A Day in the Life of a Norwood Social Worker – Alison Wellemin

11 April 2019

My relationship with Norwood began as a user of the service when I attended the Rainbow group, a support group for parents of children with disabilities, after my daughter Sarah (now aged 27) was born with Down’s syndrome.

The group still runs to this day and I can best describe it as having been my emotional lifeline in those early days of discovering my child was born disabled.

I have worked for Norwood as a social worker at the Kennedy Leigh Family Centre in Hendon for the past 14 years, having previously been in employed in the statutory sector in two London boroughs and in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) in the NHS.

I have remained at Norwood as I feel very lucky to work within a team of exceptionally skilled professionals where we can practise in a way that is preventative and supportive, forming relationships with our families while keeping children at the heart of everything we do. Every day is different but always brings new challenges and opportunities for learning.

I would describe a typical day as follows:

8.30am: On arrival at the family centre, I peruse my emails before my first client arrives. Among my messages, I am encouraged to see that an Educational Health Care Plan has been agreed by Barnet Council for a child I have been advocating for. Another email irritatingly reveals that the Team Around the Child meeting I was convening for a child with a rare medical condition cannot happen on the day I had planned, as one of the key professionals can no longer make it. Everyone’s diaries are so full, so it is back to the drawing board. I have also received an anxious voicemail message from a father asking me to ring him urgently as he is struggling to manage his teenage son’s behaviour. They had a huge quarrel last night and the boy punched him.

9.30am: A disabled mother whose youngest child has recently been given a diagnosis of autism came to see me. Her older child is self-harming which requires regular joint meetings with CAMHS. The mother has a trusting relationship with Norwood as the family support worker and I have helped her through many life stages, including her second pregnancy, her early days of parenting two children, and her divorce. My role has included addressing safeguarding concerns as well as helping to establish her younger child’s diagnosis after a long period of uncertainty, and subsequently ensuring that specialist help was put in place.

10.30am: I phoned the father back following his earlier voicemail message. He was tearful as he described how hard he is finding it to manage his 14-year-old son’s extreme anger towards him and how helpless he feels. His wife died when the child was just three years old and the father is isolated. It has only been in his son’s adolescent years that his challenging behaviours have emerged. Because of the father’s own pressures, the child has gradually been allowed to ‘rule the roost’. Over the phone, we discuss the conflict that arose the night before and plan for me to refer him to one of our parenting support workers. I also arrange a home visit for the following week to see father and son together to address their relationship.

11.15am: I attend a meeting at a school nursery to discuss concerns about a child of a young single mother with two other children. The children have witnessed domestic violence, perpetrated by their father towards their mother, following which a restraining order was made. The nursery child has been exhibiting defiant behaviour, lashing out and swearing, which may have resulted from the emotional impact of what he has witnessed, or may be the result of more inherent difficulties. By working together, and sharing information, the professionals and mum hope to establish a greater understanding of what is going on for the boy, with the aim of providing the right help. Mum comments that she feels overwhelmed but finds it helpful to have my emotional and practical support, in terms of attending meetings with her, and advocating for and co-ordinating services.

1.00pm: On return to the centre, I grab a takeaway lunch from Sara’s Kitchen, our deli at Kennedy Leigh. I have to say, the delicious Mexican wrap and innovative range of salads served by staff with such care and attention to detail lifts my spirits and sets me up for the rest of the day.

1.20pm: I have a telephone conversation in which I argue, on behalf of a family of a severely disabled and chronically sick young child, for an urgent increase in her care package. The parents are unable to take the child home following a respite stay in a children’s hospice without an increase in support from the local authority and health services. I will have to wait to know whether I have been successful.

1.45pm: I have a half-hour opportunity to catch up on various calls to schools, CAMHS and a GP. It is crucial that we work in partnership with other professionals.

2.15pm: I meet a seven-year-old girl with younger twin siblings and divorced parents. Her father has re-married and she has two step siblings. She is confused as to her place within her family and I am trying to help her make sense of the changing family circumstances. She presents as withdrawn and tearful at home and at school. It is hard for her to articulate her feelings but she is artistic and enjoys drawing and making things. Via this creative medium, she has expressed a range of emotions including her feelings of sadness and abandonment. Today, she draws a colourful family tree, adding glitter to some of her depictions of family members and expresses some more hopeful thoughts.

4.45pm: I visit a family at home with three primary school-aged children. Mum has a diagnosed personality disorder. Her moods are unpredictable and at times she presents as suicidal. Father suffers from depression and the marital relationship is unstable at times. My work with the family focuses on ensuring that the children are safe and that specialist support is in place. The parents call me when in crisis. The children are being seen weekly by school counsellors and I see them individually during each holiday/half term to monitor their progress and establish their wishes and feelings. I feel more confident about supporting this family as a result of my recent family therapy training, qualifying as a systemic practitioner. Today I see the family all together, careful to ensure that each person is given a chance to express themselves. The session proves emotional and quite draining for us all, but I feel satisfied that feelings have been safely aired and that family members understand one another better.

6.15pm: I arrive home tired but feel that the day has mainly gone well. I faintly wonder when I will have a chance to complete the inevitable but necessary paperwork, but hey! Tomorrow is another day…

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