Zoe was aged 7 when she was referred by her school because she had not been attending regularly and they were aware that she was being often left alone to fend for herself. She was an anxious child, worried because her parents argued and fought a lot in front of her and David, her father, had stolen Zoe’s Christmas presents to buy drugs. Her parents had met as teenagers and been drawn together when they had both been excluded from school. Her father, David, came from a family where adults had used drugs regularly, and her mother, Tracy, had a history of family conflict. With another baby on the way, we were concerned both for Zoe and her new brother or sister.
At first neither parent was willing to acknowledge the concerns, and agencies involved were very concerned that Tracy was putting David’s needs before Zoe and her unborn baby. I talked to them about what it must have been like to be parents at such a young age and looked for things that they had done well for Zoe in the past. I also gave the family a straightforward description of our concerns and made sure they really understood why it was important for Zoe and the new baby that things changed. One thing that really helped was the work I did directly with Zoe. It was important for her parents to understand how she was feeling about the situation at home, I used lots of different tools such as ‘3 Houses’ and ‘Safety Island’ which enabled Zoe to put her feelings into words and pictures. This had a huge impact on both parents who hadn’t really considered their daughter’s feelings in this way before. The next step was to work with the parents to develop their own plan to keep their family safe and to be honest with them about what the consequences would be if they were unable to keep to their plan. I also encouraged the parents to ask for the support of their wider family, as there were members who were more than willing to offer encouragement and practical support. This was something that Zoe was keen to happen as she loved being with her grandparents.
I worked with the family quite intensively, alongside other professionals– particularly the teacher and the health visitor. I was pleased that by being open and consistent with the family, they were able to trust that I was there to help them make positive changes for their family. Both David and Tracy had previously had poor experiences of people in authority, and had been un-cooperative as a consequence when we first met. I was thrilled when David was able to take part in meetings and work with professionals. And as for Zoe? Her teacher says “I’ve never seen such a drastic change in a little girl”. I’m really hopeful that things will continue to get better for this family.
The names in this text have been changed to ensure anonymity.