How social workers can better focus on children aged 10-13, and reduce the number of children in care

Social worker Katriona Hartnett writes about a project in Camden aiming to engage children aged between 10-13 more effectively

teenager
Photo: tugolukof/Fotolia (posed by model)

by Katriona Hartnett

Having worked with young people and their families for over eight years, it is refreshing to be part of an innovation fund backed project, called ‘Right Balance for Families’, in Camden, which takes a different approach to working with children in need aged 10-13.

Why this age group? Children aged 10-13 and the challenges they face can be overlooked at times. This is likely to be because this age group is considered not as vulnerable as babies and very young children, and they don’t come to attention for risky behaviour as their older peers do.

However, life is not simple for the typical 10-13-year-old, who is managing the challenges of moving on to secondary school, adjusting to changes in their presentation – whether this be physical or emotional – and experiencing new pressures from peers, social media and trying to work out their own identity.

If in addition there are difficulties in the family home, day-to-day life for this age group becomes very complex.

Key age group

I’ve worked with many children at this stage of life. Looking at the wider context, this age group is key when thinking about how we reduce the number of children coming in to local authority care, while still ensuring that when this action is necessary it happens at the right time.

Government statistics in respect of the number of looked after children in the UK from March 2017 showed that the age group with the highest proportion of looked after children is the age group 10-15 with 39%. The second largest group is age 16-19 with 24%. However, the 16-19-year-old is the only age group where the numbers of children entering care have increased year on year. This leads me to worry that we could be doing better preventative work at ages 10 -13

In social work we use the term engagement a lot, too much in my view. We put the burden to engage on young people and families who are asked to work with plans that ‘we’, the professional network, put together for them.

Right Balance for Families builds upon the protective factors and network already in place around the child, thus increasing resilience in an organic way. In our recent inspection Ofsted called Camden’s approach to social work ‘systemic and highly participative’ and we are testing the compatibility of those concepts through eco-mapping, utilizing Family Group Conferences and holding multi-agency systemic discussions to respond to need.

To understand the network and strengths in place around a child and family, each will have the opportunity to have a family group conference. At this family group conference the child is supported to plan their own goals; such as wanting quality time with a parent, or being supported to be in school or feel confident making friends.

Safe, positive outcomes

Taking a systemic view, the formal system can’t always speak for a young person, or know best what the family needs and fit them into our services. Yet the professional system and the young person’s informal network needs to stay attuned to each other for safe, positive outcomes. So we need a method of ‘appreciative enquiry’ like a family group conference to learn how best to work together.

Each child and family has a systemic professional network around them, including CAMHS, Camden’s virtual school, a mentor, mediators, youth workers, housing and benefits advice and parenting support. The family will not be having contact with all of these professionals, but what can be assured is that the child is able to pull on the right support to achieve their goals and develop resilience without delay.

We recognise too that there may be a ‘trusted and valued relationship’ for the young person that will be able to link them to the social worker, a bridge between the professional and the family system.

The project provides a high level of support around education. Camden’s Virtual School is a core part of the systemic network; providing advice and training for schools alongside a focused plan around the child.

Strategies

The focus of Right Balance is simple; to improve the resilience of our young people, and support children between 10-13 and their families during these difficult formative years.

Supporting and empowering families on the one hand and providing appropriate, and necessary protection on the other, are strategies which can often be in tension with each other. We know families have often said they either they got more than they bargained for, or that they did not get enough support. The response to Right Balance for Families so far has been very positive.

It is my hope that this pilot will enable Camden social workers to increase support for children, take a lead from them on what goals they have and what the family needs to maintain their care, while retaining our responsibility to act to protect at the right time.

Katriona Hartnett is a senior practitioner at Camden council.

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3 Responses to How social workers can better focus on children aged 10-13, and reduce the number of children in care

  1. Mary Rice April 12, 2018 at 11:37 am #

    This analysis looks at using FGCs etc then poses the question as to how you resolve the hearing what YP want v. Child protection. It doesn’t go further to say how that will be resolved and who resolves it. Some of these resources have been used throughout social work for years so it is not that new and nor is the dilemma as to how and who decides.

  2. Sw111 April 17, 2018 at 3:20 pm #

    The above model appears effective but the complexity of the cases do not appear to have been examined. Quite a lot of agencies, like school may have a different perspective and their approach and expectations may be different whereas social care would focus on safeguarding issues and from my experience as soon as the child protection issues have reduced there is pressure from the management to close the case.
    Holistic and systematic approach to support parents and build child’s resilience would be effective long term but quite a number of local authorities are working on a reactive model and the bureaucracy tends to hamper quite a lot of good work.

  3. Planet Autism April 20, 2018 at 4:46 pm #

    “16-19-year-old is the only age group where the numbers of children entering care”

    I can’t see any legal basis for putting a young adult 18-19yo in care! Any exception to that could only be court of protection for a vulnerable adult.

    For older children entering care, if they are on CiN plans, many of those will be due to having special needs and disabilities.

    “If in addition there are difficulties in the family home, day-to-day life for this age group becomes very complex.”

    There is a very big problem with false child protection issues being raised over autistic children.

    “In social work assessments, professional opinion can often be recorded as fact”​

    http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2017/10/16/social-work-assessments-professional-opinion-can-often-recorded-fact/

    http://www.hcbgroup.com/site/blog/education_blog/parents-face-new-obstacle-for-sen-support

    http://childprotectionresource.online/autistic-children-in-care-uninformed-decision-making-leading-to-poor-outcomes/

    “Are Thousands of Children with Autism in Care for Erroneous Reasons? Quite Probably…”​

    https://www.rightpro.org.uk/s/article/Are-Thousands-of-Children-with-Autism-in-Care-for-Erroneous-Reasons-Quite-Probably

    “In social work we use the term engagement a lot, too much in my view. We put the burden to engage on young people and families who are asked to work with plans that ‘we’, the professional network, put together for them.”

    Agreed. It’s arrogant and what really needs addressing, is how professionals engage with families.

    http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2015/07/29/social-workers-criticised-reprehensible-behaviour-adoption-case/

    ““In the light of their unprofessional behaviour and their negative view of him both as a father and as an individual, as expressed in their evidence, there can be little wonder if the father finds it hard to trust the local authority and work with them from time to time,” the judge said.”

    “Taking a systemic view, the formal system can’t always speak for a young person, or know best what the family needs and fit them into our services.”

    It usually does not. And until social care becomes a system of support and honesty rather than focusing only on safeguarding and allowing liars to practice, things will not improve.