Mark is aged 13 and lives with his mother, Angela and father, George. He has an older sister, Monica who is married and lives in the same Suffolk town with her husband and their young child.
Mark was referred to the Children and Young People Service’s social care team 16 months ago when the parents felt they could no longer cope with him. Following the case being allocated to me I had completed a statutory assessment of Mark’s needs in accordance with provisions of the Children Act 1989. The assessment aimed to establish whether Mark was a “child in need” and/or whether he was suffering or was at risk of suffering “significant harm”. In order to complete the assessment I have met with Mark and his parents, ensuring that I had seen Mark both on his own and together with his parents. With the parents’ consent I had also liaised with Mark’s school and GP as well as the mental health nurse who was supporting Angela to enable me to obtain a more comprehensive picture of Mark’s level of needs and risks.
The assessment identified many positives and strengths for Mark and his family (e.g. Mark’s resilience and involvement in positive activities, Mark and parents’ willingness to engage with support to make things better for them, Mark having a very close relationship with Monica) but also highlighted worries and concerns such as Angela and George being inflexible and sometimes punitive in their parenting approach, blaming Mark for difficulties in their relationship, Mark having low self -esteem and not achieving at his full potential at school. Also Angela’s mental health had deteriorated and she received a diagnosis of an unstable personality disorder for which she had received support from the adult mental health service. George also episodically presented with low mood and Mark had been assessed by CAHMS which identified attachment difficulties for him. The family was relatively socially isolated with grandparents living in other parts of the country and Mark and the parents having few friends.
Following the completion of the statutory assessment Mark and his family were initially supported under a Child in Need plan. In my role as Mark’s Social Worker I coordinated the multi-agency intervention under the Child in Need framework. The plan included interventions by Mark’s school, the Children and Young People Services’ Intensive Family Support Service, the local youth mentoring project and the adult mental health service. I had also regularly met with Mark and as part of these meetings I had completed direct work with him with a view to improving his self-esteem and ensuring his voice was heard and taken into account within the Child in Need process.
Following an incident where Mark reported to me that whilst having an argument with his mother, she had pushed him against the wall and that lately he had seen his parents having many heated arguments, I had undertaken child protection enquiries in accordance with the guidance provided by the “Working Together to Safeguard Children”. As a result of this Mark became subject of a child protection plan under the category of “emotional abuse”. Interventions by myself and the Intensive Family Support worker, as part of the multi-agency child protection plan continued for about 6 weeks but within the context of a deterioration in Angela’s mental health, the parents continuing to blame Mark for the problems in their relationship and indicating that they could no longer “manage his behaviour”, with the agreement of the parents, Mark was placed with foster carers. The foster carers lived in the same town as Mark’s family, which enabled Mark to continue to attend the same school and to have frequent contact with his parents and sister, which was particularly important as the plan was at this time for Children and Young People Services to continue to work with Mark and his parents with a view to Mark being reunited to his parent’s care within three to four months.
Mark remained in foster care for 4 months and during this period interventions with Mark and his family continued as per the previous child protection plan. On occasions the parents were able to have contact with Mark at his foster home which provided Angela and George with opportunities to observe positive strategies the foster parents used in parenting Mark. The introduction of the Signs of Safety and Wellbeing as the practice model across the Children and Young People Services (through its focus on building strong relationships with the child and the parents, making use of the resources available within the family’s informal network and being clear and honest with the parents about the concerns about their parenting) helped with progressing the plan for Mark to return home whilst ensuring that his safety and welfare would not be compromised. In order to make positive use of the family’s natural support network I organised a “Family Network Meeting” where extended family members and friends were present. As a result of this, a plan of regular respite for Mark was agreed for when he returned home. Respite was to be regularly provided by his sister Monica and the current foster carer, with occasional weekend respite being offered by George’s parents. Prior to Mark returning home, Angela and George completed a number of couples counselling sessions which they found useful.
Once Mark returned home the family were supported under a Child in Need plan for another 6 months. Towards the end of the social care team’s intervention it was noticed that Angela and George became more responsive and positive in their approach of parenting Mark. It was also noted that when they did revert to unhelpful ways of parenting they were more likely to accept this and to discuss more openly about what was of concern in the way they responded to Mark. As a result of interventions, Mark became generally happier and more confident and positive about his capabilities. This in turn helped him perform better academically at school where he showed better concentration, more positive motivation for engaging in learning and fewer occasions when he was disruptive in the classroom.
At the time when the case was closed, all professionals involved with the family agreed that there was sufficient progress made and that there was no longer a need for involvement by the social care team. The pastoral support practitioner agreed to monitor Mark’s progress in school and liaise with the parents and, where needed and with the consent of the parents with the other professionals that remained involved to ensure progress is maintained and any concerns are identified and addressed early.
All names have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved.