“An escalation of distressed behaviour”

I was interested to read this paper from the Chief Social Workers for England, when it was published at the end of February. A spectrum of opportunity: an exploratory study of social work with autistic young people and their families looks at three things:

  • how responsive social workers were to the needs of young adults and their families
  • what barriers there were to enable more effective interventions
  • how things could be done differently to improve outcomes

I won’t go in to detail about the main body of the report – it is straightforward and easy to read, so I recommend it to you. It talks about what works well and what needs to be done better. Unsurprisingly, it points to the importance of the development of specialist knowledge in social workers, joined up work across agencies, and earlier intervention and proactive support to provide help before things go wrong; with the centrality of long-term trusting relationships between families and workers. Sadly, there is mention once again of parents’ fears of being labelled as ‘bad’ or ‘failing parents’.

I post it here of course because of the relevance to child to parent violence and abuse. Acknowledging as it does the way that many families manage to hold things together until the teenage years, when they are eventually overwhelmed by behaviour driven by distress, it should surely be required reading for those asking why children can be violent and abusive. With analysis suggesting as many as 30 or 40% of those on programmes have some sort of diagnosis, there is growing recognition of the need to adapt services to better meet the needs of these young people. The RYPP programme is a good case in point, where adjustments were made to its delivery in Swindon originally, as a precursor to developing a more appropriate design overall. Other practitioners too have spoken of needing to spend more time with individual young people, to work more slowly or in a one-to-one situation.

But I was also interested because of the intersection with debates about the importance and helpfulness of diagnosis. This clearly suggests that early diagnosis is important to enable timely and appropriate support, recognising the additional needs of families and young people. So for balance, I recommend this edition of the ACE Network Northeast conversations, discussing whether we need diagnosis or labels – or whether they are harmful. Spoiler Alert: We need to move away from labelling children and look at their individual needs.

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