Sometimes our intensive work with parents pays off and they are able to leave our family assessment houses with their children. Unfortunately for the majority of families this isn’t always the case and the safest place for their children with someone else, either being placed with a relative, foster carer or adopted.
Our job is assessing what is best for the child, its wellbeing and safety, not just now but in the future, and making recommendations to the courts.
Here is an example of the kind of work our team are expected to carry out
Cayden and Jay - the vital role of residential assessment
Children Cayden and Jay were known to a local authority through concerns about six-year-old Cayden. Teachers reported that he would turn up at school with cuts and bruises; he was often hungry and didn't attend school regularly. He reported being physically chastised by his parents. This brother three-year-old Jay had not been attending nursery regularly and his parents had difficulty engaging with professionals.
Parents Rebecca, aged 22, and Barry, 35, said they were not in a relationship but were co-parenting, with Barry sometimes staying in the family flat. Rebecca had mental health issues and Barry was in poor physical health. He had other children from previous relationships who were no longer in his care. There were reports of domestic abuse in his past relationships, and possible substance misuse.
The family was referred to St. Michael’s for a five-week feasibility assessment
St Michael’s managed only five announced home visits (each 2-3 hours long) and two sessions with the parents. Staff were refused entry on an unannounced visit and the parents missed a number of scheduled sessions. They didn't allow us to see Rebecca’s room (previously agreed) and refused us a session with the children, although they could be present throughout. We observed consistent emotional abuse to Cayden, and his fearful reactions to his father. He seemed to be scapegoated. His brother Jay was treated differently. Cayden’s room was bare and contained only his bed; it was dark and smelt strongly of urine. He was often sent to his room as punishment. Often Cayden would ask us if we had come to help his family. The children’s mother showed very variable behaviour and instant mood switches from shouting at Cayden to speaking in a gentle tone to Barry.
The parents' resistance to the assessment and their refusal to have individual sessions posed a challenge. It was also very hard to witness the emotional abuse of Cayden. The risks to the children were high and the parents’ anger seemed to escalate with our presence; so much so that we decided to end the assessment prematurely.
Our first-line recommendation was higher protection for the children, with Interim Care Orders. The Guardian preferred to consider further assessment. St. Michael‘s therefore recommended the next safest option for the children was a 12-week residential assessment, which was directed by the court to take place at a St. Michael’s house.
The parents were adamant that they did not need a residential assessment. Both felt they had nothing to learn and refused to discuss their attitudes to their parenting and the children. Staff soon established the acute and chronic nature of the abuse suffered by the children, and were able to evidence its destructive impact. The parents rejected guidance, input and support which also prevented any effective monitoring of the family and undermined the safeguarding of the children in the community.
Staff worked intensively with the family, closely monitoring all aspects of the family dynamics and the couple’s behaviour toward the children. In the house, staff observed the children being verbally abused, smacked and neglected. Staff concluded that the parents presented an overwhelming risk to the children’s health, development and wellbeing.
The residential team provided a robust level of detailed evidence that supported their recommendation for the removal and safeguarding of the children from the parents. The court subsequently agreed and the feedback from the children’s placement suggests that they are thriving with their alternative carers.