Welcome to 2021 as we in Britain face the prospect this week of further restrictions, even as the COVID vaccine becomes available! This time last year many of us would have been very sceptical about delivering services online, or even working from home, yet here we are – struggling with some aspects admittedly, but wondering whether some things work better in fact, and vowing to keep them on in future; and so I bring you the third part in a series looking at issues around taking services for families experiencing CPVA online. The last few months have seen the publication of numerous reports into life and service effectiveness under the pandemic, and I am particularly conscious of recent research highlighting the problem of parent participation in work with children’s services around child protection. While different circumstances pertain to work with families experiencing violence from their own children, this has also highlighted issues of power in the relationship with those who use our services, which we do well to remember and attend to in all our plans and delivery.
Back in July and August I spoke with a team delivering the Who’s in Charge? Programme online, and with a parent, and remained keen to examine the impact of the changes for those working directly with young people causing harm in the home. This was reinforced for me by the recent HMIP report, highlighting the need for changes in the delivery of support to families experiencing child and adolescent to parent violence, so it was good to be able to speak to a practitioner using the Respect Young People’s Programme (RYPP) for IDAS in Yorkshire.
The programme has been delivered by a small children’s team within IDAS, working across North Yorkshire, for the last 7.5 years, in work commissioned by the PCC. The team was originally bigger, but there is now only one full-time worker. The RYPP can be delivered to families, or in 1-2-1 work. It includes ‘parallel work’ to parents and young people, with important joint meetings at the start, halfway point and at the end. As with other projects across the country, some people have struggled to move work on line for a variety of reasons. Having decided early on in the year however that he would have to ‘make it work’ because of the need, this practitioner has now reached a model which he is confident in, and believes that his productivity has actually increased as a result!
Phone calls were clearly going to be a problem doing anger management work, and so it was time to get to grips with zoom. In a large rural area such as North Yorkshire, there had been a lot of no-shows in the past for a range of reasons, but one of the first things that was noticed was that attendance by parents improved significantly once there was no need to travel. Some aspects around family introductions were less easy – playing games as icebreakers for instance – but with a commitment to make things work for the all-important early sessions, ways have been found. Consent protocols were changed to accommodate the new situation, with verbal agreements, but with consideration to ways in which this could be recorded.
Ironically, getting young people to the screen proved more difficult. Some young people were simply not ready to engage in the process, some perhaps ashamed of their behaviour. There was a clear need for rules and expectations to maintain some element of formality, particularly for young people with special needs, around keeping still and not engaging in other things at the same time – as well as making sure children returned a parent’s device immediately rather than going on a shopping spree! Illness, bereavements, birthdays and competing calls from peers also contributed to an engagement rate of around 70% for the young people, so in some cases the work happened solely with the parents, supporting them to make changes which would impact on home life.
The assessment and management of risk via online work has attracted attention as an issue of concern. Risk assessments are undertaken at the start of work with families, updated in the middle and then reviewed at the end, though with a dynamic approach to this throughout the programme. The middle point, with a family agreement, often sees risk escalate, as more expectations are placed on the young person at this point. Nevertheless, there is a level of confidence that this can be managed through careful communication, and judgement honed through experience. Care must also be taken regarding confidentiality, and this will prove more problematic for some families than others where space may be limited, technology shared, or where controlling behaviour comes in to play.
As Lockdown eased towards the end of the year, some families returned to face-to-face work (in a mixture of schools, office and children’s centres), particularly where workers had been less confident with the technology. As schools reopened, it seemed that young people were more likely to engage if the meeting took place while they were in school (whether face to face or online), where behaviour may not be such an issue, and where the power they hold is less to start with; but there are some aspects of the new way of working that the team would like to maintain.
Attending multi-agency and multi-disciplinary meetings online has been very successful, cutting out travel and waiting time and making it easier to obtain a wider attendance. Team meetings and peer support have also been a positive experience – and definitely doing paperwork away from the noise of the office! Parents seem to like the virtual offer, and so that may stay, and the time saved in these ways will allow for greater input in the young people’s work, an element where it is difficult to achieve the same energy or to undertake the same activities working through zoom.
Before we uncritically herald in the new dawn, are there any after thoughts?
Well, our RYPP practitioner is definitely looking forward to getting back to working face to face with young people – you can’t beat that! And the crucial bit?
I’ve tried to make it work!
As always, I welcome comments around this difficult issue of online work. The intention has been to share learning and to highlight areas that need special consideration, for the benefit of all. There is plenty of room for other contributions if people would like to share their insights from the year!