Case Study on Social Work Domestic Violence

You are working as a Social Worker in a Gateway Team. A referral is received from the PSNI that they attended an incident of domestic abuse the . The referral is being made because there are two children in the household aged 4 years and 18 months.

Discuss the main roles and responsibilities of the Social Work profession, including law and policy, service user perspectives, the social work process, and professional ethics and values.

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Social work involves working with some of the most vulnerable people who have been oppressed or disadvantaged in Society. The role of the Social Worker is to challenge these oppressions to help service users help themselves. It is about promoting change, and is underpinned by laws, theories, policies and procedures. ‘Social Work as a profession has never experienced so many changes in policy and practice (Iwaniec and Hill 2009’9) Theory is far from benign and practitioners need to ensure that their understanding of theory has not stopped, slowed or become misplaced (Helm 2010) although they cannot represent an absolute truth they can help understand, explain and bring about change. (Howe 1990)

For the purpose of this assignment the assumption is that this is a heterosexual married couple where the husband is committing domestic violence against his wife.

The Gateway team is the first point of contact when children are involved, when the referral is made, their input; although may be short term has a crucial impact in ensuring the safety of the children. It is their duty to investigate, the Social Worker must see this family within twenty four hours or the reasons why this cannot be achieved must be clearly recorded (Laming, 2003, Recommendation 53) It is the Social Workers duty to make contact with this family as soon as possible.

It may be beneficial to look at the four main parts of the helping cycle which are Assessment, Care Planning, Implementation and Review. (Taylor and Devine 1993) Although Gateway doesn’t tend to execute care plans, except possibly on a short term basis, this cycle can provide a firm foundation for the Social Work process.

On receipt of this referral the Social Work process begins, Social work is never mechanistic or predictable and any encounter is seen as unique, Social Workers need to be properly prepared to ensure effective practice. One of the most important methods of preparation for Social workers is that of ‘Tuning in’ which should begin when the referral has been received. Shulman (1992) has described this as involving effort from the workers to get in touch with potential feelings and concerns the Service User may bring to the helping encounter. This should help the Social Worker prepare for undertaking the referral with a more objective approach; they may equip themselves with information to be provided as a means of empowering the family such as agencies they can connect with.

Social work has been described as a ‘practical moral activity.’ (Parrott 2010 ‘3) Before attending any referral it is important the Social Worker takes into account their own values, we all have a set of beliefs that influence our actions they relate to what we believe others should do or what we should be doing (Parrott 2010) Values are influenced by things such as culture, family, and life experience. As a Social Work practitioner there is a professional set of values that must be reflected in practice. It is important to be aware of our own values and understand that there will be occasions when our personal and professional values will conflict.

The Cornerstone of a high quality assessment is a , which challenges oppression and respects individual’s rights. Middleton (1997) believes the process of assessment is firmly rooted in the context of Social Work values and individual difference is central if the process is not going to disempower the individual. Several potential pitfalls in making judgement are identified by Milner and O’Byrne (2009) such as, stereotyping, labelling people and attributing certain characteristics to people because how we perceive they are likely to behave, as a Social Worker it is important to be able to recognise these downfalls and try to avoid them, to ensure effective practice. ‘Our values and views of childhood can play a part in the assessment process.’ (Helm 2010’162)

Due to the possible risk to the children it may be difficult to feel respect for the father; he is allegedly carrying out domestic violence in the family home, putting both his wife and children at risk from harm. It is important as a Social Worker to be clear that, although the actions may not be respected it is a professional duty to respect the persons as an individual in their own right. Recognising potential value conflicts can contribute to effective practice.

Milner and Byrne (2009) argue assessment is a key task in social work practice. It is an ongoing process involving Service User participation, with the purpose of understanding people in relation to their environment. (Coulshed and Orme, 2006) ‘Assessment demands the ability to organise, systemise and rationalise knowledge gathered, the Social Worker needs to be sensitive and demonstrate the ability to value the uniqueness of each individual assessed.’ (Parker and Bradley 2007’16). ‘Practitioners require the skill and determination to find methods of communication to demonstrate their competence.'(Thomas and O’Kane 2000’819) One of the most controversial and complex areas of Social Work is the assessment of a child and their family when there are concerns about the welfare of the child. (Holland 2004) So it is important that all knowledge is kept up to date.

It is important that the assessment ensures full involvement of the family and any significant others, portraying respect and consideration, working in partnership with the family will be beneficial. The Social Worker needs to be open and honest and give the family a clear understanding of the assessment process and their roles within it. In this particular case the exchange model could be applied, where it is seen that the service user is their own best expert, the interview should be collaborative, the family will know what problems they are facing, they will be able to provide their perspectives on what is happening.

Part of the assessment process would be to gather information, through observation, questioning and the interview process. The Social Worker will need to be aware what they are looking to find out and decide who they need to speak with, the parents, the children and any significant other that could provide an insight into the family setting.

As Part of the ‘tuning in’ process it is important that the Social Worker works in partnership with other agencies as this might help to get a clearer understanding of the situation, they must liaise with the police as they were the ones that made the referral and it may also be beneficial to speak to the family’s GP and the health visitor, as there is an 18th month old child in the house the health visitor may have made regular visits and could give a good insight into the family and the children’s development.

Observation is a critical element of assessment (Holland 2004) Observing the family is a major part of the assessment process, visualising how they interact with each-other and how the children interact with both parents, it is important to look for signs of disruption and possibly fear on the part of the children. Observation can allow the practitioner to see how the children’s daily life looks like with particular reference to emotional abuse and neglect (Helm 2010) as both children are still young the use of observation with reference to the attachment theory could provide vital information as the attachment theory focuses on how the children interact with their parents. The child’s development can be affected by lack of attachment with parents. (Hirschy and Wilkinson 2009) What is being said and what is being done may not be easily to depict, the use of observation ‘allows the practitioner to validate what is being said or it may provide contradictory evidence that needs to be addressed.’ (Helm 2010’57)

Another crucial area of the assessment is the interview process. The parents, the children and any significant others, will need to be interviewed in relation to this case, to provide a holistic view of what is happening and the effect it may be having on the children. Interviewing others outside the family may cause controvsersy with the parents as the Human Rights act (1998) states people have the right to a private and family life, (www.legislation.gov.uk) if there is a possibility the children are at risk all avenues need to be assessed. When interviewing the parents it is important that their rights are promoted. Questions need to be appropriately structured to ensure that the family are not oppressed in anyway.

Ethics are an important part of Social Work (Banks 2006) According to the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC www.niscc.info) Social Workers should promote the independence of the Service Users while seeking to ensure that their behaviour does not harm themselves or other people. It is important to consider the mothers view of the situation, although the purpose of the Gateway team is primarily to look after the welfare of the child, they must also be aware of the oppression being faced by the other members in the family and promote their rights.

As the mother is suffering from domestic violence, it may be beneficial to provide her with advice and with information on Women’s aid who provide support for anyone who suffers from domestic violence; it may help to empower her and give her a sense of self determination. She may not wish to leave for several reasons but she should be aware that it is not only her that is suffering, her children are as well. O’Loughlin and O’Loughlin (2008) believe that some mothers experiencing domestic violence may emotionally distance themselves from their children, resulting in emotional neglect.

Information on certain laws could be provided; one main order would be The Family Homes and Domestic Violence (NI) Order (1998) which includes two orders, the non-molestation order and the occupation order. It is useful to provide the family with this information because if the problem still persists this law gives the authority for the abuser to be removed from the home where children are involved. (White 2007) Providing this information can empower the mother.

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