There was one child that I worked with where there was just so much going on for her at home.
Her family was referred to us because of Mum’s mental health issues. I spoke to other professionals and the school to find out the bigger picture of what was happening. Her parents were arguing and having problems with money, lack of food, and substance misuse.
When I first met her, she was shy and withdrawn. I remember feeling she was holding back, anxious about what she was allowed to say. I started seeing her at school – away from the family home. We did a lot of one-to-one work to build up trust and get her to feel comfortable around me.
"She eventually started to talk about family life. She’d talk about arguments between Mum and Dad. She’d often feel scared and upset and talked about Dad being angry and shouting at her. She’d talk about feeling scared at home. She’d talk about being smacked and how that would make her feel really sad. "
As I built up a relationship with her, I would visit the home and see Mum quite often as well. I became increasingly concerned. There'd been previous incidents of suspected domestic abuse, and the parents were arguing regularly.
Something had happened and the children were scared.
I’d usually see the child and Mum once a week but I'd not been able to get in touch with the family. So I decided to do an ad hoc visit to the house. When I got there, the children came running out. It was instant chaos.
"The children told me that Dad had thrown a bottle at Mum’s face. They were upset to see Mum upset, and they were very aware that Mum had been hurt."
I contacted children's services immediately and they came out to join my visit. Dad was upstairs and he wasn't willing to leave.
I was keen to get Dad out of the house to settle things down and help the children feel safe. He initially refused to leave unless the child left with him.
"She had to make a decision there and then who she was going to go with. She just didn't know how to cope. Overwhelmed, she hid in a cupboard. "
When you work with children, you're often going to be faced with the unexpected.
I went to check if she was OK. I asked her if she was happy for me to go in and sit with her.
She'd been put in a difficult position by her parents. She worried that “If I don't leave with Dad now, is he going to be upset with me? Am I going to see him again?”
"I didn’t pressure her to make a decision – and let her take the lead. I didn't want her to worry that Dad was going to go away and not come back. "
I didn’t pressure her to make a decision – and let her take the lead. I didn't want her to worry that Dad was going to go away and not come back.
I tried to be honest and explain things in a way that would suit her age. First and foremost, Dad not being in the home meant that everybody else could calm down, and in the next few days, we could make decisions about what we wanted to happen.
If the children have witnessed Dad hitting Mum, you know that's going to prey on their mind. There’s always a risk of physical harm if things escalate. But emotionally those impacts are going to be long term and can affect their own relationships in the future.
With support from me and from children’s services, we were able to talk through what the concerns were and choose whether we needed to escalate things.
Dad left home and stayed with his parents. The children continued to see Dad but not in the family home, to stop arguments happening and keep everyone safe. Mum and Dad separated and were able to move forward.
We put some support in place for Mum as well as the child: emotional support, a safe space to share her own experiences, and meeting other families that had had similar experiences. These services give them a chance to just be angry or upset, and work towards feeling happy again.
We work with families trying to make a change.
Families are the most important part of our work. We adapt and deliver services so that they really make a difference to them.
Our services are really unique. We work with families where there’s lots of concerns and we also help when things are just starting to become difficult. But we rely on the support of people like you to continue to deliver our services.