Count me in

    Social worker Ann Marie Howell has a caseload of 1,800. But she
    wouldn’t change her job in Holland Park comprehensive school for
    the world. Alison Miller talked to her.

    When a five-year-old boy was permanently excluded from school
    after assaulting a school care worker, social services were called
    to investigate amid a storm of media interest.

    Ann Marie Howell, a children and families social worker with
    Kensington & Chelsea, London, is something of an expert on this
    subject – albeit with older children – because she is one of an
    extremely small band of social workers to be based in a school.
    Holland Park comprehensive school is Howell’s workplace and her
    social worker post is funded by Kensington & Chelsea Council as
    part of the Inclusion Project, a Quality Protects financed by the
    social services department and local education authority.

    Her remit is to work with young people at risk of permanent
    exclusion and to reduce the exclusion rate. She has been
    successful: fixed-term exclusions have dropped significantly since
    the project started.

    Holland Park school is the only comprehensive in Kensington and
    has 1,800 pupils from diverse backgrounds – more than 100 languages
    from 90 countries are spoken. One in three of the children has
    English as a second language and one in four has special
    educational needs.

    “The Inclusion Project’s remit is to offer support to children
    who are experiencing difficulties in school,” Howell explains. A
    forerunner to the social exclusion unit’s much favoured one-stop
    centres, the project consists of an educational welfare officer;
    two learning mentors, a learning support unit worker; two youth
    workers and two drama therapists.

    Howell has been with Kensington & Chelsea for five years and
    joined the project at its inception in October 1999. “I was
    attracted to the job because I enjoy working with young people: I
    see myself as a positive role model who is able to build a good
    rapport with young people,” she says.

    “I have weekly meetings with the heads of years and they talk
    about the kids they are concerned about – often the ones who are
    disruptive or are exhibiting challenging behaviour. Based on this I
    do a check on these kids (she is fully linked up to the social
    services department’s IT systems) – it’s a matter of getting
    information about the young persons’ lives and finding out what
    they are going through.” She cites the example of one very
    disruptive boy. “He had thrown a chair at the teacher and was about
    to be excluded. His case was passed to me and when I checked with
    the child protection team I discovered that he was going through a
    child protection investigation because there were concerns that he
    was being abused by his step-mother. The boy was not getting any
    support from his father and so was coming to school and taking it
    out on the teachers. Once I shared this information with the school
    they were able to take it on board, understand why he was behaving
    in such a challenging way, and we were able to find strategies to
    help him.”

    She has an open surgery and young people are free to drop in to
    chat about anything that is worrying them. She stresses though that
    often the key to picking up young people who may be in trouble is
    by walking around and talking to them. “Sometimes you can tell just
    by looking around – it’s the kid whose eyes are lifeless, or
    perhaps the one who doesn’t have any friends who most needs
    help.”

    Recent work has included setting up group work on self-esteem
    with girls who were behaving in a very challenging way, working
    with the Somalian Welfare Association to help a refugee pupil and
    calling a meeting with the perpetrator of bullying and his victim
    to try and resolve the problem.

    Wherever possible parents are involved – sometimes this might
    involve home visits and some frank talking, sometimes an agreement
    between pupils, their parents and the school will be drawn up.

    Another part of her role is to help to support young people who
    are known to social services. “These can be looked-after children,
    children with statements or children whose families are known to
    social services. It’s my job to promote positive
    relationships.”

    Her job involves a great deal of multi-agency working. She works
    closely with many different agencies – statutory and voluntary –
    including the asylum team; the youth offending team; the eight
    Kensington & Chelsea locality teams; the unaccompanied minors
    team; the police child protection and community safety teams; the
    child adolescent and mental health service; local health clinics;
    and local asylum seeker groups. The school’s wide catchment area
    means she can be called to case conferences at any of the councils
    near to Kensington & Chelsea including Brent, Southwark,
    Lambeth and Ealing.

    Unlike the young people however, Howell doesn’t get to enjoy the
    long school holidays. “I use the summer holidays to catch up on
    admin and to do a lot of home visits. It’s a good opportunity to
    talk to the kids outside of their home environment so we often go
    out somewhere.”

    Social work at a school is clearly not an easy option.
    “Sometimes I feel like I’m social worker for 1,800 young people,
    and unlike social services departments there’s no office door or
    waiting room, but I feel it’s so important for me to be here.
    Research shows that if one person shows an interest in a young
    person’s education it makes a huge difference to how they feel
    about school.”

    So, are we going to see more children and families social
    workers in schools? If the government shows the same enthusiasm for
    joined-up working in its new term, the smart money says it’s a
    pretty safe bet.

    Key issues for children

    – Domestic violence

    – Bereavement

    – Conflict with parents

    – Abuse (both physical and sexual)

    – Peer pressure

    – Self-harming

    – Sexuality crisis

    – Identity crisis (especially common among mixed race and black
    pupils)

    – Bullying

    – Drugs and Alcohol

     

     

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