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ParentAssess and founder Sarah Lowe nominated for three awards

ParentAssess founder Sarah Lowe’s outstanding contribution to social work has been recognised as she and the specialist parenting framework she established have been nominated for not one but three awards.

Sarah Lowe, founder ParentAssess

ParentAssess has been nominated for Innovation of the Year in the Family Law Awards and Executive Learning Disability and Autism Award in the Social Care Leadership Awards while Sarah herself has been nominated for the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Social Work Awards.

Sarah said: “After 45 years in social work and lots of determination in getting ParentAssess established, I am so chuffed to have been nominated for the Social Worker of the Year Awards 'Lifetime Achievement Award'.”

Sarah’s idea for ParentAssess was borne out of her frustration with other assessment frameworks that can be used to assess parents with addition needs. While managing a parenting assessment team in a local authority, Sarah and her colleagues felt the assessment framework used by most local authorities did not work for every parent and it was difficult to use.

Sarah felt some of the tools were rather ‘child like’ and risk and cultural issues were not covered sufficiently. She had thought for some time that changes should be made and like many assessors she found the need to modify the assessment model to meet the needs of the parents she was working with.

On speaking to her line manager, Sarah outlined her vision for a new framework and she was encouraged to make that vision a reality. So, in May 2016 she created ParentAssess.

Parents with learning disabilities had told Sarah that the long assessment reports in other frameworks were overwhelming and they very often hadn’t read them as a result. Her aim was to make things simple and clear, easy to understand – so that all parents understand the process.

Empathetically, Sarah realised that having a parenting assessment is probably one of the most difficult things any parent would have to experience. “The basis to ParentAssess is understanding the parent’s perspective. How can we develop a rapport to enable them to get over any anxieties they may have about the assessment process? We want the parents to talk about their issues that they are experiencing in life. We aren’t there to judge, we are there to understand the issues and what can move things forward and support the person to be the best parent they can be,” she said.

The framework incorporates a traffic light system and grades everything on red, amber and green. Parents are asked how they feel about their parenting using the red, amber, green system. They use the tools incorporated in the framework using red, amber and green and at the end of the assessment, areas of parenting are again rated red, amber and green for consistency. The tools are interactive and very clear and this encourages the parent to engage.

The traffic light system represents the parents level of parenting capacity over five domains.

  • The child’s experience of being parented
  • The parent’s daily living skills
  • How the parent functions
  • Specific issues such as domestic or drug abuse
  • Support.

There is software which complements the assessment and makes generating the tables easier but it is optional.

ParentAssess is recognised by the courts and, at WillisPalmer, we are increasingly receiving referrals for ParentAssess assessments of parents with additional needs.

In its expert fee guidance, the Legal Aid Agency used to have a section specifically referencing PAMS Assessments. However, in April 2020 Sarah approached the LAA and the expert fee guidance was amended from ‘PAMS’ to ‘specialist assessment’.

ParentAssess is also recognised in the 2021 revised version of the Good Practice Guidance on working with parents with a learning disability as a recommended framework for specialist assessment of parenting capacity.

Head of Services at WillisPalmer, Dave Wareham, said: “Sarah totally deserves recognition for developing an innovative specialist framework for assessing parents with additional needs, providing social workers and the courts with a choice in which frameworks to use.”

“Sarah’s extensive experience of child protection, in-depth understanding of the needs and rights of adults with disabilities and passion for ensuring parents with learning difficulties get a fair assessment is remarkable. Sarah’s knowledge and experience translates into the ParentAssess  framework which ensures the assessment is genuinely accessible to parents, at the same time as placing the child’s welfare and experience of being parented at the centre of the assessment ” added Dave.

“We all at WillisPalmer wish Sarah the very best for her nomination in these three awards and hope that her dedication, determination, perseverance and innovation is recognised at the ceremonies,” concluded Dave.

To find out more about ParentAssess including how to train in using the framework visit the ParentAssess website or WillisPalmer's website.

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