October 23, 2012 by Susan Moore, adviser

Demand for our advice service is growing month by month; it is a challenging time to be advising in this complex area. It is vital for us advisers to keep up to date with legal and policy developments but also to be constantly aware of how these changes are impacting on services on the ground.

It’s difficult to prepare for a shift on our advice line because the calls we get are so varied both in terms of content and tone. The best thing for me to do is ensure that I’ve cleared my mind of previous calls or anything else from the morning. When the phone rings, it’s a blank page to be filled.

The first call comes in early. A grandmother calls in tears. Her two grandchildren, who live at the other end of the country, have been removed into foster care because of an unexplained injury to the baby. The whole family are devastated. She feels confused and helpless. What is going to happen…?

Unfortunately that’s a question I can’t answer. I can explain the process though, talk about options, help the caller to realise that there are things she can do to effect the situation. We talk about the importance of the family in care cases; kinship care options, family group conferences. The call is longer than many but the result is worth the extra time. By the end of the call, the caller feels reassured “I haven’t got an answer, but I have got a plan”. There is a good chance that our 40min call will result in two children being back within their family in the near future.

A number of short and straightforward calls are dealt with including referrals to our partners when the issues fall outside of our remit and signposts to advice sheets and decision trees on our website.

My next caller has just attended a review child protection conference and is angry and distressed that her child remains under a child protection plan. She is a victim of domestic violence but feels blamed rather than supported regarding her ex partner’s behaviour.

It is important to hear and acknowledge the caller’s anger without allowing it to dominate the call. It’s in the caller’s best interests to see the situation from Children’s Services’ perspective. We discuss what aspects of the child protection plan the caller can agree with, what issues she feels she needs to challenge and the most productive way of doing this.

I refer the caller to our discussion board for parents as a safe and supportive space for her to vent her frustrations and benefit from peer support while co-operating with the process surrounding her child.

Finally, I am speaking to an expectant mum whose husband has been arrested on suspicion of child sex offences. She is devastated and bewildered. She knows her husband and knows he could not have done this and yet the social worker carrying out the core assessment is already talking about them separating.

It’s a hard call. It is vital that I am completely honest and realistic with the caller. She feels she knows her husband but she cannot truly know what lies behind the allegations. Regardless of the outcome of any police investigation, Children’s Services may remain firm in their view that her child will not be safe while she and her husband are together.  In this case, she may be faced with the stark situation of choosing her child or her husband. Only she can make the right decision for her family; my priority is to ensure that any decision she makes is as informed as possible.

As the line closes, my focus turns to recording the afternoon’s calls on our confidential database. It is vital that these are as clear and detailed as possible to ensure any future queries are dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible if a caller needs to come back to us as their situation develops.

With records complete and any relevant follow up work done, now it’s time to tackle the emails…..

To find out more about our impact read the Evaluation of Family Rights Group Advice and Advocacy Service.