My work placement was a statutory project situated within North Lanarkshire Council. North Lanarkshire council is one of the largest new unitary authorities in Scotland with a population of over 326,000, which 1.3% of the population are from a minority ethnic group, compared with 2% for Scotland as a whole. The area has a range of different communities ranging from small villages to towns, the council challenge to provide services, which are responsive to the needs of these different communities. (www.Northlan.gov)
North Lanarkshire was traditionally part of the Scottish industrial heartland with a strong identity relating to their industrial history, but the decline of industries has resulted in a widespread of unemployment and the increase of problems associated with social exclusion, poverty and disadvantage, which I later found to be a common theme experienced by service users with whom I would work with.
The social work department is one of the largest departments in the council employing just under 3,000 people in various areas. “There aim is to promote social inclusion and social welfare by tackling poverty and disadvantage. Through indicating a commitment to poverty and disadvantage, working in partnership with other agencies to improve supports and resources and involving individuals in identifying their needs, the council aim to provide a high quality of care to all individuals living in the area.” (www.Northlan.gov)
An anti-discrimination policy is in place within North Lanarkshire, however the majority of the service users are white females. This could be considered to be unusual when today we live in a multi-cultural society and raises questions about policies in place, which meet the needs of other cultures. A survey completed by Bilingual pupils in March 2002 indicated that there were 33 languages other than English spoken in the homes in North Lanarkshire. (Support learning services North Lanarkshire Council.) Implementing additional policy to accommodate other cultures, beliefs and norms could help to encounter feelings of separation and mistrust. Thompson (2001) notes that using the PCS (Personal, Structural and Cultural) framework for anti discriminatory practice, shows that discrimination doesn’t stop at the personal level. Individuals learn and internalise beliefs from our culture and the structure of society. Frequently held stereotypes in society may raise discriminatory actions towards others. He discusses the regularly expressed view “that Asian families ‘look after their own'” (p67) and it could be argued that this belief may prevent Asian clients being offered the service they require. These factors should possibly be considered when looking at the process of referrals and assessment.
The Council’s actions to identify and meet the needs of minority ethnic groups include, a Race Equality Scheme and Action Plan, published in November 2002; a Social Work Racial Equality working group, set up in March 2002; consulting on ‘Mainstreaming Racial Equality in North Lanarkshire’; and agreeing with Community Planning partners to work together in consulting with black and minority ethnic communities. (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/library5/social/pwc03-25.asp)
The placement project is one of many resources situated in North Lanarkshire; the project offers group work services to vulnerable parents living in the area. ” The aim of the project includes trying to reduce the number of children referred to the children’s panel and to reduce the number of names placed on the child protection register.” (Respite and Group information pack) To achieve this; the project offers emotional and social support to parents to empower them to meet their own needs and the needs of their children. Peer support is offered through group work and individual work is also available.
The aim of the groups is to advise and empower the participants in addressing the wide range of problems impacting on their lives, by trying to bring about change and stopping issues being repeated. “Empowerment and participation are ideas associated with important contributions of principle and practice in the field of social research and social development” (Nelson and Wright, 1995 cited in Adams et al 2002)
As part of my learning opportunities from the placement, I was allocated a piece of work from the childcare team, which is a section of the local social services area team. The area team focus on a range of services including community care, health and welfare services. It includes general service information and advice along with services accessible to particular clients needs.
Section 12 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 forms the legal basis for social work process in Scotland and gives the local authority the power to assess family, individual and ecological circumstances. The child care team offer a range of services to children and families in need of support, advice and assistance with a variety of problems including family relationships, offending, problems at school, illness or disability and individual and family addiction. Working in guideline with The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 their focus is to safeguard and protect the well-being of children in their area.
March 2001 showed the Social Work Department working with 4130 families where support was being provided for children’s welfare purposes. This is around 10% of all households with children. Many children and young people living in their area experience some form of abuse. Corby’s social structural prospective on child abuse notes that the effects of poverty, class and material deprivation contributes to the neglect and abuse of children. Children’s developmental needs are affected by inequalities and low standard of housing, education, health and social activities creating parental stress increasing the likelihood of abuse and neglect. (Corby 2000) I would agree with Corby, as most of the women I worked with within the project were lone parents from deprived areas with a history of depression. Research has shown that 95% of children on the child protection register are from poor families. (DOH 1995)
I was requested to undertake an initial assessment report for the Children’s Reporter; the report was requested, approved and passed to me through my practice teacher. Sec 52 (2) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 provides the legal framework for this report. (Norrie 1998 p, 93) The Initial Assessment is on a 3-year-old child who I will call Emma for reasons of confidentiality.
I have selected to use this piece of work for my Integrative Practice Study, as for me it clearly established my development in the preparation and procedure in assessment, recognising the need to distinguish assessment as an on going process, which is updated and affected by each contact and interaction. This was evident during my interaction with the family as circumstances and information changed and progressed throughout the process. As well as increasing my awareness and perceptive to the effects of the inequalities people face through personal, cultural and structural discrimination this case provided me with a greater understanding for the need to approach assessment in a way that does not support a society of oppression or prejudice.
Police made the referral to the Children’s Reporter after they attended an alleged domestic violence incident within a family home. As a women and a mother I was able to identify personal prejudice against Emma’s mother. Thomson 2001(p.34) describes the need for social workers to be aware of their individual thoughts and feelings, insuring they don’t stand in the way of responding appropriately to service users needs. I agree with Thomson as discussions about the case in supervision made me aware of how my prejudice could cause discrimination in my practice. Being able to recognise the need to question and reflect on my own values enhanced my understanding of the importance of social work values in order to demonstrate and apply anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice to service users.
My focus at this point was to provide Emma’s mother with material related to domestic violence with reference to help and advice for victims. Advice and guidance from my practice teacher assisted me to focus on the purpose of the assessment, which was to assess the well being and development of Emma. This helped in my preparation for starting the assessment process. I realised the need to start the process with an open mind to the situation.
Family background information
Information on family and individual involvement with social work procedure is recorded on swiss, a computer system used by all social work staff employed by North Lanarkshire council. My link worker arranged for me to access this system in order to gain background information on the family. Information shown within swiss revealed that there had already been social work involvement with the family. Mrs J, Emma’s mother had three daughters, G was fifteen years, B was thirteen years and Emma being three years old. Ms J was in a second relationship, Emma being the only biological child to Mr T, Ms J current partner. Initially police had made a child protection referral to the reporter. An initial investigation had already taken place with the family but at this time the action referred to the reporter was not seen as child protection, due to a bail condition on Mr T staying away from the family home. A person can be released on bail with a number of conditions set out in part III of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. (Fabb and Guthrie 1997 page 19,23)
An Initial assessment report had been completed on the oldest child; she alleged that Mr T hit her during the alleged domestic violence incident. There was also social work involvement with this child with regards to her education, which had detraite since January. The thirteen year old was reported to the social work department due to staying out all night after an argument with her mother. The head master raised his concern to the social work department after speaking to the child. A meeting with social work, the head master, mum and Mr T took place that day within the school to which the argument was resolved and no further action was taken.
Before contacting Ms J for the first time I considered options of contact, which included telephoning, going round to the house or writing a letter. Whilst considering best practice and weighing up the pros and cons of each methods of contact, I decided the best method was to write Mr J a letter on headed notepaper. Allowing Ms J the option to change the time or day of the appointment if my suggested appointment wasn’t suitable. Giving Ms J some time to prepare for our meeting and in consideration to parental rights, Ms J would have the right to reject our meeting at this point. Although trying to promote best practice, I accepted that personal discrimination was an issue as I was assuming that Mrs J was able to read the letter. (Thompson 2001)
Discussions in supervision with my practice teacher involved assessment framework, she informed that North Lanarkshire’s policy was to use the Department of Health Framework for Assessment of Children in Need and their Families, recommending that I go over this before interaction. Focusing on the DOH framework enhanced my understanding of it use during the assessment process. The framework is child centered and based on the ecological model of assessment. The ecological model will assess and consider the stress and available support within a family whilst considering the “subjective experience” of the individual. (Horwath 2001 p55) The model offers an extensive list of possible domains of information necessary when assessing a child. (Department of Health, 2000)
The letter I sent was on headed notepaper, this would show some evidence of truth in I was who I was claiming to be. The letter included the purpose of my visit, which was to complete an Initial Assessment Report for the children’s reporter on Emma with regards to the alleged incident within the family home. (Compton and Galaway 1994 p314) suggest that “failure to make explicit the purpose of the interview” can lead to contradictory purpose. I put my name, the project address and a contact number on the letter advising Ms J to contact me if the time and date were unsuitable, being conscious of Ms Js parental responsibilities to her children. Ms J contacted me by telephone to rearrange the appointment; during the call Ms J was hesitant to the purpose of the report. Being conscious about confidentiality I realised it could have been anyone on the phone saying they were Ms J. I acknowledged Ms Js concern whilst assuring her I would explain in more detail during my visit.
Feeling nervous before the visit I questioned my competence in this task at hand. I felt anxious this being my first home visit and was not as confident as I might have been. At times as a student there is a feeling of disempowerment. On arrival I introduced myself, in attempting to establish good initial engagement I focused on my verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Using appropriate language including my body language and eye contact, I gave Ms J explanation to my role in the assessment process, which was to complete an assessment of Emma’s well being and ensure that Emma was protected from any form of harm and abuse.
Thompson (1996, p.8) “communication is a central feature of interaction.” I consider this true, as having good communication skills has enabled good working relationships through my own work experience with young people and group work participation within my placement project. I applied Thomson’s PCS theory of anti discriminatory practice to both Emma and Ms J by establishing an understanding of Ms Js parental rights including her right to a copy of the final report on completion and access to it prior to it being sent to the Reporter. I assured Ms J was aware of Emma’s rights under The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 to a safe and secure environment (Norrie 1998 p10) and advocated on Behave of Emma with regards to her limited choices being a minor.
During dialogue I ensured Ms J was aware of the supports available to her and offered my assistance should she require. Ms J declined any offer of support stating that no violence had taken place. Although advising Mr T had been charged with breach of the piece and assault on herself and G her 15-year-old daughter. Having basic knowledge on domestic violence, if violence had taken place, I could value Ms J decision with regards to her in denying any event of violence, had taken place, however I did struggle as a mother to understand why she could deny this in relation to her daughter.
In relation to women as a group, it is important to understand the inter relationship between social work, social policy and patriarchy. (Thompson 1996) Oakley argues that by the age of sixteen the majority of young men and women have been socialized into a belief of male dominance, even though the forces of disagreement to this attitude are stronger than they were, patterns of socialization based on gender equality occur more frequently. (Introduction to sociology P, 184-194) On reflection I would have liked a better understanding on the issues relating to domestic violence.
Making a conscious effort to ensure that I expressed attention and assertiveness throughout my visits. I felt it necessary to stay focused on the task at hand, I used key questions to gather information, I feel this helped Ms J focus the propose of the interview and provide me with the information I needed to start gathering information for my assessment. By asking key questions I could examine all the significant factors before applying judgement about an appropriate course of action to follow.
The process of assessment is rooted within the context of social work values, and there must be respect for individual differences in order to avoid disempowerment and stereotyping. “Assessments are about making judgements and not about being judgemental”. (Middleton cited in Parker and Bradley 2003, P5) I would agree with Middleton as I found undertaking the assessment I often had to reflect on my own values in order to apply professional judgement on the situation. The identified aim of the assessment was to assess Emma’s well-being and development not to judge her mother or father and their living environment. Yelloly (1995) and Jones and Joss (1995) in Riche and Tanner (1998 p20) state, “a holistic approach to training and assessment that incorporates the model of the reflective practitioner is necessary” they argue, “in order to be competent social workers have to become reflective practitioners.”
I further advised that in order to make an accurate assessment I would be contacting agencies Emma was involved in. Ms J consented to my doing this. It has been established policy and practice have been affected by improved interest in partnership, prevention and early involvement, family support, and an emphasis on interagency coordination to the importance of social work services working in partnership with health, education, social security and housing. (Audit Commission, 1994) this may lead to a clearer communication of policies and planning requirements for children and their families. (Plat and Shemming 1996)
Mr T is at present staying with his parents who live nearby, Ms J advised Emma still had contact with her father in the grandparent’s house. I accepted that although Emma’s father does not have any legal parental rights, as he is not married to Ms J, he plays a significant part in Emma nurture; whilst being conscious to demonstrate anti discriminatory practice, I felt it necessary to speak with Mr T regarding Emma, I believe that this established to Ms J that my intentions towards Emma was to ensure an accurate assessment was completed, I sought Ms Js consent to contact Mr T. Information gathered for the purpose of assessment should concentrate on the ecology or social context within which the child has developed and within which problems have emerged or been defined. (Daniel, 1999)
Ms J acknowledged that the family had been going through some difficulties and emphasised her distress regarding her 15-year-old daughter, continuously blaming her for the family difficulties. I challenged some of the statements made by Ms J in a supportive way. Egan (1990) writes the need to be aware to the aim of challenging and to ensure that the approach of the challenge is cautious and undertaken with care. I would agree with Egan as on reflection I realise that challenging Ms J could have jeopardised my relationship with the family.
Given Emma’s age I didn’t feel it appropriate to speak to Emma with regards to the alleged incident, although I felt it necessary to equally build a relationship with Emma in order to assess her welfare and development. I started to build this relationship on the first visit, by showing an interest in what she was playing with; I praised how well she had managed to put a jigsaw puzzle together with a little help from her mum. Throughout this visits I continued to focus on my relationship with Emma, we talked about her days at nursery, she showed me pictures she had drawn, which was of her with mum, dad and her two older sibling at the park and on a couple of occasions involved me in her play.
During supervision discussion I learnt that the situation would change if Mr T were found guilty of the alleged charges. Mr T would become a schedule one offender if found guilty. ‘Schedule One offender’ is a categorisation used in respect of offenders who have committed an offence against a child listed in Schedule One to the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. That list includes sexual offences, offences of violence, of cruelty and neglect and any other offence resulting in the bodily injury of a child under the age of 18. The list of offences under Schedule One is used, sometimes in conjunction with other indicators of risk, to determine whether a person could be unsuitable to work with, care for or have unsupervised contact with children. It is important to note that not all Schedule One offenders are sex offenders. There are no notification requirements on Schedule One offenders. (www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk)
I arranged the home visits weekly and they were agreed dates and times that suited both Ms J and myself, I used the time in-between the visits to contact other agencies involved with Emma. Being responsive to the stigma attached to social work involvement and Emma’s rights to confidentiality, I practised in an anti discriminatory manner by being cautious in my approach when contacting both agencies. I did not go into any detail about the alleged incident, being aware that could cause discrimination against Emma and her family.
I also arranged a time and place to meet with Mr T, I was advised by my practice teacher and the senior social worker to arrange this appointment at the area team with another social worker, being the first initial visit and the alleged violent incident. I arranged for the social worker that was working with the older child through school to do the meeting with me. I felt a familiar face would be less intimidating for Mr T. I wrote to Mr T at his parents address with a date, time and place for the meeting, giving my name the project address and phone number, asking if he could contact me if the appointment was unsuitable. I received a phone call from Ms J to advice that the arranged appointment with Mr T was not suitable as this was the same day he had to appear in court for his intermediate diet.
An intermediate diet will be called a few weeks before the trial, the reason for this is to assess the state of preparation on both sides, to establish if the accused intends to sustain the plea of not guilty, and to supervise the extent to which the prosecution and defence have fulfilled their duty to identify and agree uncontroversial evidence. (Fabb and Guthrie 1997 p18) Ms J telephoned me to inform me of the outcome of intermediate diet, she informed that a trial date had been set and appeared to feel very positive as the lawyer believed there was not enough evidence to find Mr T guilty, she seemed convinced that Mr T would be back living in the family home the following week.
The next home visit was arranged for late afternoon the day after the trial, I felt this a good opportunity if Mr T was found not guilty, for me to assess the family as a whole as the two older siblings would also be home from school. After arranging the visit I arranged with the other social worker involved, to attend this visit with me depending on the verdict of the trial. Ms J again telephoned me to advice Mr T was found not guilty at the trail, so the home visit arranged involved all the family except the oldest sibling, who had made other arrangements.
On arrival at the house I introduced my colleague, I felt more confident in attending the visit as I considered I had already formed a good working relationship with Emma and Ms J. Ms J also seemed more relaxed during visits, I feel this was due to her having a better understanding of her rights as Emma’s mother and the process of social work involvement. Mr T was not home at this point but arrived shortly after and apologised for being late. He appeared to be very concerned as to Emma’s well being as she had been unwell with a cold for a couple of days.
He seemed upset about the situation, but was willing to cooperate in my completing the assessment. Using key questions I asked Mr T how he felt about the alleged incident, he also denied any violence had taken place but acknowledged the family had been under stress due to the 15 year olds behaviour. During dialogue I discussed the feedback I had received from the nursery and health visitor.
Using my observation skills I considered that Emma did not respond well when her father tried to give her medicine for her cough, she wanted her mum to give this to her, Emma sat with her mum throughout the whole visit. At this stage I believed that Emma did not have a good attachment with her father. On reflection when evaluating how the home visit went, I realised that by making these assumptions I had discriminated against Mr T and Emma, as I did not consider that some children might favour reassurance and comfort from only one parent when they are sick, even though through personal experience my own children favour reassurance and comfort from myself on these occasions. In order to apply anti discriminatory practice towards my assessment on Emma I determined that I would have to consider Emma’s being ill as a contribution to her negative approach towards her father.
In order to observe Emma development, involved good observation skills. Sustaining good working relationships with the family established a feeling of trust, which assisted
to apply these skills I focused on Tavistock observation models. Briggs in Riche & Tanner (1998 p25) agues “The observers role is not that of a fly on the wall, although required to refrain from initiating activity and interaction, he is expected to maintain a friendly and receptive attitude to the family, of whom he is a privileged guessed, he is expected to be active mentally and emotionally.”
(Riche and Tanner 1998 p30)
Coulshed and Orme (1998 p, 21) describe assessment as an ongoing development, in which the client participates, the source of which to understand individuals in relation to their environment; it is a beginning for planning what needs to be done to sustain change in the individual, environment or both.
Schofield (1998 p57) Notes, “There are many theories that contribute to the understanding of individual growth and development and the interaction between internal and external factors that have an impact on the lives of individuals.” “Assessment must explore the layers of influence upon the developing child . . . emphasis must be given to the resources and environment within which relationships are established . . .it is essential to explore the extent to which close attachment relationships can mediate the impact and influence of the wider environment on children.” (Daniel, et al 2000 P 29)
In order to establish a comprehensive assessment on Emma it was necessary to understand child development in a wider context, through societal networks as opposed to a singular primary attachment with Emma’s parents. (Schofield 1998) suggests it is important to take account of the psycho-social influences on children and how these influences relate to what takes place in a child’s inner and outer world. (Schofield 1998 cited in Department of Health 2000 p4) The DOH Framework for Assessment of Children in Need and their Families sets out three main areas, which are grouped and involve gathering information on the interaction and influence of the child’s developmental needs, the parent’s capacity to respond appropriately and the wider family and environmental factors. (Department of Health, 2000) The framework provided an excellent tool for an accurate assessment on Emma.
Emma’s developmental needs
Different direction of development will have more or less differential balance at different stages of a child’s life, in a child’s early years there is a importance on achieving physical milestones. (Department of Health 2000) The Health Visitor informed that Emma had reached her physical milestones; her last developmental assessment was a couple of months before I contacted her. She added that Emma keeps good health and she frequently sees her, as Ms J is known to visit the health centre for advice when unsure of things. The nursery advised that Emma attends nursery regularly and shows no difficulties in age appropriate activities and performance, she interacts well with her peers. Emma’s nursery teacher described her as a bright and happy little girl. I observed Emma had good social relationships at home by interacting well with her family and myself, during intervention she spoke of her siblings, friend from nursery and her grand parents. To assess Emma’s developmental needs I considered her Health, education, social development, emotional and behavioural development and cognitive development.
Ainsworth (1989) in Gross (1999 p549) defined attachment as an ‘affectional bond’ which was ” a relatively long enduring tie in which the partner is important as a unique individual and is interchangeable with none other”. Her research was founded on research done by psychoanalyst John Bowlby, He argues that this ‘affectional bond’ provided a secure base which enables a child to grow with confidence in reassure therefore creating a safe base to explore the rest of the world. (Bee and Boyd 2002 p123) “In most cultures, the mother is the first person to whom the infant forms an attachment, though later the infant develops attachments to other people in its environment, particularly its father and siblings.” (Bernstein et al cited in Gillen et al 1999 p36)
Emma appeared to explore in confidence a base of security in her relationship with both parents and her sibling. This was evident during home visits, Emma responded with no hesitation when either interacted in her play. I observed how Emma moved to the side naturally to enable them to play together; she never expressed any signs of aggressive behaviour or displayed any signs of fear or apprehension. Emma freely asked for help from family members. I assessed from this that Emma had a secure attachment. Emma appeared to be a bright and well-developed child who was clearly well stimulated within the family; this was established by my observation on Emma’s play, communication and her interaction with mum, dad and her sibling.
Both parents showed concern when Emma was unwell and appeared to respond well to information I provided, relating to the affects domestic violence can have on children. During my visits I observe a smell of home cooking and on occasions Ms J was in the kitchen preparing food the family home was well decorated and maintained, Emma shared a bedroom with her sibling. According to Maslows higher hierarchy of needs, all Emma’s basic needs where being met. To assess the stability of Ms J and Mr T parenting capacity I considered attachment theory with Emma, parents and sibling, stimulation within the family, ensuring safety and emotional warmth.
Family and environmental factors
Prior to the initial visit I developed my knowledge on the effects domestic violence can have on children. Children of pre- school age tend to interpret most events in relation to themselves, making them content for blaming themselves for adult rage. (Jaffe, 1990 cited in Foley et al 2001) Emma never showed any signs of rage or violence. Emma regularly visits both sets of grand parents, who live near by. The family lived in a four apartment upper cottage flat, although in a deprived area of North Lanarkshire the house was well maintained with a big back garden for Emma to play. Ms J informed that she occasionally attends the local church with Emma. Ms J is currently unemployed and in receipt of incapacity benefit and Mr T is in full time employment, he informed that he had recently changed from working night shift to day shift and felt this was a huge strain off the family.
According to Piaget’s Stages of Development Emma has reached the stage of pre-operational thought (2 – 7 years) the child becomes able to use mental imagery, but they lack the ability to think logically. I would agree with this in Emma’s case as during observation on a home visit Emma struggled to understand why the grass and sky both met in a jigsaw puzzle. (Piaget cited in Sunderland 1992 P12)
My Initial assessment on Emma advised that at this time no further action be taken with regards to Emma, although I suggested that the social worker working with the elder sibling in school should continue this work within the family home. I plan to send a copy of the assessment to Ms J and the senior social worker from the area team.
During my visits I sustained a good working relationship with the whole family, this was acknowledged in my final direct observation, which was also my final home visit to the family. I ended my visit sincerely and have offered support to the family if required within my final weeks on placement, I advised that support would be offered through the social worker working with the oldest daughter.
Learning and supervision
Being on placement has provided me with a variety of learning, which has enhanced my skills and ability to working with groups and individuals. I believe that being a participant in the group work preparation and group work sessions alone with completing an Initial Assessment report has enabled me the opportunity to incorporate my theory learnt in university into my practice.
Support and guidance through supervision sessions with my practice teacher provided me with direction, which enhanced my confidence in practice and assisted me to focus on developing new skills and value my individual strengths. Organized and consistent sessions helped support and sustain a positive and professional relationship, which all participated in my ability to attain the skills and core competences necessary in integrating theory into practice during my placement. My objective is to continue with the progression of my professional development.
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