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Standardising Remote Working in challenging times

If at any point last year, we would have been presented with the idea that during 2020 we would be operating social work teams on skeletal staff with many social workers self-isolating, legislation changes reducing the pressures on local authorities’ requirements to visit children in care as frequently and everyone wearing face-masks and hand sanitizing every five minutes, we would have thought it was a scene from a futuristic sci-fi thriller.

Yet here we are in 2020 and social workers have been thrown into a whole new way of working in order to continue visiting children in care, assess vulnerable families and put supportive mechanisms in place.

New ways of working have emerged and while pre-Covid, technology was used in rare circumstances with a strong justification, it is now common-place within social work in order to enable children and families to be assessed. Covid has not removed the need for vulnerable children to be assessed, in fact it has heightened the need for children who have been hidden from professionals to get the support they need.

In an ideal world, relationship-based, face-to-face assessments and support could still continue within social work. But the situation presented to children’s services has been far from ideal. Lockdown restrictions are to ease this week and will be replaced by a tiered system, with five days of Christmas enabling families to get together. Whilst news of a vaccine potentially by the end of the year is welcome, there is a need to continue our work, adhering to our public health responsibilities in terms of children, families, customers and our professionals.

It is to be applauded that social workers have adapted to working so adeptly and quickly with Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and Microsoft Teams. At WillisPalmer, while we would prefer to continue traditional, face-to-face contact with vulnerable children and families, it is just not always possible within the current climate and presenting restrictions.

Vulnerable children still need access to social workers, in fact, this need has increased greatly given many children have been hidden from social workers and teachers during the various restrictions imposed throughout the year. The director of Kent Council Matt Dunkley warned earlier this year that a spike in referrals to children’s services could be as high as 250% once children returned to school in September/October. But Ofsted recently reported that many of the anticipated referrals to children’s services were yet to be made making it even more imperative that a safe and workable solution is adopted.

In order to enable us to continue supporting our local authority colleagues and working on case backlogs, complex cases which frontline workers do not have the time to undertake as well as helping children to achieve permanency faster, WillisPalmer has launched a new way of working which incorporates both face to face and remote video technology. This framework, which was built on the experience our experienced professionals accrued since the first lockdown, standardises our approach to carrying out expert social work and psychological assessments.

Each referral is taken on a case-by-case basis with a bespoke tailored approach depending on the nature and complexity of the cases.

A similar process is being adapted for parenting assessments which would incorporate a hybrid system of part remote, part face-to-face assessments to produce the best outcomes for children and families.

It is important to note that the way we are now operating is in its very early stages. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to our cases and a tailored approach is necessary, as is always the case in social work practice. There may be some cases whereby we can reduce fees to our customers if minimal face-to-face contact is required. In other complex cases, we will endeavour to undertake the case with as many face-to-face sessions as is required, by following government guidance and preventative measures in order to keep all parties involved as safe as possible.

WillisPalmer’s Chief Executive Mark Willis added: “I have a passionate belief in relationship-based social work. Previously, I would have been sceptical about what can be done online in terms of intricate social work assessments, however, lockdown has shown us that you don’t always have to be in the same room as someone to conduct a high-quality assessment. Our expert professionals are using their skills and expertise and combining this with technology to provide a service which is not only less intrusive for the person being assessed but also a more convenient option all round.

“Importantly, we have a public health duty to our professionals, our clients and the people we are assessing.

“Each case will require a bespoke approach and while some assessments can be carried out largely remotely, others presented will require more face-to-face sessions and we will be adhering to government guidance while continuing to provide our vital service to ensure we can continue to support our frontline colleagues.

“While many sectors including social work have undoubtedly benefited from technology during the pandemic including social work. The positive aspects of remote working are likely to remain, but at WillisPalmer, we will post-Covid strive to achieve a fine balance of high-quality, expert assessments conducted face-to-face and supplemented by additional remote contact whilst not losing sight of our most powerful tool – human connection - and its innate humanity to make a difference to people’s lives,” concluded Mark Willis.

To find out more about our new ways of working, email Consultant Social Worker Dave Wareham at dave@willispalmer.com

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