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Blog: Complex cases require specialist intervention

WillisPalmer Chief Executive Mark Willis on a multi-disciplinary approach to tackling the emerging issues of lockdown

As referrals to children’s services departments are rising already with schools only back several weeks and Jaine Stannard, chief executive of School Home Support, a charity that supports disadvantaged state school pupils, warning of a “tsunami of safeguarding referrals” once children return to school fully, local authorities will undoubtedly be seeking high quality, cost-effective services to help cope with the fallout of lockdown measures.

The Childhood Trust this week warned of the effect of the coronavirus on children in poverty highlighting a plethora of issues emerging from lockdown for disadvantaged families. This includes emotional and physical abuse, witnessing domestic abuse, mental ill health, unstable housing and homelessness, a loss of education widening the attainment gap between better off and disadvantaged children and lack of opportunities to play.

School Home Support, a Childhood Trust funded charity, has reported a 750% rise in the number of children needing to be referred to social services compared to the same period in 2019.

Children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield previously warned that thousands of children are experiencing a lack of food in the house, homelessness, sofa-surfing or living in cramped living conditions, neglect, domestic abuse, substance abuse and parental mental health problems during lockdown.

And councils have admitted they will struggle to meet demand for intervention following lockdown following years of cuts.

Mark Willis, Chief Executive of WillisPalmer, said: “For months now, we have warned of the social problems that lockdown will be masking from a rise in domestic abuse and mental ill health to neglect, physical, emotional and sexual abuse.”

“Thousands of children will have witnessed and experienced a range of familial issues and will be bearing the mental and physical scars of lockdown without the refuge and outlet of school and social interaction.”

“These children need identifying immediately to ensure they receive the help and intervention they need and to prevent the months of lockdown creating a life full of repercussions,” he added.

There are a number of problems: councils have admitted they will struggle post lockdown due to staff at high risk self-isolating and shielding and against years of cuts and austerity measures. Furthermore, the cases are likely to be complex, covering a multitude of intricate problems and local authority social workers have their hands tied with limited time to spend on cases.

Undoubtedly, complex cases require specialist intervention. In response to the need for creative intervention, WillisPalmer formed a specific, dynamic family assessment programme in 2017: the Multi-disciplinary Family Assessment model (MFA) to address a range of complex family issues relating to child abuse and neglect. And many of these cases arising from lockdown are going to need this kind of high quality, intensive intervention.

The MFA model has already been commissioned regularly by local authorities, usually in the context of care proceedings, and has been found to be a comprehensive approach to addressing a range of issues including all forms of child maltreatment including sexual abuse.

Prior to starting the assessment, a meeting chaired by our Consultant Social Worker along with the Consultant Psychologist and Independent Social Worker, is held with representatives of the local authority, whereby the assessment plan is fully scoped. Following this meeting the local authority is given a firm costing proposal and clear timescales for completion, usually within eight weeks. In fact, while we had to revise our timescales during lockdown, we are now guaranteeing an eight turnaround for all new assessments.

The final report is prepared by the assessing social worker having discussed in depth the findings of the consultant psychologist.

“The only way to intervene with complex cases of abuse or neglect or where multiple factors are emerging during the case, such as the ‘toxic trio’ is by taking an authentically multi-disciplinary, bespoke approach targeted to the needs of the family,” said Mark Willis.

“We recognise that time is of the essence with many families post-lockdown as restrictions are now beginning to ease following the prime minister's announcement and we can utilise this model to provide recommendations within an eight-week time-frame.

“More than anything, time is crucial. The impact of lockdown on vulnerable children will be immense and we owe it to those children to get help where it is needed and provide intensive support to ensure that the three months lockdown period does not define that child forever more,” Mark Willis concluded.

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