Kam Marjara joined WillisPalmer last October after 25 years in local authority social work, 17 of which were spent most recently in a London Borough where Kam was an assistant team manager at an assessment service.
Kam had toyed with the idea of independent social work for several years when the London Borough she worked for proposed re-organising the assessment team. Kam had instigated a stand-alone assessment service independent to the social work team 18 years earlier and the pilot had started out with Kam and one part-time social worker but rapidly scaled up to including eight social workers plus social work assistants.
As well as carrying out parenting and PAMS assessments, Kam also supervised and quality assured parenting assessments conducted by other professionals. She is accredited to undertake PAMS Assessments, trained in signs and safety and accredited to undertake domestic abuse risk assessments (DASH model).
The assessment service social workers did not hold case loads but would receive all referrals at the family centre. When The Public Law Outline (PLO) care proceedings were introduced, setting out the duties local authorities have when thinking about taking a case to court to ask for a Care Order to take a child into care or for a Supervision Order to be made, the assessment service expanded further.
The social workers developed group work, for example with perpetrators of domestic abuse, and Kam became accredited as a MELLOW Parenting facilitator, an evidence-based programme for mums and dads. She carried out workshops in the evenings working with dads who were at work during the day.
Kam describes the role as her “dream job” but unfortunately, in recent years, the assessment service model was considered a luxury service and it was proposed that social workers in the various teams would carry out the assessments alongside their caseloads.
It was at this point that Kam realised that she didn’t share the same vision as the authority and didn’t want to go back to frontline social work or even as a child protection team manager, but instead use her experience and expertise to go independent and face new challenges.
“I used search engines to find independent organisations who could allocate me independent work and WillisPalmer has been established for 16 years and this attracted me as I wanted to work with an organisation which had systems set up and also to provide me with guidance and support,” said Kam. “I am not concerned about working independently, I can get on with anything thrown at me, it is just accessing work particularly when you are starting out as an ISW and especially in the current climate with COVID.”
In fact, Kam believes that there will be a greater need for parenting assessments, which she specialises in along with PAMS assessments, as a result of families struggling during lockdown. “In the aftermath of COVID I believe the only way we can get through it is to focus more on preventative work to try and work on the parenting skills of vulnerable families.”
However, Kam is passionate that parenting assessments highlighting need should not be the end of the story and hands on practical group work around parenting could help meet the needs of some of the families experiencing difficulties.
“A long time ago, I carried out an assessment of a woman at pre-proceedings stage and there were lots of recommendations in the assessment and I felt there was a real possibility that she could make changes if she had the right support in place. I tried to visit her several times to talk about parenting programmes such as the MELLOW programme and how she could achieve change but she was always out. I spoke to her social worker who said that if the woman wasn’t engaging then it would have to go to court. It did, and they directed her to carry out a programme which was completely life changing for her. There is a lot of life story work in the MELLOW programme and it identified that she needed to be honest with her mother about her experiences and with the correct support network, she made fantastic changes,” explained Kam. “So it is not just about carrying out good parenting assessments, it’s what is done with the recommendations.”
The MELLOW programmes are a 14-week programme which looks at all aspects of your life from health, mental health, childhood, education, experiences of domestic abuse etc. Parents and potential parents learn about parenting from parenting styles to behaviour management and the group work nature of the work enables participants to reduce their social isolation, stress and feelings of alienation and create new support networks.
Kam also believes that hands on practical workshops are far more effective: “If you write down instructions for how to cook an egg, that person may follow those instructions or they may ignore them. If you show them how to cook an egg, then watch them have a go at cooking the egg themselves, they are far more likely to use this skill on their own in future”.
In order to carry out a good parenting assessment, Kam believes you need “several years of experience, good listening skills, good analytical skills and to be inquisitive and challenging”. Kam is very honest in her approach and strongly believes that the assessor needs to make it clear what the process is and what is at stake so there is no confusion around the seriousness of the situation. Empathy is also required to acknowledge that parents do have difficulties and sometimes it is not their fault, and she aims to guide them helpfully through the whole process.
Kam is also keen to become involved with WillisPalmer’s Multi-disciplinary Family Assessments where a tailored group of professionals, bespoke to the families’ needs, work together over an eight week period to work intensively with a family, as an alternative to a costly residential placements. Independent Social Workers, who lead the process, work with psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and family support workers who can put in place 24-hour supervision where there is a risk to the child, to assess the family and work with them intensively throughout the eight week period before producing a final report.
Kam is currently undertaking her first PAMS assessment and has so far found WillisPalmer to be welcoming and supportive which, she says, is “important when you start out so you don’t feel isolated”.
“Being independent provides you with more flexibility, although it is important to be disciplined and have structure, but that comes with experience as a social worker. Aside from my two periods of maternity leave, I have worked solidly for local authorities for 25 years and so I have become quite institutionalised.
However, whatever job I do, I always put my heart and soul into it,” concluded Kam.