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Social Work Case Study | Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 4371 words Published: 19th Jul 2018

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Case study: ‘Jenny & Eleanor’

This essay will focus on the current situation of Jenny, a single parent, and Eleanor, her six year old daughter, who currently live on a large local authority housing estate. Whilst close attention will be paid to their situation and the needs arising out of it, it is not the substantive function of this paper to prescribe specific courses of action in their case only. Rather, it is to identify and discuss the issues raised by their case, considering the appropriate social work processes, policy, and legal framework. Overall, it will be argued that there are two significant issues to be explored through the circumstances of Jenny and Eleanor’s case. Firstly, the nature and effectiveness of multi-agency working in education and the human services, and secondly, the problems faced by these professionals when adults, either deliberately or through incapacity, are not fully cooperative in ensuring the appropriate care of their child. As McCullough points out, ‘Throughout the UK, provision and means of delivering children’s services have been changing profoundly. Predominant among the reasons driving these changes is concern about the way in which children are kept safe.’ (McCullough 2007: p.27) The paper will therefore discuss these issues, taking into account how such issues may be dealt with in a context of evidence-based and anti-discriminatory practice.

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In the first instance it may be helpful to include a brief synopsis of the known facts about Jenny and Eleanor’s situation, as a guide to identifying their needs. The case study reports that they are from a White British background: they live in a local authority housing estate which, it is stated, is regarded as ‘rough’, i.e. socially problematical and economically deprived. This categorization is not supported by any objective assessment, such as referral to any social scales or indices, and so appears rather unscientific and possibly discriminatory. Jenny and Eleanor have experienced five different housing placements in the last seven years. Jenny has been the victim of domestic violence, both in previous relationships and from Derek, her current partner and Eleanor’s father. Eleanor was unfortunately the witness to many of the assaults on her mother, and is herself thought to have been the subject of violence from her father. As the result of one of the assault on Jenny, Derek was awarded two year custodial sentence, and is currently expected to be released in four months time: he requested contact with Eleanor whilst in custody. Eleanor is enrolled at a local primary school, where records reveal that her attendance is low and represents a cause for concern: she has appeared withdrawn, and on occasions been violent towards other pupils. Furthermore, the school nurse has registered concerns about Eleanor’s development.

In the light of these facts, it is now up to the relevant services to make the appropriate arrangements, using such measures as the statutory and policy frameworks allow. One of the principle factors in their immediate future – the matter of Derek’s release from custody – is beyond the control of those agencies immediately involved in Jenny and Eleanor’s welfare, so it is up to them to make their dispositions accordingly in the light of this contingency. What follows is a discussion of the relevant issues as they arise out of the jurisdictions, expertise, and responsibilities of the various agencies involved. This discussion will start with the subject who is likely to be of most concern to the educational and human services, i.e. the most vulnerable individual, Eleanor. As a six year old, she is the only person in the situation who does not have self-determination, is consequently reliant on the various agencies appointed for her care: it is now up to them to ensure this is ensured. As Myers-Blair points out, ‘The basic equipment for emotional development (physical and neural) is present at birth, and in a very diffuse way emotional behaviour begins at birth, or perhaps even before.’ (Myers-Blair, 1975: p.60).

The immediate concerns over Eleanor’s welfare devolve upon two separate but related spheres: her school and home life. The relevant professionals must unravel the intertwining requirements and responsibilities inherent in this situation. However, as the Department for Children, Schools and Families itself acknowledges, ‘The professional background of workers is both a strength and a barrier to multi-agency working. As each profession has developed its own language and body of knowledge, it not only serves to provide a professional identity but can alienate those outside the profession who do not share their language or way of thinking. Professionals also develop a different way of working in order to achieve their aims.’ (DCSF, 2007: p.5) Obviously, all of these considerations must proceed from the basis that Eleanor is physically safe, with possible physical abuse from Derek, the previously violent partner, being the most obvious threat to this. If sufficient evidence of this threat is assembled, then the multi-agency effort is largely irrelevant, since the Local Authority, through the Social Services Directorate, will have a clear responsibility to act accordingly under sections 27 and 17 of the Children Act 1989, and remove her from the situation.

The decision as to whether any contingent arrangements involve Eleanor only, or Eleanor and Jenny, will depend on the perceived or actual threat, and Jenny’s position in relation to this. As Asen pointedly reminds us, ‘When professionals are unable to decide whether to let the children remain with its natural family or not, this indecisiveness can be abusive in its own right: it leaves the child in a situation of limbo – which in some cases can last years – further adding to the child’s emotional or physical suffering.’ (Asen, 2000: p.227) Depending upon how matters proceed in relations between Jenny and Derek, Social Services will also be responsible for the next level of care, i.e. ensuring that Eleanor is not suffering from any forms of neglect or subsidiary abuse arising out of the situation.

Assuming that this situation is being monitored, the weight of responsibility shifts back into the educational environment: this is not to say that the social worker loses control of the situation, or becomes less relevant to Eleanor’s care: quite the contrary. In fact, by virtue of the serious nature of Eleanor’s home situation, they may well become the ‘lead professional’ within the multi-agency effort, as will be discussed below. It is simply the case that the all the professionals involved effectively have their actions governed by overlapping and interlocking statutes. At present, the latter stipulate that Eleanor should be in school: that school will almost certainly be a mainstream school, i.e. not a PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) or other specialized facility: furthermore, the law provides that every professional effort should be made to ensure that Eleanor is supported in achieving the expected educational progress. This in essence is where the social work and educational efforts will interact: since achievement of the expected progress will hinge upon Eleanor’s mental and physical well-being, as well as her innate cognitive ability, the home and school environments will become linked around this effort. The essential point here is that the social services case worker will be reliant on the judgment and expertise of the school based professionals with respect to Eleanor’s learning and emotional well-being. This is very much an open-ended process: a number of successive measures and support systems will have to be put into place before any alternative or specialized provision is even considered. In the first instance, the school’s Child Protection Officer – usually the Headteacher in the context of a Primary school like Eleanor’s – will feedback directly to Social Services, if there is any evidence of abuse. The school Special Educational Needs Coordinator will subsequently be responsible for ascertaining whether or not Eleanor has any educational or emotional special needs: if so, she must have an IEP (Individual Education Plan) classified as Step One, Two or Three, depending on their severity. The latter will also determine whether or not Eleanor may require a Statutory Statement of Educational Needs (usually referred to simply as a ‘statement’). If so, she may qualify for additional support through the Local Educational Authority’s Statutory Assessment Office. This in turn will involve the Educational Psychology Service, who will have to make a formal assessment based on observation of Eleanor in a school context. If it is deemed appropriate, she will also be referred to the Primary Behaviour Support Service, the School’s Pastoral Support Service, the Family Support Service, and the Primary Mental Health Service.

What are the implications of these potential multiple referrals from a practical point of view? As the DCFS guidance advises, ‘It is the processes involved in building relationships between agencies and between providers of services and the communities they serve, which is vital, because this is where the real work has to be done. It is a real challenge to us all, not least finding the time and space to work on these issues when many services are provided from at least 8 am to 6 pm, five days a week.’ (DCSF, 2007: p2). What this euphemizes is the attempted integration of services which proceed from a series of parallel and successive statutes. This include the Children Act 1989, the Children Act 2004, the Education Act 2002, the Learning and Skills Act 2000, the Disability and Discrimination Act 1995, The Special Educational Needs Code of Practice 2001, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, and the Data Protection Act 1998. The school based effort, into which the social worker must be integrated, is built around the role of the Inclusions Officer, who must in turn convene a school-specific inclusions team comprised of all the practitioners involved.

Whilst all of this sounds fine on paper, the practical challenges of coordinating the support and care of a child in Eleanor’s situation cannot be underestimated. Take, for example, the role of the Lead Professional itself. As the Children’s Workforce Development Council concedes, ‘A lead professional is not a job title or a new role, but a set of functions to be carried out as part of the delivery of effective integrated support.’ (CWDC, 2007: p.5). In other words, the role is titular only and attracts no timetabling facility or resources, but must run parallel – and crucially, in addition to – the practitioner’s other responsibilities. As the CWDC frankly puts it, ‘…clear communication is necessary between both services so that the individual is not overwhelmed with lead professional and caseload responsibilities. Speak to your manager to ensure that they take account of any lead professional responsibilities in setting your workload, and that your performance in delivering the lead professional functions is recognized and recorded.’ (CWDC 2007: p.2, para 3.14). This is far more than a Human Resources issue however. The whole rationale of the multi-agency movement and Every Child Matters initiative is to mitigate the kind of short-circuits, doublings-up and straightforward mismanagement which contributed to the Victoria Climbie tragedy. As McCullough reminds us, ‘In Laming’s detailed and damning report, twelve different occasions were identified when appropriate intervention by one or more of these agencies could have saved Victoria’s life…in his summing up, Laming noted that “the legislative framework for protecting children is basically sound. I conclude that the gap is not a matter of law but in its implementation.”.’ (McCullough 2007: p.28). The problem is that whilst the role of the lead practitioner is non-statutory, the responsibilities accrued by the incumbent are not. As the CWDC again concedes, ‘…There are particular implications for staff who may be working part-time in a multi-agency setting and part-time in their home agency.’ (CWDC 2007: p.2, para 3.14). Arguably then, the same issues which underlay Victoria’s death are potential factors in any such case, including Eleanor’s. The mere creation of a job title, i.e., Lead Practitioner, or mechanisms such as the Common Assessment Framework, guarantees nothing if the staff involved are overstretched, unsupported and undirected.

The fact that Jenny has cancelled two possible contact appointments so far is disappointing, and may well represent an impediment to the advancement of Eleanor’s care in the future. At present however, it does not constitute an insurmountable barrier to the coordinated effort of the multi-agency team, and definitely is not a pretext for inaction on their part. As the school has noted, Eleanor’s emotional well-being is questionable, indicating a serious potential impediment to her progress. As Meadows indicates, ‘Certain emotional states are frequent and salient, and become parts of feeling about the self, so that they can then influence a wide range of behaviours, such as perception, emotional expression, cognitive processing and social relations.’ (Meadows, 2006: p.438) Instruments in an around the curriculum, such as the SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) programme may be used to help Eleanor externalize and come to terms with the events which have shaped her experience: essentially these means must be tried in order to redress any lack of emotional support she is receiving at home. As Maslow points out, ‘…thwarting of these needs produces feelings of inferiority, of weakness, and of helplessness. These feelings in turn give rise to either basic discomfort, or else compensatory or neurotic trends.’ (Maslow, 1970: P.1) Also, as Samuels reminds us, ‘Basically, if the child’s needs are not met appropriately at each developmental level, the psyche becomes unable to adequately regulate self-esteem by the use of adequate mechanisms.’ (Samuels, 1977: p. 35).

The problem is that, whilst the statutory framework stipulates that the school is currently the focus of support for Eleanor’s needs, the latter obviously do not stop there. As Schaefer et al. observe, since behavioural problems in the home usually precede those occurring elsewhere, part of the focus has to be behaviour in the home.’ (Schaefer et al. 1984 p.96). Consequently, whilst ‘Inter-Professional Collaboration’ has to be an overriding consideration for the social worker, it is likely to be the case worker themselves who initiates much of the strategic action, such as the proposed ‘cold-call’ home visit. The focus on Eleanor does not of course mean that Jenny’s needs, as an individual or as a parent, can be overlooked. A holistic approach, encapsulated within an action plan and developed with the Family Therapy or Support Service will be required. However, for environmental as much as professional reasons, as will be discussed below, Eleanor must remain the primary concern within this case.

As this conclusion is being written, the manifest weaknesses of the supposedly revamped multi-agency framework have been revealed in the most devastating manner: through the death of a seventeen-month child, who was in the Child Protection Register’s ‘at risk’ category. Whilst any legislative or policy outcome of this tragedy is obviously some way off, some commentators have been quick to apportion responsibility to the inter-agency working framework. ‘When procedures become so exacting and time-consuming, the exercise of judgment is deemed neither necessary nor possible. Indeed, it will get you into trouble, because it is not part of the procedure.’ (Dalrymple 2008) Calls for less weight to be given to parental wishes and rights, and more to be placed on the safety of the child, are already being heard. The outcome of such debates, it may be argued, may have significant effects on the conduct of cases such as that of Jenny and Eleanor.


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