Muzvare Betty Makoni is a globally awarded girl child rights activist and community champion of over 22 years. She is the founder of Girl Child Network Worldwide. Recently, she completed MSc in Social Work degree at Royal Holloway University. With the knowledge, she gained she is working to raise awareness on all forms of child abuse and how parents in Black Ethnic Minority Communities in the UK can better understand the role of social workers when they contact them.
Her articles share simplified information for parents so that when social workers make contact with them until they complete work with their families, they know how to respond so that there are best outcomes for children. Many parents have no idea what would be going on and sometimes tend to resist working with social workers.
Disclaimer: These are not academic articles or lectures. These are simplified articles for parents who need such advice. Muzvare Betty Makoni’s views are not views for any organisations, groups or individuals she is associated with. These are her personal views.
There was a Live FB Broadcast on ZimEye on 10 June 2017, providing parents with tips on how to “block social services” when they come for home visits either for an assessment or intervention. Muzvare Betty Makoni was one of the contributors who advised the show presenter to seek knowledge of how social workers work with children and families before advising parents to block support that may save lives of children. Zimbabwe Social Workers Association in the UK was strongly recommended to parents who want to understand the role of social workers. They have a community event coming on 12 August 2017 which will be featured as one of the blog articles. The community event raises awareness on the role of social workers in communities and introduces some experts in various areas like child sexual exploitation, disability, the child in need, child protection, social work student support, adults and mental health and many others.Believe me, any parent’s worst nightmare is to receive a phone call about their child and something wrong with them. But we all receive them from teachers especially and we are told that a child came to school unkempt, or was naughty during lessons, or was rude, or fought with another student or they have detention. To be frank, if you are a parent, then expect anything and from anyone and anywhere. In our Shona proverb, we say, “Mugoni wepwere ndoasinaye,” meaning those who claim their kids are perfect then they have not experienced what it means to parent. We should therefore not ignore phone calls from social workers because they have an important role in protecting children from harm. When something is not okay with your child, it is brought to the attention of social workers to contact you and find more. We should not be in denial or be defensive as those things professionals are worried about may deteriorate if nothing is done and hamper full development of your child.
Parents panic, become anxious and angry when a social worker calls them. The first thought that comes to parents’ minds most probably is that children will be removed rather than the assistence they maybe entitled to with their child at home. Therefore, engaging parents whilst in this state of mind is very hard. However, parents should have the awareness that social workers do not just visit you or your child out of the blue. Social workers work with teachers, doctors, police and you as a parent to ensure children are safe. There are laws and policies that guide whatever they do with your family and so rest assured the law protects you as well. Here are a few simplified tips for you to engage social workers in a positive way and find ways to work together.
- It is the normal procedure that they first call you over the phone. Sometimes they come to your house without letting you know. Either way, just keep a positive mind that this is about your child. Think positively about a social worker just like you do with a doctor, nurse, teacher or health visitor who communicates something about your child and they do not mean to do any harm at all. If anything, they might have identified something that might harm your child and want it prevented much earlier. Remain calm too!!!
- Remain calm and welcome them if they identify themselves. Being rude or not cooperating does not help your child and family. The case might be that your child is having behavioural problems at school or in the community and they want to assess and find ways to work with you. Or they might have been informed your child is being abused by someone you don`t know. Do not ignore the first phone call or knock on the door. In our culture, we are very polite. We greet visitors and we give them somewhere comfortable to sit. Our culture is not aggressive at all.
- Social workers explain what they are worried about with regards to your child. Listen carefully first. Remember, a lot of social workers are trained to listen to you and give you time to respond or share your story. They also understand emotions that may come out of your interaction with them and so as a parent feel free to express your emotions. At this stage, be reasonable and ask questions about what needs to happen, what your role as a parent should be and who else you can trust and can support you within your family and close friendship networks. Ask questions that move you forward rather than backward. Avoid being defensive and impossible. Again, this is about your child at risk and needing support to reach their development goals.
- Share your story in an honest way. Social workers keep your information confidential and the law dictates that they only share your information with your consent. They always ask you to sign a consent form should you want an assessment to take place. Ask them to explain what consent form means. It means you allow them to go ahead with an assessment and that you are fine with them contacting other professionals like doctors, teachers, and police to get more information. Data Protection Act 1998 is the law that protects how they will use your information. So, rest assured your information will not be used wrongly. On your part, keep your information confidential and do not expose your child unnecessarily.
- Ask social workers to explain what an assessment means. Most parents have no idea what it is. In its simplest form, an assessment is a way to gather as much information about the child and family so that a support plan to better the situation can be put in place. A decision on what risk a child faces can only be clear after an assessment. It is not true that once an assessment starts a social worker is in the process of removing a child. The law encourages social workers to keep families together. If you actively participate in a good assessment as a parent, you might identify areas you are strong or weak when it comes to parenting. In an assessment, you can find resources around you that can help you. It is about finding your strengths as well. Assessment is not an exam or test. There are never right or wrong answers but a good parent begins to rethink their way of life and where things are working or not working. A good assessment can be as simple as asking 3 important questions like 1. What are we worried about? 2. What is working? 3. What can we do to make it better? (This uses a model called signs of safety which I will explain in other articles later). So, during an assessment, you have an opportunity to think about these questions even without a social worker, keep assessing the situation as the child is yours. You have parental responsibility and this is granted by the law.
- Disguised compliance- Ooops!! A bit of jargon here. Well, let me explain. Some parents do not do things to benefit their child but just do it because social worker says it should be done. For example, they may keep the house clean because social worker is coming but as soon as social worker leaves, they go back to a lifestyle that puts children at risk. In other words, some parents feel that they must do it because if they don’t then children will be removed. We will talk about this later. We want to find a more empowering role for parents to understand safeguarding their children should always be the priority. We protect our children before anyone else does.We are parents and our role is to genuinely care for our children.
- Finally, do not torment(beat or insult) the child after social worker leaves. This is often taken as an emotional abuse of the child. Engage your child in discussions that support their growth. A child who is interrogated in the home becomes a prisoner in that home and this can affect them. Avoid venting anger on children or using bad words to insult them. Keep warm and supportive of your child. Motivate and inspire them on good relationships with you. A lot of parents beat children for opening on abuse. Some parents intimidate children. This does not help the situation. It makes it worse.
So, in this article, I have advised parents to be open minded and view the role of social workers calling them or visiting them in a more positive way. Prevention is better than cure. I have advised parents that communicating in a respectful and honest manner can bring better outcomes for your child. I also advised that assessing your situation and that of your child is something you can do daily as a parent. At the end of the day the child is yours and when they grow and achieve, it is you as a parent to be proud. We do not look after our children because social workers say we should do it but we should be empowered to do it.
In my next article, I will try and explain what an assessment is as most parents think assessments are complicated and intrusive and have no idea what their benefits are. Yes, social workers come again and again and sometimes parents feel annoyed more than supported. But the question is, “How can parents understand what is going on and with what benefits and when it all ends?”
Let’s all develop a dialogue on how to engage social workers so that our children are safe in the home, school, and community.
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