You are working as a Social Worker in a Gateway Team. A referral is received from the PSNI that they attended an incident of domestic abuse the previous Saturday evening. The referral is being made because there are two children in the household aged 4 years and 18 months.
Discuss the main roles and responsibilities of the Social Work profession, including law and policy, service user perspectives, the social work process, and professional ethics and values.
Social work involves working with some of the most vulnerable people who have been oppressed or disadvantaged in Society. The role of the Social Worker is to challenge these oppressions to help service users help themselves. It is about promoting change, and is underpinned by laws, theories, policies and procedures. ‘Social Work as a profession has never experienced so many changes in policy and practice (Iwaniec and Hill 2009’9) Theory is far from benign and practitioners need to ensure that their understanding of theory has not stopped, slowed or become misplaced (Helm 2010) although they cannot represent an absolute truth they can help understand, explain and bring about change. (Howe 1990)
For the purpose of this assignment the assumption is that this is a heterosexual married couple where the husband is committing domestic violence against his wife.
The Gateway team is the first point of contact when children are involved, when the referral is made, their input; although may be short term has a crucial impact in ensuring the safety of the children. It is their duty to investigate, the Social Worker must see this family within twenty four hours or the reasons why this cannot be achieved must be clearly recorded (Laming, 2003, Recommendation 53) It is the Social Workers duty to make contact with this family as soon as possible.
It may be beneficial to look at the four main parts of the helping cycle which are Assessment, Care Planning, Implementation and Review. (Taylor and Devine 1993) Although Gateway doesn’t tend to execute care plans, except possibly on a short term basis, this cycle can provide a firm foundation for the Social Work process.
On receipt of this referral the Social Work process begins, Social work is never mechanistic or predictable and any encounter is seen as unique, Social Workers need to be properly prepared to ensure effective practice. One of the most important methods of preparation for Social workers is that of ‘Tuning in’ which should begin when the referral has been received. Shulman (1992) has described this as involving effort from the workers to get in touch with potential feelings and concerns the Service User may bring to the helping encounter. This should help the Social Worker prepare for undertaking the referral with a more objective approach; they may equip themselves with information to be provided as a means of empowering the family such as agencies they can connect with.
Social work has been described as a ‘practical moral activity.’ (Parrott 2010 ‘3) Before attending any referral it is important the Social Worker takes into account their own values, we all have a set of beliefs that influence our actions they relate to what we believe others should do or what we should be doing (Parrott 2010) Values are influenced by things such as culture, family, and life experience. As a Social Work practitioner there is a professional set of values that must be reflected in practice. It is important to be aware of our own values and understand that there will be occasions when our personal and professional values will conflict.
The Cornerstone of a high quality assessment is a sound value base, which challenges oppression and respects individual’s rights. Middleton (1997) believes the process of assessment is firmly rooted in the context of Social Work values and individual difference is central if the process is not going to disempower the individual. Several potential pitfalls in making judgement are identified by Milner and O’Byrne (2009) such as, stereotyping, labelling people and attributing certain characteristics to people because how we perceive they are likely to behave, as a Social Worker it is important to be able to recognise these downfalls and try to avoid them, to ensure effective practice. ‘Our values and views of childhood can play a part in the assessment process.’ (Helm 2010’162)
Due to the possible risk to the children it may be difficult to feel respect for the father; he is allegedly carrying out domestic violence in the family home, putting both his wife and children at risk from harm. It is important as a Social Worker to be clear that, although the actions may not be respected it is a professional duty to respect the persons as an individual in their own right. Recognising potential value conflicts can contribute to effective practice.
Milner and Byrne (2009) argue assessment is a key task in social work practice. It is an ongoing process involving Service User participation, with the purpose of understanding people in relation to their environment. (Coulshed and Orme, 2006) ‘Assessment demands the ability to organise, systemise and rationalise knowledge gathered, the Social Worker needs to be sensitive and demonstrate the ability to value the uniqueness of each individual assessed.’ (Parker and Bradley 2007’16). ‘Practitioners require the skill and determination to find methods of communication to demonstrate their competence.'(Thomas and O’Kane 2000’819) One of the most controversial and complex areas of Social Work is the assessment of a child and their family when there are concerns about the welfare of the child. (Holland 2004) So it is important that all knowledge is kept up to date.
It is important that the assessment ensures full involvement of the family and any significant others, portraying respect and consideration, working in partnership with the family will be beneficial. The Social Worker needs to be open and honest and give the family a clear understanding of the assessment process and their roles within it. In this particular case the exchange model could be applied, where it is seen that the service user is their own best expert, the interview should be collaborative, the family will know what problems they are facing, they will be able to provide their perspectives on what is happening.
Part of the assessment process would be to gather information, through observation, questioning and the interview process. The Social Worker will need to be aware what they are looking to find out and decide who they need to speak with, the parents, the children and any significant other that could provide an insight into the family setting.
As Part of the ‘tuning in’ process it is important that the Social Worker works in partnership with other agencies as this might help to get a clearer understanding of the situation, they must liaise with the police as they were the ones that made the referral and it may also be beneficial to speak to the family’s GP and the health visitor, as there is an 18th month old child in the house the health visitor may have made regular visits and could give a good insight into the family and the children’s development.
Observation is a critical element of assessment (Holland 2004) Observing the family is a major part of the assessment process, visualising how they interact with each-other and how the children interact with both parents, it is important to look for signs of disruption and possibly fear on the part of the children. Observation can allow the practitioner to see how the children’s daily life looks like with particular reference to emotional abuse and neglect (Helm 2010) as both children are still young the use of observation with reference to the attachment theory could provide vital information as the attachment theory focuses on how the children interact with their parents. The child’s development can be affected by lack of attachment with parents. (Hirschy and Wilkinson 2009) What is being said and what is being done may not be easily to depict, the use of observation ‘allows the practitioner to validate what is being said or it may provide contradictory evidence that needs to be addressed.’ (Helm 2010’57)
Another crucial area of the assessment is the interview process. The parents, the children and any significant others, will need to be interviewed in relation to this case, to provide a holistic view of what is happening and the effect it may be having on the children. Interviewing others outside the family may cause controvsersy with the parents as the Human Rights act (1998) states people have the right to a private and family life, (www.legislation.gov.uk) if there is a possibility the children are at risk all avenues need to be assessed. When interviewing the parents it is important that their rights are promoted. Questions need to be appropriately structured to ensure that the family are not oppressed in anyway.
Ethics are an important part of Social Work (Banks 2006) According to the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC www.niscc.info) Social Workers should promote the independence of the Service Users while seeking to ensure that their behaviour does not harm themselves or other people. It is important to consider the mothers view of the situation, although the purpose of the Gateway team is primarily to look after the welfare of the child, they must also be aware of the oppression being faced by the other members in the family and promote their rights.
As the mother is suffering from domestic violence, it may be beneficial to provide her with advice and with information on Women’s aid who provide support for anyone who suffers from domestic violence; it may help to empower her and give her a sense of self determination. She may not wish to leave for several reasons but she should be aware that it is not only her that is suffering, her children are as well. O’Loughlin and O’Loughlin (2008) believe that some mothers experiencing domestic violence may emotionally distance themselves from their children, resulting in emotional neglect.
Information on certain laws could be provided; one main order would be The Family Homes and Domestic Violence (NI) Order (1998) which includes two orders, the non-molestation order and the occupation order. It is useful to provide the family with this information because if the problem still persists this law gives the authority for the abuser to be removed from the home where children are involved. (White 2007) Providing this information can empower the mother.
Women’s Aid believes all forms of domestic violence come from the abuser’s desire for power and control over family members or intimate partners. (www.womensaid.org.uk). When interviewing the father it is crucial the practitioner is non-judgemental and shows respect, he may view himself as the dominant figure in the family, the idea of male patriarchy may play a part here therefore it may prove valuable talking with the father to give advice and provide information on possible anger management classes that he could attend, which may be of benefit to him and his family.
When carrying out assessment with Children the Social Worker with utilize UNOCINI, which provides the framework for assessing and providing services to children and their families, by ensuring timely high quality assessments with a focus on achieving good outcomes for children. It is important to explain to the family the purpose of UNOCINI. Using the UNOCINI framework provides the Social Worker with in-depth knowledge of the circumstances at hand and can aid the Social Workers role of advocacy, representing the views of the children. It can help the Social Worker assess areas such as the children’s development, the family relationships, emotional warmth and education and learning. UNOCINI emphasises the importance of multidisciplinary contributions to the holistic assessment of the child’s needs (Boginsky 2008) such as work with GP and health visitor and adequate levels of communication between Social Work teams and can provide evidence of the level of help required.
The main purpose of the assessment is to identify possible risked posed to the children. The Children’s (NI) Order 1995 is put in place to protect the child. When assessing a case like this it is extremely important to understand the laws that are crucial, as Social Work laws unpin practice. The Paramouncy Principle states that when a child’s upbringing is being considered, the child’s welfare will be the paramount consideration. (White 2007)
The Social Worker is required to work with and on behalf of the service users. When interviewing the children it is important that the Social Worker uses appropriate language that the children understand, explain to them why your there and what the situation is. The Children’s (NI) order (1995) which states ‘children should be kept informed.’ (www.dsspsni.gov.uk) it is the responsibility of the Social Worker to ensure that both the child’s welfare is protected and their voice is heard. (Brandon et al 1998) The needs of the children must be recognised. People First NI (1995) believes that needs led assessments are the cornerstone of community care. Children have rights and needs just like adults, to have their views and feeling heard and to be treated with respect they need to be able to talk to adults they trust. (Brandon et al 1998) ‘By asking children to communicate in ways that suit adults, such as talking, reading and writing, we play to adult competencies and not to those of children.’ (Helm 2010’170)
Social Workers need to be accountable for the quality of their work and should consistently be maintaining and improving their skills (NISCC www.niscc.info) In order to ensure effective communication the Social Worker must try to build a rapport with the children; this could be done through trying to engage their attention, to help develop a relationship that will help the Social Worker to learn from the child. There are possible ways this can be done; the use of a basic kit bag may prove beneficial, containing items such as play people, soft animals or soft balls. (Brandon et al 1998) It is vital to try to understand what is happening from the children’s perspectives to help assess the level of risk they face; children need to be listened too.
Domestic violence can have a huge impact on children of all ages, age can influence the way in which children make sense of their experiences and how they demonstrate certain anxieties. The children in this family are an infant and a child of preschool age. O’loughlin and O’loughlin (2008) believe in situations of domestic violence an infant’s needs may not be met, such as personal hygiene, cognitive development may be delayed through inconsistent neglect, and they become insecurely attached which could put the infant at risk.
‘Younger children do not have the ability to express themselves verbally and research has shown that children of preschool age tend to be the group to demonstrate the most behavioural disturbances’ (Hughes 1988; Cited by Humphreys and Stanley 2006? 20) they may become withdrawn and display poor concentration, which may possibly be identified through observation of the children.
The Social Worker is required to carry out a risk assessment in relation to the children. As this is an alleged case of domestic violence the children may be at risk. Brearley’s model of risk assessment is a good focus point as it can help determine the level of risk. The four stages of Brearley’s model are predisposing hazards; situational hazards; dangers and strengths, doing so may help inform the Social Worker of the level of support the family require. Safeguarding the child is essential so it is imperative that a detailed, well informed assessment is completed.
It is vital to uncover what the children have seen or heard and if they have ever been abused themselves, due to the age of the younger child this may be difficult to ascertain. However the liaison with the health visitor could provide more information on the children’s wellbeing and also their stages of development. Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) theory of ecological development would be a beneficial theory to be aware of when observing the children. This theory looks at a child’s development within the context of the system of relationships that form his or her environment. He believes that if the relationships in the home break down, the child will not have the tools to explore other parts of their environment. (Crawford and Walker 2010)
All children witnessing domestic violence are being emotionally abused (Women’s Aid) and may be at risk of harm. Harm is defined in the Children Order as “ill-treatment” or the impairment of health or development” and from the above statements we can see adverse effect that domestic violence within the home can have on children. (Probation Board for Northern Ireland 2006) Throughout the assessment it is vital that the interests of the child are always at the forefront. ‘Frequent exposure to domestic violence can predispose children to social, emotional and physical problems and through this they may learn unhealthy ways of expressing anger teaching them that it is ‘okay’ to hit others and to get away with it.’ (Newman and Newman 2008’4)
When the assessment is completed the Social Worker must record all details accurately. The practitioner needs to be open and honest with the family about the information and findings. Review and evaluation is central to good practice (Parker and Bradley 2007) The Social Worker must review their assessment to determine the level of support and protection the children and the family require. Reflection is required so the Social Worker can determine if their practice could be improved and if they have carried out the assessment in the best interests of the children and the family. If Care planning is required, it is important that a plan is constructed that meets the needs of the family and safeguards the well being of the children.
If the assessment highlights that the children are in need; in conjunction with Hardikers thresholds of intervention, it is possible for the gateway team to put in a short term plan which would set aims and objectives within the family; to support them with partnership from other agencies involved. Gateway only work on short term basis, if this family require more support a referral will be made to the family intervention team so they can provide the appropriate support to enable the family to stay together where possible. However if it is a child protection nature, a case conference may be required to decide if the children should be placed on the child protection register.
Information should be passed within an appropriate timescale to ensure that the needs of the family are properly met. Communication between the agencies is vital to ensure the correct care is provided. The Children’s (NI) Order (1995) highlight that ‘Parents with children in need should be helped to bring up their children themselves and such help should be provided in partnership with parents.’ (www.dhsspsni.gov.uk)
‘A social worker being present at an important point in another person’s life can make a big difference.’ (Parker and Bradley 2007’90). Although the family can be a source of danger to a child, supporting the family in most cases can be the most productive way to protect the child. (Brandon et al 1998) The principles associated with the legislation require practitioners to work in partnership with children and families, (Helm 2010) to enhance the well being of the children. The key aspects of Social Work are ‘the practitioners’ interventions orientated towards enhancing children’s wellbeing; ensuring that they grow up in healthy and safe environments; and developing their full potential.'(Dominelli 2009’25)
Owen and Pritchard (1993) highlight, it is important that the rights of the parents, the child and the legal system are balanced and the role of professionals in protecting the rights of children will be promoted if we actively listen to the voices of children and take their thoughts into consideration when making decisions can act in the best interests of the child. ‘Social Work is complex and diverse and the roles and tasks allotted to it are equally varied. (Parker and Bradley 2007’117) One important point to remember is that every case is unique; everyone should be treated with respect as an individual, Social Workers should have the knowledge to deal with the different demands of different situations to ensure efficient, effective practice.