Jack’s mum, Andrea, who suffered from mild learning difficulties, took the hard decision to place her son in care after she suffered a severe mental health episode. Facing a six-month recovery in hospital where she would receive electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), Andrea would be unable to care for her son.
My role in Jack’s life came about when the case was transferred to my local authority team. At this point, Jack had been in foster care for the past year and his mum was still recovering from her mental illness.
During my initial visits with Andrea, she expressed that she would like Jack to return home. We spoke numerous times in detail about whether this would be possible and about my becoming more involved in her follow ups with her consultant to talk about her mental health situation. I needed to fully understand the impact her mental health would have on her ability to care for Jack.
Andrea agreed to the parenting assessment. So we began to look at the issues that caused the illness and how she would look after Jack’s needs. We also identified what support she would require to do this. I also had to take into account the issues around her older child Lucy, who was placed with her grandparents under a residence order.
Throughout the assessment, I think the main challenge was trying to understand the problems Andrea had with her memory and her ability to stay focused and answer questions. I had to determine if these were down to the ECT she had during her hospital stay or if these were a part of her mild learning disability. I began by talking to her family to establish what Andrea was like before her mental illness. I also consulted with the learning disabilities team to understand how I could make the assessment easier for Andrea. I changed some questions and added pictures to some parts.
The other challenge was re-establishing the attachment between Jack and his mother. Despite the constant contact Andrea and Jack had, even when she was in hospital, Jack had been placed in foster care at just 10 months old and so his attachment was to his foster mother.
At first Jack did not want to be around his mother. So we increased the contact between them, doing fun activities and essential things like feeding and changing – which helped Jack to trust his mum and grow much closer to her.
I was always very honest about the assessments and the outcomes, offering support from myself or an independent support service. I felt Andrea trusted me and it was always important to let her talk as much as she wanted and to ask the question differently if she hadn’t understood.
We always met at home where Andrea felt comfortable and I always wrote the times of the assessments down for her as she tended to forget things.
Over a period of six weeks I worked very closely with Andrea and Jack. I observed and organised assessment sessions that involved everyday activities, like getting on a bus and shopping in town. We visited children’s centres and play sessions. I also observed and supported Andrea cooking at home and doing daily tasks with Jack.
Alongside all of this I was also doing the statutory requirements for a Looked After Child, including visits at his foster home, Looked After Child reviews and organising health assessments.
Satisfied that Andrea could look after and care for Jack; he was rehabilitated back into his mother’s care over an eight week period. Andrea was then supported by Family Intervention and Support Services to implement routines. It always feels nice to return a child home. I think throughout the time I was working with Andrea, she grew in confidence and her belief grew that she could be a good mum.
All names have been changed to protect the identity of the family and children involved.