See the person, not the problem – relationship based practice changes lives

I’ve been involved with the children’s social care review right from the start as a member of the Experts by Experience board and many of the issues the review tackles are extremely close to my heart. When the Case for Change was published, one particular element really stood out for me. The fact that social workers were often intervening in the lives of families rather than supporting them. This rang true with me after my own personal experience of children’s services.

My first involvement with social services was back in 1999. I had just given birth and suffered severe complications which left me very unwell. I was struggling with my mental health as a result of a very abusive childhood. I reached out for help and a wonderful family support worker came into our lives. She quickly realised that I was vulnerable, isolated and very scared. She helped me with practical things like hospital appointments and accessing benefits but the most important thing she did was take time to listen and get to know me. She recognised that my abusive past had left me traumatised and that becoming a parent had triggered very difficult memories. She didn’t judge or criticise, she helped me work through my problems. She discharged me before my son turned one as I was coping fine and parenting my son very well. Her support had made an enormous difference to mine and my son’s life.

When I began to struggle again a few years later I went back to children’s services to ask for her help. Sadly, she no longer worked there, and I was given a social worker instead, or rather my son was. I was in a bad place, in a new relationship with a very controlling partner and really struggling to see a way out of it all. In stark contrast to how her predecessor had seen me, this new social worker did not see a vulnerable young woman, all she saw was risk. She didn’t see me; she saw a problem. My mental health was used against me. My abusive childhood was used against me, I was even told I was predisposed to abuse my own child as a result. I was repeatedly told to leave my partner, but I had nowhere to go. No matter how many times I asked, no help was ever offered to help me escape. Following the birth of my second child, my partner violently attacked me. Despite being critically ill and badly injured I was told to keep him away from the children or they would be removed. No one would help keep us safe. Convinced I was unable to protect them, my boys were removed and eventually adopted.

One local authority. One young woman. Two social workers. Two different ways of working. Two very different outcomes. My experience shows the difference we can make to families’ lives if we listen and support them, and sadly how catastrophic it can be when we don’t. Surveillance is not the same as support.

I know that the Case for Change has already underscored the importance of early support and I believe we owe victims of domestic violence and their children so much more; we need to find a way to keep them safely together. I hope that the final recommendations of the Independent Care Review will put forward ways to turn this aspiration into a reality.

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