Ever wondered what a Family Assessment Centre does?

I'm Kathryn and I am an Independent Social Worker and have been working with various centres across London, conducting monthly statutory monitoring visits, making sure the babies, children and their parent/s are safeguarded and are receiving a high standard of care and support, in order for them to be provided with a fair and robust assessment report. This service is Ofsted regulated and we work within legal frameworks and National Minimum Standards that govern practice.

Ever wondered what a Family Assessment Centre does or who it is for?

When a family has been referred to a Family Assessment Centre, it is because there has been serious and historical concerns over the safety of the baby/child/ren and the parent/s ability to safeguard the child from 'harm' or to be able to provide the basic care needs through many reasons.

Often parents have experienced their own traumas in their childhood and have not had the positive experiences to learn the appropriate skills in order to do this. Parents may have learning difficulties, have a history of substance/alcohol, misuse, mental health issues, been trafficked and sexually exploited and/or are victims of domestic violence to name a few. The only reason a parent would need to be assessed is if there was a concern that their child/ren was a significant risk of harm. The statutory definition in the Children Act 1989 states that 'harm' means ill-treatment or impairment of health and development.

Commonly, there are a lot of single placements involving just the mother, as there has been a history of substantial domestic violence towards the mother, that not only impacts upon the mother's ability to protect her child or herself, but also the significant impact this has upon the mother's self-esteem and her inability to keep her baby/children safe.

I have seen cases where the babies and children have also sustained severe injuries. These mother's would be placed in 'safe houses' where the address remains unknown to provide them with protection and a place of safety. These centre's addresses remain anonymous.

The staff team continuously monitor the parent's care of their babies 24/7 using CCTV equipment, but also provide emotional support and educate them in appropriate childcare, child development, the parent's own self-care, budgeting, cooing and appropriate relationships. This teaches the parents how the positive effects of all of these factors can impact upon the development of their baby/child and also informing them of the potential negative impacts and outcomes on their child's development including and for example: failure to thrive, poor social skills, delayed educational development, lack of confidence, ability to form positive relationships, emotional/mental health issues in later life.

In 'safe houses' the women are supported and educated to understand and to recognise what is domestic violence and coercive control is. Once these women are away from their abuser, the staff team works with the women to build their self-confidence. They are able to 'find themselves' and realise the danger they were in and the impact this will or has had upon their children, presently and developmentally.

All of the centres work as part of a multi-disciplinary team, including the parents social workers and often the children will have their own social workers, Guardian Ad Litem (who are appointed to oversee the best interests of the child involved) and health professionals.

The centres have an appointed local Health Visitor, and the babies have their own Health Visitors, so collectively-all involved, to make sure the advice and recommendations provided are drawn up into individual 'family plans' to support each family and the staff team work to address the specific areas as highlighted and also alongside the assessment program of the centre.

Providing support 

My role involves attending the centres onsite once a month to check it is clean, safe and to most importantly to observe and consult with the parents and the staff team about the service they receive. I also talk to the staff about their role, the support they provide to the parents and the staff's training, development and support they receive in order to perform their jobs to the best of their ability.

Generally, parents, although not wanting to be in the assessment centres, do understand why they are being assessed and have agreed to complete the assessment which is usually 12 weeks long. They realise, but might not agree, the concern is focused on the safety of their child and it is a result of social services intervention and the court has made an order providing the opportunity for the parent/s to demonstrate they can safely care for and protect their baby/child or children.

When I talk to the parents, most appear and tell me they are happy and state they learn a lot from the staff team who are extremely supportive and teach them about implementing routines and good baby care skills within keyworking and parental development sessions.

Another aspect of my role is to look at the recordings that are documented, making sure events are well recorded which provides evidence to substantiate the centres parental assessment recommendations. These are then presented to the court to make further decisions to whether additional assessment is required such as a 'Community Assessment' of if the parent/s should be placed into a 'Stepdown facility'.

Both of these options provide additional support but not as intensive and under 24/7 CCTV scrutiny. Community assessment is as it sounds - where a staff member would visit and support the families/parent in their own home, providing guidance and support and Stepdown, is within a staffed unit, where support is onsite to observe and offer guidance if required, allowing the family/parent to adjust to caring for their child independently and maintaining the routines and childcare practices instilled as part of the assessment program previously.

Child safety and welfare comes first

This is just a snap-shot into the reasons a family or parent may have been referred to a Family Assessment Centre. As you would have gathered this is a very specialised service and a decision made for a family to be referred for a family assessment, is not one taken likely. Social Services would have had to gather a lot of evidence which would have raised significant concern about the safety and welfare of the child in question and also the parent's ability, mental health, and circumstance.

The Family Assessment Centres I work within are positive environments and provide all the support, care and guidance to educate and empower the parent/s to develop their baby care skills, and work cohesively as a team and their goal is always to provide a positive and professional service. The recommendations are always based upon their observations, documented evidence and overall, the safety of the babies and children in question.

I hope this has provided you with an insight into one of the roles I have as an Independent Social Worker.