by Andrew Matthews*
“How do you fancy going and completing the assessment over there?” my manager asked. My initial reaction? Trepidation, excitement, nerves.
I thought about it some more and realised I would be best placed to do it. I’ve been involved in the case for six months and know the family well. I was nervous as this was something new to me, an assessment like any other but instead of getting the bus to a visit, I would be taking a plane to Eastern Europe.
I agreed and there I was, preparing to travel to Romania for my first trip as a social worker.
I have been working with the family since the child involved became looked after towards the end of 2016. The child’s parents are Romanian and the child was born in the UK.
Children’s services became concerned about unexplained injuries and violence in the parents’ relationship.
The case has become increasingly challenging and complicated with the court having to address the matter of jurisdiction during one of many hearings. It was decided that it was in the child’s best interests for the case to be heard in British courts.
Unfortunately, I do not think it would be safe for the child to return to their parents, and feel that the child’s grandparents in Romania would be the most appropriate.
Originally, a third-party organisation completed the assessment, but there were gaps which required further exploring. With the final hearing fast approaching, it was my responsibility to meet with the grandparents and complete a more thorough assessment.
A date was selected, flights were booked and accommodation was arranged. An interpreter would be meeting me out there and I was ready to go. My manager and I planned the assessment and I remained a little nervous but more excited about a new challenge.
I woke up at 4:45 am for my 7am flight, took a range of documents with me in case I was stopped by Romanian authorities, and set off.
I arrived on time and grabbed a taxi to the hotel; unpacked, had some lunch and was ready to get started.
I felt a lot more comfortable than I thought I would; I felt focused and prepared and the enormity of travelling so far to complete an assessment encouraged me to remain on the ball. I did feel a little tired from the travelling but moreover excited to meet the family.
This was the biggest journey I had made for an assessment but I stayed in the moment focusing on my plan for the session as I would any other day.
My aim for the first session was to share information regarding the case exploring the grandparents thoughts and feelings.
The interpreter and I headed to the family address and were given a warm welcome.
We got straight into the reasons to why the child was looked after; but it was quickly apparent that they had not been told all of the information.
They found it difficult to hear that their daughter’s relationship may have been violent and that their grandson may have been exposed to violence and physical discipline.
I considered all of the context and concerns and talked through the grandparents’ understanding of the impact of domestic violence and physical chastisement on the wellbeing of children.
After the first session I was able to explore the local area which was completely different to what I am normally used too. Working in a loud, busy city made working in this relatively rural area a bit of a culture shock. The population was about a twentieth of the city where I practice and this was telling as I found the area very quiet and relaxed.
The family spoke to me about how the area I was in was a student town and was slowly establishing itself – like the majority of the country – following significant change in the last 30 years. The family spoke to me about how the area was difficult for young people with many travelling to places like the UK to look for work and opportunities.
We spoke about a whole range of subjects, coming back to the threshold and how the grandparents responded to the concerns of domestic violence and physical abuse.
The atmosphere was relaxed and there would often be stopping for coffee and chocolates as well as very big Romanian lunch. The grandparents spoke about their own childhoods, relationships and experiences as parents.
I was impressed by their resilience and how they had overcome their adversities to succeed. It was striking how they were a team and tackled challenges together; for me it was their biggest strength.
A key part of the assessment was to understand the possible lived experience the child would have in the care of his grandparents. This included understanding more about the local area.
We walked around exploring the community which was an invaluable experience. It was important to see the local schools, GPs, hospitals, other amenities as well as understand how the community and area could meet the child’s needs.
I travelled back the next day feeling that the trip was both useful and beneficial. For me as the child’s social worker to meet the grandparents first hand was invaluable. In regards to the experience more generally it was an exciting and enjoyable challenge.
*Andrew Matthews is a pseudonym. He recently qualified as a children’s social worker. Some details have been changed to best preserve the anonymity of the family involved.