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The Case Study: The Webster Family, A Family In Crisis?
This assignment requires me to outline what model of assessment I will use when working with the Webster family. I will also give a description on how the family was referred to social services for a Section 47 (S47) investigation. There will be a strategy meeting and the details of this meeting will be outlined along with instructions given. There will be a case conference held to discuss whether the children are at risk of significant harm or the likelihood of significant harm. There will be a clear recommendation as to whether I will register these children on the child protection register, justifying my decision. Whilst working with the Webster family I will explain what legislation I used, my research into the theories involved and also I will provide details of any anti-oppressive practice and any anti-discriminatory practice whilst working with this family.
Ms Webster and Mr Webster have lived together for twelve years. They have three children, Faith and Hope who are twins and are aged ten and Charity who is seven years old. Charity has Cerebral palsy, is doubly incontinent and is a wheelchair user. Mrs Webster is a teacher and Mr Webster was a probation officer who up until twelve months ago worked full time. Following an accident a work he has taken early retirement on health grounds and is now employed full time as a househusband looking after the children. The family are not known to social services or any other welfare agencies. There have been many tensions building up within the family home since his accident and after a violent row Mr Webster left the family home.
After speaking to the headmaster it appeared there had been an incident of domestic violence in front of the children and staff.
Previous to this incident, the day before Charities class teacher had had reported to Mr Perry that over the last two weeks Charities appearance had deteriorated, her clothes were unclean and her nappies were soiled and Charity smelled of urine. Charity had also began being aggressive to her friends and to the staff. A staff member had also discovered pressure sores on Charity. When Charities teacher telephoned Ms Webster to tell of their concerns, Ms Webster was frosty in response.
After the incident outside the school Mr Webster explained that Ms Webster had attacked him on two other occasions and these incidents again where witness by the children. On both occasions the police were called, however Mr Webster was concerned about social services and did not press charges.
After the incident, later that afternoon The Education Welfare Officer (EWO) Ms Murray, went to visit Ms Webster at home but was refused entry. Ms Webster was verbally abusive. Ms Murray then tried to speak to Charity but she refused to talk to her. Ms Murray then went to visit Mr Webster where the twins were staying. The twins seemed fine but a little subdued. Mr Webster stated that he would be looking after the twins and he would like custody of all three children.
Following the visit a strategy meeting was formed. A strategy discussion will take place if there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. This will involve The Local Authority Social Care, the Police and other bodies as appropriate for example, a headmaster or a teacher (Working Together to Safeguard Children, 2006). Present in the meeting was myself (duty care social worker), Ms Gold (my team manager), WPC Bond (family protection unit), Mr Perry (headmaster) and Ms Murray (EWO). A strategy discussion is to share information regarding the situation at hand and another aspect is to plan how the S47 enquiry, if there is to be one, should be carried out. We can also agree action is required immediately to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. The Domestic Violence Unit reported they did not refer these incidents to Social Services as they did not see the children to be at any risk, however Working Together states that children may suffer directly and indirectly if they live in households where there is domestic violence and domestic violence is likely to have a damaging effect on the health and development of children. It is often appropriate for such children to be regarded as children in need S17.
Mckie (2005) makes some interesting observations on the terms ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’ in an analysis of domestic violence. The policies and practices connected with domestic violence become gendered in so far as women are conceptualized as those who should act. Mckie (2005).
Working Together also says that children who witness domestic violence have been shown to be at risk from behavioural, emotional, physical, cognitive functioning, attitude and long term developmental problems.
We do know that Charity has become aggressive and abusive.
After the strategy meeting and because of the concerns regarding Charity, It was agreed after a discussion with my team manager that I would visit Ms Webster to discuss the referral from school. From this I would then make an assessment as to whether the child/children are at risk of significant harm or the likelihood of significant harm. The overall decision was that a S47 enquiry should proceed with immediate effect.
Some children are in need because they are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. Concerns about maltreatment may be a reason for a referral of a family to social services. In such circumstances, the Local Authority is obliged to consider initiating enquiries to find out what is happening to a child and whether action should be taken to protect a child. This is set out in Part V S47 of The Children Act 1989 (Protection of Children).
The Framework for the Assessment of Children In Need and Their Families (2000), section 1.28 states that the LA has a duty to respond to children in need to provide services to minimise the effects of disabilities, this applies to Charity. We also have to take steps to prevent neglect or ill treatment. There does appear to be in this, in relation to Charity’s case.
Section 17 of the Childrens Act says that services may be provided to assist a child in need. This would refer to Ms Webster if she is agreeable because the needs of parent carers are an integral part of an assessment because providing these services which meets the needs of the parents is often the most effective means of promoting the welfare of children, particularly disabled children. My role now is to recommend which route we proceed down.
When I went to visit Ms Webster, She was hostile towards me. Ms Webster said she had never been violent to her husband before and denied the incident outside school. Ms Webster claimed she had no problems looking after her children but showed a negative attitude towards Charity. She spoke about Charity as if she was not there and referred to Charity as “she” instead of by her name. Ms Webster said Charity was hard work and was always soiling her nappies, shouting and crying. Ms Webster seemed angry as she was explaining this. Whilst we were talking, Charity did not say anything but looked as if she wanted to cry. Charity’s appearance was unclean and she smelled of urine. Ms Webster was clearly upset about her husbands’ sexuality, more than for the safety of her children. When entering Charity’s bedroom which Ms Webster had reluctantly agreed to, I found bed clothes stained with urine and stools. The en-suite and bath were both unclean. The rest of the home however was clean and tidy. I spoke to Ms Webster about my concerns and told her that she would be entitled to help if she would accept it. This empowered Ms Webster and allowed her to feel there was help if she wanted it and she was not alone. Ms Webster did say that she thought Charity may have been affected by witnessing the recent arguments and she would make sure Charity was not further stressed that day. It was discussed that Charity had pressure sores; from this Ms Webster became ‘frosty’. Reluctantly she agreed to take Charity to see her doctor and I arranged to visit the next day.
The following day on the 20th January 2008 I visited Ms Webster, but there was no answer. When I tried to telephone her there was still no answer. As a result from this, there were concerns regarding the domestic violence and the condition of Charity and it was decided that a Child Protection Case Conference was to go ahead.
I will explain this model of assessment I used in this case before I go on to the case conference. The model of assessment used is The Framework for The Assessment of Children In Need and Their Families (DOH 2000) more commonly known as the assessment framework. The assessment framework will be integrated into the revised Working Together to Safeguard Children. A key principle of this framework is that it is child-centred; this means that the child is seen and kept in focus throughout the assessment. The child or children are my main priority as a child social worker. It is also rooted in child development which includes recognition of the significance of timing in a childs life. Calder, M and Hackett, S (2003).
This particular assessment model is dynamic, fluid and continuous, this helps the intervention because as changes occur in a person’s life, it can adapt to the changes and my care plan can also be adaptable. A criticism of this model is the timescales can force social workers towards a procedural model whereas the Exchange Model offers an empowering dialogue with parents.
Smale et al (2000) identify a weakness in this model in that this approach may not work if the service user is not engaging in the process or are unable to articulate themselves. It also denies that workers have a professional responsibility and can be time consuming, which may create difficulties given the time constraints of The Assessment Framework. It also overlooks the need to adopt a procedural approach given the various questionnaires/scales utilised.
Changes have appeared to have happened over the last two weeks for Ms Webster and her family. Domestic violence, with both parties blaming each other and the deteriation of Charity’s appearance and her temper towards others. This leads me onto another concept of my assessment, which is parenting capacity. This is done using the assessment triangle, which includes child developmental needs, family and environmental factors. The DOH dimensions of parenting capacity has six core dimensions of parenting capacity, three of these provisions suggest that Charity is not receiving emotional warmth, Charity’s needs for secure, stable and an affectionate relationship, appropriate physical contact to provide comfort and warmth and stability of attachments and basic care to provide food, drink, warmth, appropriate clothing and personal hygiene. Ms Webster’s capacity concerns me because of her response to Charity and her circumstances involving her cleanliness and her appearance, the way she speaks about Charity, whilst Charity can hear her mother, and her reaction to use support and accept help and the relationship between Ms Webster and Charity.
Children’s chances of receiving optimal outcomes will depend on their parent’s capacities to respond appropriately to their needs at different stages of their lives Calder, M and Hacket, S, (2003).
Some of the above factors are included in the integrated model for assessing parenting capacity. The parenting style I would suggest of Ms Webster is neglectful parenting as she is neither responsive nor demanding of Charity. Ms Webster lacks the monitoring and the supervision duties surrounding Charity at the moment.
Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Working Together To Safeguard Children (1999).
From my assessment I would put forward in my opinion and recommend that Charity to be put on the child protection register S47 but not her two twin sisters, but would offer support under S17. This is because of the declining condition of Charity’s physical condition and appearance, due to her persistent soiled nappies, the urine smell on Charity, her dirty clothes, her pressure sores and her aggressive nature toward others. Charity has suffered some the physical neglect of because of the delay of being taken to a doctor by her mother. Charity also suffered abuse due to witnessing the domestic violence and therefore there is a h3 possibility of emotional abuse.
Research shows that ‘prolonged and/or regular exposure to domestic violence can have a serious impact on the child and/or children’s development and emotional wellbeing and can lead to serious anxiety and distress and in some cases the repetition of violent behaviour. Department of Health (2006).
All these factors could lead to significant harm. These are the categories for registration. The twins will not be registered as they are not in any immediate danger as they are both cared for by their father and his partner at the moment, a police check has been carried out and neither is known, the EWO has no concerns regarding the twins. However this situation needs to be monitored and regularly reviewed to safeguard the children as this situation may change. My reasons for recommending registration are the three incidents of domestic violence over the last three months, one known to have been witnesses by the children. Ms Webster’s reaction outside school when she was verbally abusive, erratic and aggressive. There are neglect issues. We also need to take account of Charities additional needs.
A definition of disability is children and their families whose main need for services arises out of the children’s disabilities or intrinsic condition (DOH 2000). This applies to Charity as she falls within the category and she has a medically diagnosed condition, which is Cerebral Palsy.
Both parents are blaming each other for the domestic violence issues. There are concerns by school staff regarding Charity’s decline in appearance and her aggression. There is also the issue of family attachments which I noted earlier in parenting capacity.
After making a recommendation to register Charity an Initial Child Protection Case Conference was set for 28th January 2008. Ms Webster was informed of the decision by telephone and I arranged with her to visit and give her a copy of the notes before the meeting, this will empower Ms Webster and give her some idea of what will happen. I will also keep the family fully informed throughout, invite parents to meetings and explain procedures in an open and honest way. But I will ensure the parents are fully aware of my concerns regarding the risks towards Charity.
The function of a case conference is to bring together the child (where appropriate), family members and those professionals most involved with the child and family, following a S47 enquiry. One purpose of this is to decide what future action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child and how action will be taken and what the intended outcomes are. The core group members are I, Ms Webster, Mr Webster, Ms Gold (team manager), WPC Bond (family protection unit), Mr Perry (head teacher) and Ms Murray (EWO). All the above people involved will all play a part in monitoring and safeguarding the surrounding concerns for Charity. During the case conference I will be looking at recommending the following care plan:
Behavioural support, some schools have these implemented by way of school mentor, this could help Charity with her aggression.
Anger management counselling for Ms Webster due to the domestic violence issues.
Family Resource Centre for Ms Webster and Charity, this could help them both have contact with other families experiencing similar issues.
Counselling for mum due to loss and separation and the children.
Counselling for Charity to give her a chance to talk to someone about her experiences and how she feels.
Charity spending quality time with her father and sisters.
With the care plan identified, this can only go ahead if Ms Webster will give her consent as she has parental responsibility.
The legislation I have used is Childrens Act 1989/2004 with S47-Duty to asses risk and S17-Duty to assess need. I have also used Working Together to Safeguard Children, this sets out clear guidelines for multi-agency working to protect children from abuse and neglect, this was needed in relation to Charity.
I will now move on to theories and research. Neglect can have major long term effects on all aspects of a childs health, development and well-being. Maltreatment is likely to have a deeper on the childs self image and self esteem. Difficulties may lead on into adulthood and the experience of long term abuse could lead to difficulties in forming or maintaining close relationships, one of the skills needed to be an effective parent (DOH 2000). DOH 2000 also says that the child could have feelings of isolation and the feeling of being unloved. Stress could affect the parents’ capacity to respond to their childs needs. This relates to this case as Ms Webster is very stresses since her husband left her for another man. In relation to physical abuse and Charity witnessing this, this could be the reason as to why Charity is showing aggression towards people. Physical abuse has been linked to aggressive behaviour in children, emotional and behavioural problems (Working Together).
Further research that relates to the case is the Attachment Theory because of Charity’s relationship with her mum and vice versa. Bowlby believed that the primary caregiver is the mother. He said that children deprived of maternal care would nearly always be affected in some way. Bowlby (1953). However Ainsworth identified three types of attachment, securely attached, insecurely attached (avoidant) and securely attached (ambivalent). As its core, attachment theory is about the way that childhood needs are met and the long term effects of needs being met or otherwise. Ainsworth (1970). In my opinion I would say Charity is negatively attached. A criticism of Bowlby is that he says that the mother has to be the primary caregiver; this is open to much subjection. Children can have attachment figures other than them receiving it from their mother. In some cultures the childcare is shared, not only by mothers but by fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends Beckett, C, (2002). Another criticism is that it is sexist, it tends to lead to maternal deprivation rather than paternal deprivation, it excuses absent fathers from any imitation of parenting skills. It ignores gender bias and how family make ups can change. This is significant in this case as Mr Webster left the family home. Theory on domestic violence is gendered natured in that, it ignores the facts that female to male violence is increasing. This is significant in this case because Mr Webster had suffered domestic violence issues with his wife. Charity also witnessed domestic violence. Helping victims and children to get protection from violence, by providing relevant practical and other assistance is one of the considerations to include when involved in a child protection case (Working Together pg 2004).
There are contradictions within the legislative framework. The Children Act 1989 contravenes the Human Rights Act because S8 of the Human Rights act states that in absolute certainty children should not be removed from their family and the Children Act defines harm but not significant harm. The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families is not without contradiction. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation 1999, points out that it would be helpful to strengthen the assessment framework by stating that the responsibility of the local authority is not only to promote and safeguard the welfare of the child but also the rights of the child.
Throughout my work I will continue to reflect on my practice and how my own values and assumptions may unconsciously affect my decisions.