What practical things can I do to work more constructively with a mother to help her keep her child safe from domestic violence?
Put information in writing
Remember that a mother affected by domestic violence is likely to be under enormous pressure and to find social work involvement extremely stressful. This can make it difficult for her to retain information so do consider putting key information and decisions in writing (or another more appropriate format), promptly, to help her.
Also, try to provide information (including in writing) when you are referring the mother to a service or for an external assessment so that she can make an informed decision about whether the service is right for her and her child or not.
Don’t forget to signpost her to independent information, advice and advocacy services such as Family Rights Group if she needs more help to understand her rights and options, to get the support she needs and to work more constructively with your department.
Prioritise interpreting services
Try to arrange consistent, professional interpreting (and translation) services for mothers whose first language is not English or who are not comfortable in communicating in English in formal processes. Consider using female interpreters, unconnected to their family network, when working with mothers affected by domestic violence. It is also essential to provide sign language support for deaf women.
I have been allocated a case where there are child protection concerns because of domestic violence. What should I think about when planning my visits?
Try to ensure that you work with her fairly and respectfully. You can do this by being thoughtful in how you set about working with the family, being on time, making every effort to explain what you are doing and why, encouraging the family to ask questions if things are unclear (including with the support of an advocate if they wish) and providing feedback in a timely way.
Make sure that you always explain the legal basis for your involvement in a clear and consistent way and if that changes, for example, where a case moves from a child in need process to a child protection investigation, explain the reason for this.
Advocacy services can help mothers to have a voice when working with social workers and other professionals. For more information about advocacy see FRG’s advice sheet on advocacy for families when social workers make plans for their children.
Manage change/repeated patterns of assessments
Be aware of the impact that changes of social worker and repeated assessments can have on families. Although this is probably beyond your control, when you take over or hand over a case to another social worker, try to take the time to discuss the impact of this openly with the mother and acknowledge how she feels about it. Joint visits with the new/previous social worker and familiarising yourself with the file beforehand may lessen the anxiety this can cause.
Tailor services to need
Be aware that the skills and expertise of individual practitioners working with mothers can make a big difference to their experience and the outcome of any intervention so as far as possible try to match mothers with the best help you can find for them. Be willing to work collaboratively with other agencies, not just mainstream or statutory services, and be as creative as you can be in responding to an individual mother’s needs so that you are working with each link of her safety chain.
Plan and support paticipation
Think carefully about the timing and setting of appointments and meetings, both with you and other services. Make sure that they are as realistic and manageable as possible and that they take account of the mother’s commitments and competing pressures such as childcare and work. Where she needs some practical support in order to allow her to take up services that in your opinion will benefit her and her child, consider how your agency may be able to help, such as by supporting her with travel costs or childcare. Remember that section 17 support can be used to provide help to a mother as well as her child, if it helps the child’s safety or wellbeing.
Follow up support
Always think about what follow up help could be beneficial if social work involvement or another support service is ending and for those mothers who have lost care of their children.
What should I think about when communicating with mothers?
Think about language
Make sure to use language carefully and to avoid jargon to minimise distress and confusion. Don’t forget to signpost her to independent information, advice and advocacy services such as Family Rights Group if she needs more help to understand her rights and options.
Always be clear about why you are recommending a particular service and about whether the mother can choose to attend or not.
If you would be very concerned if she does not engage with a particular service, then explain clearly your reasons for this, what action you may take if she does not cooperate and where she can get independent advice.
Take care not to give the mother an impractical list of tasks to complete independently and then criticise her if she fails to achieve them. Instead, try to work with her or help her to access some individual or key worker support from a specialist agency to move forward with the recommendations. See where to get further help.