The story of Sean and his sister Samantha

The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers drew on its experience to provide the following child protection scenario, though it is not drawn from an actual case.

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Family: Five-year-old Sean and his six-year-old sister Samantha live with their mum and dad, Carrie and Brian. Their mum, Carrie, has a history of mental health problems and their dad, Brian, recently lost his job.

Case history: In previous years a health visitor to the home noted a number of concerns around Carrie’s mental health.

Initial concern: Sean’s primary school expresses concern about his presentation to school. The five-year-old appears hungry, his attendance is erratic, and he is at times unkempt, and a referral is made to social services.

Family visit: Gateway services find a very deteriorating family situation and a chaotic house when they visit Sean and Samantha’s home. Their mother, Carrie, is very down and their father, Brian, has lost his job. This has taken a further toll on the couple’s relationship as Carrie and Brian have become consumed by their difficulties and admit to serious incidents of domestic violence which the children have witnessed. Sean is presenting with a number of attention-seeking problems and there appears to be little routine. On a positive note, the children’s maternal grandparents live locally. Social services facilitate an urgent referral for Carrie to her GP and a mental health nurse becomes involved.

Case conference: Social services organise a case conference and planning meeting with the family and other support agencies to put a package of supports in place. Sean and Samantha’s names are placed on the child protection register. Social services also engage with Sean and Samantha’s grandparents, who have been very concerned about developments and are happy to provide support.

Child protection plan: A plan is put in place to ensure that Carrie and Brian work together on consistent parenting and managing their relationship difficulties and to seek improvements to hygiene and routine. A family support worker from a local organisation, as part of the Family Support Hub, begins to visit the family twice a week under a structured programme of work.

One year on: It has been a difficult year for Sean and Samantha’s family. Some improvements have been made, however, through intensive support from a range of organisations and supervision and support from social services. Carrie’s mental health is more stable and Brian has got a part-time job. The couple’s relationship remains fragile though both have more insight into dynamics and how to manage conflict. Support from extended family has been invaluable. There have been improvements in hygiene and household routine. Concerns remain, however, about how Sean in particular is being parented. Through case planning meetings it is agreed that social services and the children’s grandparents will remain involved for a further period. Carrie and Brian also agree to attend a local parenting programme. School is regarded as very important for both children and the designated teacher continues to link in with social services. It is hoped that further improvements will allow the children to be taken off the child protection register at the next case conference.

Click here to read The Detail's story on the gap in children at risk rates in both jurisdictions.

Click here to read The Detail's story on the gap in staffing numbers and the pressures facing child and family services in both jurisdictions.