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The importance of Family Support Work in the MFA

Family Support is integral to the whole of the Multi-disciplinary Family Assessment, says Dave Wareham, WillisPalmer’s Head of Service.

Family Support is a key intervention aimed at keeping families together, improving parenting capacity, improving children and young people's behaviour and preventing children from entering the care system.

The MFA team is always led by an Independent Social Worker and may include educational or clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists and always involves Family Support Workers.

Dave Wareham, who heads the family support service, said: “Family Support Workers are key to the success of this model. One of the main benefits of the process is that a multi-disciplinary team assesses parents and children in the family home within a short-timeframe and thus avoiding costly residential assessments. This is only made possible by the involvement of our Family Support Workers who can put in place 24/7 support if needed where there are concerns about risk.”

“Fundamentally we need to ensure that children are safe throughout the duration of the assessment and the provision of Family Support does just that. By assessing families in their own homes in familiar surroundings, parents and children are much less likely to feel intimidated by the process. Talking through behaviours which led to the need for a parenting assessment can be extremely difficult, intrusive and traumatising for parents. Our approach is to minimise these feelings in parents and children by conducting the assessment in the family home,” added Dave.

The eight-week process also ensures that the duration of the assessment is kept to a minimum. A social worker carrying out a parenting assessment in isolation may conclude that a psychiatric assessment is required and then the family has to wait for this to be arranged before going through the same personal stories with a different professional. However, with multi-disciplinary professionals working in collaboration for eight weeks, this distress is minimised and the family knows the assessment will conclude within eight weeks – a guarantee that can not be made with an assessment carried out by numerous professionals in isolation.

Presenting cases may include those of neglect, physical abuse, domestic violence, cognitive or mental health problems including complex situations which present questions relating to an adult's parenting capacity. As a result, in some cases there will be safeguarding concerns about the child/children. However, by utilising the Family Support Worker to provide on site practical or emotional support 24/7 if required, enables the assessment to be conducted at home.

Very often during the MFA, families start off with 24/7 support from FSWs, especially if a newborn baby is involved. After a few weeks of intervention, the support may be reduced, Dave explains. Assessment of parenting capacity should not begin until the baby is at least six weeks old but family support workers can provide assistance from birth acting as a prelude to the MFA and work with the family during the initial six weeks which ensures that there is a trusting relationship and familiarity after six weeks once the parenting assessment commences, which should hopefully place the family at ease. This prevents families having to experience ‘new’ support workers in their home at the beginning of the assessment as the introductory phase has already been completed.

“We have a team of reliable and experienced family support workers available. They all have experience in working directly with families in crisis with complex issues and challenges such as learning difficulties, drug and alcohol misuse, domestic abuse, mental health concerns, or where a child is at risk of entering the care system,” explains Dave.

WillisPalmer aims to use the same team of family support workers throughout each case to ensure continuity of care.

To find out more about the Family Support element of the MFA or our standalone Family Support Work service, visit our website.

WillisPalmer is recruiting Family Support Workers now. Call us on 01206 878178 or email

Dave Wareham, Head of Service

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