A couple, from the travelling community, described the experience of doing a residential family assessment as one of the hardest things they had ever done. They also had some words of encouragement for other families who come for assessment.
The 12 week assessments are tough for all parents. They have often suffered neglect in their own childhoods or are struggling with issues around mental health or having learning disabilities. The cultural differences and expectations also made this particular assessment challenging.
Homeless before the Family Assessment
Lee and Carli had lived in trailers and caravans their whole life before becoming homeless a few years ago and surviving on the streets.
After a visit to the hospotal Carli, who has learning difficulties was shocked to discover she was 38 weeks pregnant. After being told she could never have children. Both Carli and Lee have issues with their mental health, suffering from depression and also had learning difficulties.
This was when social services became involved and, after a short stint in a mother and baby foster placement, the couple were sent to stay with us at St Michael’s so a family assessment to take place. After the assessment St Michael's creates detailed reports about how parents are caring for their children and make recommendations on whether a child should stay with it's parents.
At the end of the placement we recommended the couple should leave with their baby but said they would need another assessment in the community. They have been found a house by their local authority – their first – and they are both positive about the future.
Being at St Michaels opened doors for them
Before they left, we worked with them to help make some resources for other new families who come to St Michael's. We let them tell their story and talk about their expereinces. They told us that with our support - lots doors suddenly opened.
“We were both highly depressed when we came here….Now we have been here - all the doors have opened up. There’s health visitors, doctors, council people, social services, members of staff willing to help you and put your life back on track.”
They didn’t really understand why they had to come to St Michael’s
Lee explained how they found the initial few weeks at St Michael’s “Very degrading.”
“We come from a traveler community and our lives is very secret. We do things behind our doors, we don’t normally have people around us. We do our own thing. It took us along time to get over it and through it. But we got there.”
“When we first come here, we was only told a little bit about what would be happening. It took us a few weeks to realise what was really going on and the reasons we were here.”
“This place is like a rehabilitation place, to make you better and make you comfortable with things and get you back on track. Not just for your sake but your kid’s sake. Once you have learnt what you’ve learnt no one can take that away from you.”
What they want other parent to know about the residential family assessment
Lee wanted to let other parents like him know about their experience and what to expect,
“It’s very hard for the first two weeks, getting used to the surrounding and how the staff work. You just got to go with it. They will watch you make bottles, change bums and feed, change. Everything’s written down – everything - but it’s done for a reason and you will see that as time goes by…It seems tough, and it seems hard, but within a month or so you will realise why and it’s worth it at the end.”
They say they felt awkward and uncomfortable being in the house and being so closely watched. At the beginning of an assessment, staff watch the family 24hrs a day, making sure they are caring for their children safely. If they see anything happening that is a child safety issue they will step in.
The couple worked hard, taking part in sessions and working closely with staff. “We proved ourselves to be right and to show we know what we are doing with our child. And then it got a lot better,” Lee explained.
Helping parents understand child centred parenting
Lots of the parents we work with have had little support themselves, they haven’t got the knowledge or experience about how to help their child develop properly or keep them safe. Lee explained that even though he had 6 other children he didn’t have the up to date knowledge of what it takes to be a parent.
“Some people don’t know it and it’s not their fault. You shouldn’t knock anyone for that. You shouldn’t knock anyone for anything they don’t know about. You need to give them some guidelines. You shouldn’t tell them what to do. You should advise them a way of doing it and if you advise them how to do it, and you do it properly and clearly, and it’s not forcing them, they’ll listen. You can drag a horse to water but you can’t make that horse drink.”
Lee and Carli needed our help to understand how a child develops and to understand what’s safe and what’s not and they took all of this advice on board in the house. We hope that they will be able to do the same during the community assessment.
What they got out of the residential family assessment
Lee was clear about what he got most out of the placement, “More knowledge of what’s what, than I ever have. I am a father of 7 and my oldest boy is 18. And I have never learnt as much, as I have with any of them back then, than I have now. So much has changed – right down to bottle feeding.”
Our assessments are designed to help parents understand the basics of looking after a child and think about what they are doing from their child’s perspective and how their actions will affect their child. We also make sure that the parents can put into practice what they have learned. Some of the parents we work with have learning difficulties so we make sure all our programmes are accessible for them.
Advice for other parents
Lee and Carli both have some final advice for parents who come to our houses:
Carli says “Keep your head up and just do it for your child,” and Lee adds, “It’s going to be tough at times. Take five minutes out, go for a walk in the garden if things get too tough and come back in and get on with it. Don’t give up. If you give up, you’re not just giving up on yourself but on your child.”
Making a referral
If you would like more information about our houses and how to make a assessment you can visit our website
*All names have been change.