A new Remote Assessment Service has been launched by WillisPalmer to meet the needs of our customers while fulfilling our public health duties.
Building on the experience we acquired during lockdown, when restrictions prevented our professionals from carrying out their duties as they had done prior to COVID-19, WillisPalmer has formalised our thinking in a new assessment service to be introduced immediately.
WillisPalmer’s Consultant Social Worker, Dave Wareham, who has been instrumental in developing the service, said: “During lockdown social work professionals across the board started making good use of technology including Skype, Zoom and FaceTime to stay in contact with vulnerable children and families or carry out needs assessments. There was a quick shift in the understanding of the opportunities that video calling offers and there has to be full respect for the workforce and their ability to use technology proficiently and very quickly.”
“Our aim is to introduce a standard framework based on what type of technology could be best utilised for the specific assessment being completed, and the needs of the applicant,” he added.
Although the lockdown restrictions have eased since June, prime minister Boris Johnson is encouraging people to work from home, introducing 10pm curfews in bars and restaurants, implementing local lockdowns in high risk areas and urging people to socially distance.
However, 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 lockdown. It is therefore imperative that a safe and workable solution is adopted.
Given many assessments are interview-based, Dave and his team highlighted that Viability Assessments, Special Guardianship Order Assessments, Connected Person Assessments as well as Regulation 24 reports could predominantly be undertaken remotely.
WillisPalmer’s service outlines that:
- Viability Reports can be undertaken entirely remotely.
- Regulation 24 report requires one face-to-face meeting for a home inspection and to meet the person being assessed.
- For Connected Persons and SGO assessments, the following steps should be taken:
a) Following referral, the case is allocated a Case Manager, an Independent Social Worker and Quality Assurance Consultant Social Worker
b) The ISW arranges a video call with the applicant
c) During the video call, the ISW outlines what is involved in special guardianship or kinship care to ensure the applicant fully understands the responsibilities they would take on. The ISW will also talk about the assessment process.
d) A home visit is arranged and a COVID-19 risk assessment carried out. If there are risks around COVID, steps will be taken to mitigate risks such as full PPE for the home visit, which will last no longer than 15 minutes. If there are no COVID concerns, the home visit may incorporate a face-to-face interview with the applicant which will enable the ISW to observe any physical issues which may need to be addressed with support during the process such as a physical disability. The applicant and ISW will agree the remote assessment sessions going forward.
“While face-to-face contact can be minimised during these assessments, it is imperative that the ISW meets the client once at least. To assess someone who you have not physically met and make recommendations about placing children in their care would be unethical for any social worker,” explained Dave.
Furthermore, Viability Assessments, Regulation 24 reports and either Connected Persons or SGO assessments can all be carried out by the same WillisPalmer ISW to streamline the process, minimise face-to-face visits with various professionals, provide one point of contact for the local authority and the applicant and promote relationship-based social work.
In addition, the client receives the same high-quality assessment that it would expect from WillisPalmer, yet the price is reduced because the ISW will not incur the same level of travelling expenses.
During lockdown, our expert ISWs assessed clients remotely and our quality assurance professionals reported that they would never have known the difference between a remote assessment and a face-to-face assessment, reassuring us that more can be done remotely without compromising standards and yet fulfilling public health duties to all.
Currently, WillisPalmer is rolling the service out for SGO, Connected Persons, Viability assessments and Regulation 24 reports. While PAMS and parenting assessments require more observations, Dave believes there is scope for increased use of technology.
“We have spoken to a number of our professionals who have been carrying out remote observations and one told us how she set up a remote observation of a parent and child contact session with a laptop in the corner. She acquired 20 minutes of high-quality observations this way yet it was far less intrusive for the family than having a stranger in the room,” said Dave, adding that the aim would be to have some face-to-face observations followed up with supplementary remote observations.
“What is interesting is that prior to COVID, professionals would have to have strong justification why they should be using video technology rather than face-to-face work whereas now it is seen as completely acceptable, demonstrating a dramatic shift in a matter of months,” he added.
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 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 to limit the number of times professionals are going into people’s house and potentially putting people at risk. This framework not only addresses these issues by minimising face-to-face contact, it also saves local authorities money in the process,” concluded Mark Willis.