I first became involved with the family when the children became part of Child Protection Plans in April 2010 when I became the allocated key social worker. Prior to this, the case had been worked by the then Duty and Assessment Team who had completed a core assessment.
The case had come to the attention of Children’s Social Care due to one of the three children having numerous facial injuries in a period of 15 months.
As my interaction with the family grew, I became concerned about a number of areas. The children all had very poor attendance at school and nursery, all were unwashed and unkempt and their development was well behind where it should be. Their mother hadn’t taken the children to any of their health or dental appointments and there seemed to be a general lack of stimulation in the home. All of the three children had untreated head lice and the seven year old boy was providing meals for his younger siblings.
The youngest child at just two years of age was always in a pushchair during my visits, whilst the other children at just four and seven seemed to display quite aggressive behaviour towards each other and towards their mother. The children appeared to seek emotional warmth from strangers and professionals and the seven year old child was still soiling and wetting his bed. He was observed unsupervised out in the street late at night.
All three children were present during fights between their mother, step father and other acquaintances of the family. The four year old girl during one visit disclosed that her step father had hurt her. Between the children’s mother and step father there was excessive alcohol use and domestic violence. On occasions when the mother observed with facial injuries, she was not able to provide an explanation as to how they happened. The stepfather had a long history of violence for which he had served custodial sentences, one of which was for 14 years.
There was a lack of co-operation with the local authority, such as non attendance of meetings, refusing to allow access, not engaging with assessments and a general lack of honesty about the situation.
The children’s real fathers, three different men, also had significant problemsranging from suspected heroin use, frequent hospitalisation due to alcohol use, hostility towards the mother, aggressive behaviour in front of the children, lack of financial support and inconsistent contact.
The home itself had no heating and alcohol containers were found full amongst the children and two year old child was witnessed eating his meals off the living room floor. Inappropriate visitors often frequented the home and were left alone with the children. Alcohol, cannabis use and pornography were rife in the home and the mother and step father were evicted due to rent arrears.
From the start I had to be realistic with my expectations of the children and family and tried to encourage any achievements no matter how small they seemed. I tried to be honest and open at all times and informed the family of the consequences of their actions so that they could make informed choices.
I spent quality time with the children both within the home and outside of the home giving them a chance to be listened to and heard. I used activities and games with the children such as jigsaws, board games and crafts to help them open up.
I also spent significant time with the mother and step father on an individual basis to understand the experiences and to challenge their actions in a non confrontational way.
I assisted the family with many of their basic needs first in order to gain some normality within the home. So I was heavily involved in helping them resolve health, financial and basic care like getting the children ready for school in the morning.
Throughout my involvement with the children I spent time alone with each child during my visits to establish their wishes and feelings about every situation as they arose. I had to identify the importance and significance of the children’s relationships with one another.
Many sessions were undertaken with a variety of family member’s to assess the likelihood of a wider family support package being put into place to enable the children to remain in the care of the mother or to identify an appropriate family placement. But, despite our best efforts to resolve the situation with their mother, the outcome led to all three of the children being taken in to care.
The seven year old boy was placed with his paternal aunt where all of his needs are being met. Throughout the process and during many of our chats he expressed a desire to live here and he seems to be very happy and settled.
For the four year old girl, the situation is more difficult due to her complex emotional and behavioural needs. Intensive therapeutic intervention and assessment is being undertaken to ensure the most appropriate placement can be identified. With the girl’s young age I refuse to rule out the possibility of an adoptive placement in which she can be part of a permanent family.
The youngest child at just two is now subject to a Placement Order and the local authority is currently at the family finding stage to ensure an appropriate adoptive placement is identified for him in which his needs will be best met. He remains happy and settled in his foster placement were he continues to thrive.
It’s incredibly sad for the children that their mother simply did not engage with the legal process and her legal representatives withdrew from the proceedings. The mother has not attended contact with the children since December 2010 and has not sent any cards or gifts for the children since this time.
For my part I feel I have helped the children by listening to them and acting on their wishes and feelings. I have also helped maintain the children’s relationship with one another and other family members where possible when this has been in the best interest of the children.
By working closely with wider family members this has ensured the children have information to be compiled into quality life work, which will help them with their sense of identity and to make sense of their circumstances when they are older.
The children have activity based direct contact with each other every school holiday and indirect contact in-between. Unfortunately there was no possible outcome for these children that could prevent significant sense of separation and loss.
Anecdotally I hear back through various avenues that the children like me, with the seven year old expressing a desire for me to come and see him in school where he can show me the trophies he has won for the plants he has grown on the allotment. The four year old girl asks when I am coming to visit again and the two year old boy regards me as a safe and trusted adult in his life. As a children’s Social Worker working on a complex case it’s heart-warming to know I have had a positive impact on these children’s lives.
All names have been changed to protect the identity of the family and children involved.