parent, you know like another human being. She reassured me that she wasn’t there to take my children.”
This helped build the trust between Helen and her Social Worker. Helen now believes Children’s Services are not there to take children but there to help her keep them safe. She says he is no longer scared.
Helen described the way in which meetings were held made a big difference as this approach acknowledges both ‘good and bad’ aspects of the family situation and that strengths as well as weaknesses were talked about. Helen said that she has never left a meeting feeling hard done by or bullied. She admits some comments were hard to hear but were ‘fair’.
Helen said there was a ‘good connection’ between the professionals working with her, saying it is clear that they talk and also listen to each other.
Motivational Interviewing assisted Helen to talk about her own experiences as a child, which had been left unresolved and unaddressed over the years which continued to impact upon her mental health.
Helen spoke about feeling sad for her children and the ‘toxic relationship’ she had been in. She did not realise how this was affecting them but says can see more clearly now. By engaging in conversations with the Social Worker she recalled her own childhood which was fraught with parental domestic abuse. Referring to the abuse experienced in her recent relationship:
Helen now understood how her children may perceive healthy and unhealthy relationships in the future, should they have continued to be exposed to domestic abuse.
Helen undertook healthy relationship work with the Domestic Abuse practitioner. Helen was able to talk about how helpful this was and how she learnt about the different types of abuse, realising at the time she was not only being physically and emotionally abused, but also financially abused.
Helen described support in terms of her mental health and how the consistency of the Clinical Psychologist doing weekly visits was important to her. For the first 12 weeks Helen described just sitting and crying, but knowing she was being listened to helped her significantly. There were occasions when Helen was feeling extremely low, but knowing she had someone she was able to talk to regularly made the difference and provided her with some reassurance of when she would be visited next. The Clinical Psychologist was able to help Helen reflect back to happier and better times and think about the person she was and wants to be. Helen used this support to identify goals.
She was supported by the Clinical Psychologist to understand her children’s behaviours and how to respond appropriately. Helen is able to talk about and identify life stressors and acknowledge her impulsive behaviours. Helen now appears to be a lot stronger, she is able to put boundaries in place and manage her children’s behaviour.
Change for Helen
This has been a journey for Helen and although there have been some bumps in the road involving relapse, she is determined to continue with positive change for herself and her children.
Reflecting on how things have changed: “How hasn’t it changed? It has all changed! I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for the support I had… I used to go to bed at night and think of ways I could say goodbye.”
Helen largely puts this down to the support she has been given and continues to receive from the Family Safeguarding team.
Helen’s children are no longer being deemed to be suffering significant harm, however the family continue to receive support to help sustain the changes that have been made.
Learning from Helen’s story
In a 12-month period, Helen received support from a Social Worker, Domestic Abuse Practitioner, Clinical Psychologist from the Family Safeguarding team, along with other agencies such as the Early Help Family Support Worker, school and later the adult recovery worker.
Helen described how receiving a lot of support from professionals from different agencies all at the same time, amounted to a high number of tasks that she was required to undertake. This became overwhelming for Helen at times, and if she missed any pieces of work or appointments, it made her feel ‘bad’ and sometimes she felt like a ‘failure’.
Helen felt it important for those involved to consider what is being asked of the parent and at what time, as a stepped approach may be more beneficial for a parent receiving high levels of support.
Professionals reflect on their involvement in implementing Family Safeguarding
Taking great pride in her work and her team, Lillie’s experience of Family Safeguarding has instilled a love for children and family social work that shows no sign of diminishing.
Lillie joined the child protection and court team after qualifying in 2018. She is now a Consultant Social Worker with more responsibility for the adoption of Family Safeguarding in Lancashire.
There has been a great deal of change since Lillie began her career. “The biggest difference is that before Family Safeguarding we were very risk averse. If something happened in a family in the past, we would jump on it. Whereas now we look at strengths and see what we can do. If something significant came up in a case, we would end up in proceedings quickly. But now, if something happens, we see if we can prevent it.”
Lillie explains, “we’ve always looked at strengths but gave more weight to the risks. Just the other the day, I was looking at a child protection conference and I had concerns, but there were so many strengths in this care, the child has remained a Child in Need.”
Lillie is thoughtful about the differences in practice since Family Safeguarding was introduced. “As a practitioner you have to be open to that…it’s also about your values…you can’t let the old way take over”. Good management and being able to talk things through is necessary to support workers, Lillie says. “Sometimes I have to battle it through…like in a case recently, I was worried about the level of risk…and I battled it out a little bit, but not on my own…it’s through peer support and group supervision.”
Support to ‘sound things out’
Two critical components of the Family Safeguarding model are Supervision involving all professionals in the multi-disciplinary team and the Workbook, an innovative recording mechanism for multi-agency recording, analysis and decision making.
For Lillie, group supervision and the Workbook enable the team to engage in reflective practice and constantly learn from each other. She says, “We have to do group supervision for every case because of the Workbook. We all sound each other out and get different views and we talk about cases together…having the different posts in the team, like the Mental Health worker and Recovery Worker, I learn so much about different terminology, different services out there, and mostly different perspectives from their role and the way they look at things. You know things…but they have in depth knowledge and then we can all look together at ways of supporting a family, bringing out different perspectives together.” She adds that having more information about a case from other professionals in the team is a big change…” you know some services don’t tend to share and it could take a lots to get to know things about a case”.
No more chasing
Lillie notes that less time is spent negotiating access to other support and services since Family Safeguarding was implemented to Lancashire.
“Before it was chase down a referral… you were banging your head against a brick wall, waiting for mental health support and there were long waiting lists…sometimes as long as 18 months. Before you knew you couldn’t get the work into families in time.”
What makes it a lot better is having the adult workers on hand. It’s more relaxed as people feel they are making a difference”.
Lillie talks about how even if there is a wait for a service because adult services, like mental health are in house, families are supported before a crisis occurs.
Keeping families together
Summing up her thoughts, Lillie’s is positive about the difference this way of working is having on families.
“I feel like relationships with families are more open and honest…it’s like I’m doing what I signed up to do…work with families like this…I feel like we’re making a massive difference to families and it’s really rewarding. It was very process driven before, it still is, but we’re more driven by strength based practice and you’re getting more cooperation and not going in so heavy handed.”
Lillie returns again to her motivations for becoming a social worker.
“This way of working is why I wanted to become a social worker to help support families and keep them together. I don’t know about anybody else, but for me I feel that since the restructure I get to spend more meaningful time with families, doing direct work and lots of other creative things, that I would never have had the time to do before.
I feel that I am more present when visiting families and never find myself worrying about the time if a visit goes on for that bit longer. We’re seeing less and less families escalating to pre-proceedings and proceedings, by taking a strength-based approach and getting interventions into place sooner so that we can keep families together, which is our main goal.”
“Family Safeguarding to me is the best thing that has happened to Lancashire. We’re achieving better outcomes for families, children and young people than we ever have done before, and it is so rewarding!”
Rebecca is training to become a social worker. “My journey is just beginning” she says, but a passion for working in children’s social care has been ignited by her experience as the Domestic Abuse worker in the Lancashire Family Safeguarding team.
“I first worked as a support worker in a Children in Need team and worked a lot with domestic violence. When I returned from maternity leave, I embraced the opportunity to train with Women’s Aid and do the Domestic Abuse role…the Family Safeguarding model was adopted when I was on leave…it’s so different to how we were working. Before, it was ‘what are you doing about the risks? How are they now?’ and we saw families come back into the service. But now, it feels more family-led. Lots more families see that we’re there for support. We’re not looking for negatives in a crisis situation.”
“Family Safeguarding is about working together with families. It goes with my values and everything I personally believe.”
Rebecca has become skilled in working with victims of domestic abuse. She talks about the value of training with Women’s Aid. “It was 3 months, compared with the ½ day I had before. I thought I knew what to do, but my work has much more depth now. I am no longer working at a surface level. I help other practitioners to understand whether they’re seeing conflict or an abusive relationship. It’s then about seeing things from different perspectives and working more holistically, taking the children and young person’s view and paramountcy of keeping them safe, alongside keeping victims safe…understanding the trauma victims experience.”
Rebecca goes on to describe how empowering victims of domestic abuse is at the heart of her work. “There can be a lot of blame. They can feel like a failure as a parent when they are told by children’s services that they are putting their children at risk. They’re not used to feeling heard or understood and putting their voices across about what they’re going through. Domestic abuse can be a very isolating experience and victims can lose their support systems and family networks. Part of my role is re-building their identity…re-connecting them with the community.”
Nothing is ever silly
Supporting victims of domestic abuse and protecting children comes with its challenges. “It’s tricky of course…seeing the survivors’ perspective brings insights to a situation that others in the team haven’t got. Looking back at my time in the Children in Need team, I can see that we were working in the best interests of the child, but our involvement can make women less safe…we need to constantly challenge in constructive ways… At the beginning I put a lot of pressure on myself when an incident happened, for example. But as my knowledge and understanding of domestic abuse has developed, I see things differently.”
Group supervision is crucial to how the different professionals in the Family Safeguarding model work effectively together. Rebecca is clear that her manager is skilled in bringing out the different perspectives and skills in the team and allowing an open constructive dialogue about cases to take place. She describes what it feels like to be part of group supervision.
“Nothing is ever silly. I might feel unsure, but I never feel silly. It feels like a safe space to talk and ultimately put action plans in place which benefit families…we move towards solutions and manage different situations together.”
Rebecca speaks about how her confidence has grown and why she puts this down to working in a multi-disciplinary team. “Before, you were working more in isolation and there was back and forth between agencies, trying to get support into a family. Now, it’s all on your doorstep. I can liaise with the mental health worker and ask what’s going on for a parent. You don’t feel you’re on your own and you can’t be a master of all…you feel more confident”.
When Rebecca was asked to share her story her first thought was about success. “Or lack of it! I was worried…I thought I’m not sure what success stories I have to share about my work…I have only over supported one woman into a refuge.” Rebecca pauses. “But then ‘what is success?’ It takes seven times on average for a victim to leave an abusive partner. Now I’m thinking about success as creating enough safety for a woman to feel she’s not alone, and that there’s an understanding about what she’s experiencing.
When she’s comfortable and confident enough to say what’s going on and what she needs to make things OK – I think that’s success. It’s having my number in their phone and coming back to the service when they’re ready to engage…. Success is using Clare’s Law or making someone aware that if they can’t speak when dialling 999, dialling 55 will let the police know that help is needed.”
Looking ahead to her social work placement, which is about to start, Rebecca says, “You know they say that in children’s social work ‘it’s sink or swim?’ I don’t believe in that. I think we need to support people to swim regardless.”
Jan Monaghan, Child & Family Practitioner, Family Safeguarding, Lancashire
Within minutes of meeting Jan it is clear that she has not had an ordinary career. Jan started her professional life as a reporter and it was whilst working on a piece about juvenile courts and discovering some ‘awful situations’ that a passion for working with children and families was sparked within her.
“I went on to train in the early years and worked in Montessori education before coming back and working in children’s centres. I worked in Mali in West Africa, Cambodia, Bhutan, and Thailand.”
Jan feels that there are strong connections between her many different experiences and roles. “I’m now in the early winter stage of my career. This role brings it all together. As a Family Practitioner for Family Safeguarding, there’s a bit of peak…I feel refreshed for more.”
Many of the issues that come up for families here are the same things I was supporting professionals to address in other countries. It’s all very similar… child neglect, domestic violence, sexual violence, poor mental health. It’s just different environments and resources.”
Letting humanity in
Jan started working in children’s social care three years ago as a Child and Family Practitioner.
“You hear all these things in the press, but you’re only getting a snippet of what goes on and what social workers do. Now I know there’s so much to it. You can’t take it at face value from the newspaper or the tele.”
Developing trusting relationships with families enables Jan to foster positive engagement and learn about their situation.
“Having a healthy conversation is about having a bit of a laugh too… you get a bit of relief… Sometimes it’s talking about something innocuous. With a family the other day, we talked about pets and ended up sharing pictures of our dogs and cats. Then we talked about how cats and dogs are like toddlers, and you’re back on the baby side again. Issues can be very serious, and you have to address them. But conversations need a little spice for that humanity to come in.”
Jan gives an example of when she was offering support to a young couple with a baby who was not going home. She describes Motivational Interviewing – a core part of Family Safeguarding.
“There was a lot going on behind the scenes. Parents asked, ‘What’s the point of doing this?’ How do you get the parents on board to not give up and want to do this work with you? You can’t force anyone, being forced means they’re not engaged. This couple were already shutting down. I used Motivational Interviewing questions…. ‘Tell me about your lovely baby.’ Their faces were lighting up, and that’s lovely, and we started talking about what kind of things they’re doing and their plans for the future.”
Jan explains how the focus is on the child. The approach is not dismissing the challenges but concentrates on strengths so that solutions emerge.
“When parents don’t know what to do… you know things we all have to cope with, like the toddler is throwing things, I don’t go in with an answer I don’t have. I’m asking, ‘Tell me about what you love about your child?’ Let’s look at all the good stuff you are doing, how lovely your child is, which opens the door to a much more positive conversation. That doesn’t always come to the forefront for families who have lots of things in their lives. It might take longer, but that’s okay. You must have empathy and understanding.”
Once the parent engages when you’re talking about their child, you know you have a little positive outcome. Little things can change and flip thinking. Families find themselves in situations which are not their own doing. We can’t undo that, but we can work on the way they see things. It’s catching those moments. Focusing on the strengths.”
Jan’s ability to connect with people and empathise shines through. She continually reflects on how to communicate with children and families and make sure they are truly seen and heard.
“We’re listening to children a lot deeper. Recently I have built up trust with a child I see every week who may not be going back to her family. She’s asking questions, ‘How long will I stay here, Jan?’ ‘Will I stay here forever?’ I can’t say, as it’s not my role. You try and be as honest as possible and give reassurance. But, what a privilege to be in her life, that she’s asking me those things…the child is almost holding me to account and that’s okay.”
Jan explains how using the Family Safeguarding Workbook supports her practice.
“You have to think a little deeper about what you’re saying and doing. How would you tell a child what’s happening to them, going on around them and how you will support them. It’s the eye opener to me. You can write all these reports – but its professional writing – it has its place – but a lot of the time the language wasn’t there to talk to children and families.”
Not lost, just undiscovered
It is perhaps unsurprising that Jan is drawn to the Workbook. “I like writing to the child”, she says. “Do you know the song by James Morrison, ‘I’m not lost, no, no, just undiscovered’? That’s how I see the child. There are reports about the hidden child, where professionals have been so involved with the parents, they’ve not seen the child, even when they are physically there. I have this ‘aide memoire’ in my head wherever I go, in every home, and it resonates. I’m there to discover the child.”
Jan feels that her confidence has grown working alongside the other professionals in the Family Safeguarding multi-disciplinary team. She also feels the status of her role has increased.
“I didn’t get to know the social workers much before, we were also in separate buildings, and we didn’t have the Workbook. It did feel bitty. Family Safeguarding makes my work feel much more meaningful and collectively we have much more understanding. I’m part and parcel of every aspect so you can’t not get a deeper picture and your work truly fits that family. It’s a much better way of working and it’s really satisfying.”