By Lesley Warnes, Care Proceedings Case Manager,
Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council.
The University of Huddersfield with partner agencies representing Calderdale MBC Adult and Children’s Services and Kirklees MBC Children’s Services held their ‘Skills Day’ event for the fourth successive year in October 2017.
I am proud to have been involved in this event again which has gone from strength to strength. Students have given consistent feedback over the years about the value of such an event, which although could be regarded as resource heavy, pays great dividends.
The event is targeted at final year, BSc and MSC student Social Workers on final placement. During the term, the students have got to know a fictitious family based upon the notion of think whole family and their circumstances whist studying theoretical models of child and adult safeguarding and associated principles of legislation and social policy. The scenario has been developed by partner agencies to provoke argument and debate with an overarching objective of consolidating skills, knowledge, theory, practice and legal literacy
The event brings together an emerging situation when the police have exercised their powers of protection to remove a 3yr old and a 15yr old from their mother’s house after allegations of a physical altercation between the 15yr old and the mother’s partner. The 15yr old is subject to an SGO to her Maternal Grandparents who have deteriorating ill health. This is after a period of escalating concern in respect of the 15yr old that has been missing education and is considered to be at risk of CSE. The 3yr old is showing signs of neglect. The mother is pregnant with her new partner’s child. He is an asylum seeker and their relationship is characterised by alcohol misuse and violence. The Local Authority is on the verge of convening an Initial Child Protection Case Conference when events overtake. The police arrive to find the 15yr old with injuries and the 3yr old dirty, hungry and rocking whilst staring at his bedroom wall. The 3yr old is removed to foster care and the 15yr old into a residential placement. The court hearing is in 3 days’ time.
The students are divided into three groups and each group rotates around three sets of practical simulations. Each simulation lasting approximately one hour and is presented as authentically as time will allow
- Breaking bad news to the parent – the decision to remove the children
- Direct work with the children about their change in circumstances
- The court room – Contested Interim Care Order Application, cross examination by the Mother’s lawyer.
Roles are carried out by the University staff and partner agencies, whilst the students all take turns to play the allocated Social Worker in the case throughout the three workshops.
It has taken some time to get to where we are and to get the balance about right, but it felt that the event this year was an even greater success and was truly well received.
The follow up event will take place in April 2018 when it is intended to follow through the legal proceedings to a final hearing. Additional partner agencies have confirmed their willingness to be involved in the April event. These include a representative from HMCTS, potentially a local District Judge, a barrister from Zenith Chambers in Leeds as well as those already mentioned.
This will be the second time that the follow up event will take place building on the experience in early 2017 which included Jenny Molloy (The Hackney Child), barristers from Chambers in the Bristol area, University of Huddersfield staff , Calderdale MBC and Kirklees Council representatives.
Quotes from University of Huddersfield 3rd year students
“I thought the skills day was very beneficial as it gave a more realistic idea of what it is like in court, although we were all together and more supported than in the real world. I feel this opportunity will help each of us when we are faced with a court room situation in the future. I personally would have liked more of the skills type of day as I am somewhat of an activist and learn better through the actual act of doing. I will therefore never forget the feeling of standing and being cross examined. I also feel that this has reinforced to me the need for research to be done correctly, the need to know your case and present the facts without getting flustered. It has helped me understand the difference between actual facts and an opinion even though this may be underpinned by theory. Loved the court room experience and look forward to the next opportunity to do it.”
“I thought that the court experience was really useful. Lesley provided a very realistic experience when cross examining students, and her tips and advice have made me feel much more prepared for the real thing!”
“The skills day in court was a great opportunity to apply knowledge around legislation and hypothesis to practice. This was conducted in a mock environment that represented coherently the atmosphere and pressure that comes with having to know your case inside and out for the benefit of proceedings, and with the child in mind. In hindsight, more of these days would have been of value to students embarking on our first placements, facilitating the development of practice skills, professional identity and a professional practice framework from the onset.”
“The skills day is something which should be incorporated into the social work curriculum across all Universities. Although it may seem like an optional day for some, it is a valuable experience to have as a social work student as this may be the first and only opportunity we may get to gain peer and professional support of how to improve and/or adapt ourselves for future practice.
Although it was and is very daunting, especially having personal tutors as actors, it is a fun day and brings that ‘real life’ element to us as students of what to expect when coming across parents, children/young people and lawyers who will want to scrutinise the evidence you provide on a case.
Every case is different but, it is the interaction and the language which we use and the knowledge which we have of the case and the relevant legislation /policy and guidance which helps inform the decision we make.”
“I really thought it was a brilliant experience, invaluable if going on to practice, highlighting the real need in practice of knowing the ‘case’ you’ve put forward and the importance of considering from different viewpoints. I can’t praise it as a learning experience enough. (And I had felt very nervous about doing it).”
Yorkshire Urban & Rural Social Work Teaching Partnership
Calderdale MBC, Kirklees Council, York City Council, North Yorkshire County Council and the Universities of Huddersfield and York have recently entered into a Teaching Partnership and this has built upon the solid relationships that have developed over time. This event is a great example of how teaching and learning succeeds when agencies enter into a committed working relationship.
Thank you to all concerned and especially to the University of Huddersfield students for their enthusiasm and feedback.