Social work visits
Updated: 24 February 2017
What's Important To Us
Social work visits with mokopuna, their parents/caregivers, family/whānau and professionals build respectful and trusting relationships which are the cornerstone of our work with the mokopuna and their family/whānau. Social work visits need to be purposeful and meaningful, with clear objectives and expected outcomes. Your visit needs to leave people feeling like you have really heard them and that you value what they have told you.
Why do I visit?
Visiting is how we ensure mokopuna are safe and their evolving needs are being met. Visits allow the social worker to continually assess mokopuna wellbeing, evaluate progress with their plan and keep engaged with the mokopuna and their family/whānau. Visiting is the way in which we find out first-hand what is happening with the mokopuna and families/whānau we work with. Information given over the telephone or via email or letter will never truly compensate for the richness of information that comes directly from contact with people, either via conversations or through observations of them.
The key to all of these visits is the way in which the social worker engages and builds a relationship with the mokopuna, their family/whānau and the people who are important to the family/whānau.
A good relationship with a family/whānau is the most influential tool a social worker can use when working alongside them to help make the necessary changes to keep their mokopuna safe and well. Within this relationship social workers need to:
- be open, honest and respectful
- listen carefully
- challenge and support
- acknowledge achievements
- confront problems
- be reliable
- do what they say they will do without unnecessary delay.
Social work visits happen for different reasons and at different locations - from a ‘first time' visit to the family home to discuss a report of concern to ‘hanging out' with a mokopuna at their favourite café, and from meeting a family support worker at their office to visiting a caregiver who wants to offer a mokopuna a permanent placement.
Whenever you talk with mokopuna, consider whether you have the authority to do so. In most cases it will be appropriate to first try to obtain permission from their custodian. You may believe some older mokopuna are competent to make a decision themselves about speaking with a social worker, however it is preferable to avoid placing the mokopuna in this situation so obtaining permission from their custodian is considered best practice.
When the custodian is the alleged perpetrator, gaining their permission may not be appropriate and could put the mokopuna in harm's way. You can ask school staff for permission to speak to the mokopuna during school hours. Some schools are reluctant to allow social workers to interview mokopuna on school grounds, others may agree to the interview on the condition that the mokopuna consents as well.
When requesting consent from a mokopuna, make sure they understand who you are, what your role is, and the reason for the interview. It is important that the mokopuna knows they do not need to consent and will not get in trouble if they don't. It is preferable for the school to obtain mokopuna consent to an interview so there is no suggestion of undue influence by Oranga Tamariki.
When mokopuna are in the custody and/or guardianship of the chief executive, social workers have the authority to speak with them and transport them to a suitable location in order to complete the interview. Social workers are also authorised to speak with mokopuna when a support order or supervision order are in place, but cannot transport the mokopuna without permission from their custodian, unless transporting by the social worker is part of the agreed plan.
If you cannot obtain agreement to talk to mokopuna, or you consider that asking may place the mokopuna at risk, you may apply for a place of safety warrant under section 39 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989. This warrant gives the social worker the power to complete an assessment of the safety of the mokopuna and to place them in the chief executive's temporary custody while the assessment is being completed.
In rare cases, you may opt to use your professional judgement and speak to the mokopuna to enable you to establish their immediate safety. If you speak to the mokopuna without first gaining consent/authority from their custodian, record your rationale for this decision in CYRAS.
Preparing for a visit
Think about the reason for your visit and the sorts of things you will want to talk about. Do some research before the visit to help you feel more confident and clear, especially when meeting with a mokopuna and their family/whānau for the first time. This might mean reviewing computer and paper files and/or consulting with others. Consider the following factors:
- Will you need an interpreter? Do you need cultural advice before visiting, or a community leader to accompany you?
- Talk to your supervisor about any anxieties you have, especially if you are feeling nervous or unsure. Do you need an experienced social worker to go with you, or some coaching before going out? Pay attention to your own safety and work out an exit strategy for emergencies.
- Be really clear about your risk statements before you knock on the door so you can confidently talk about them with the family/whānau. Are they simple enough to be understood by the youngest verbal family/whānau member?
- If this is a visit to talk about a report of concern that the family/whānau knows nothing about, they may be angry or distressed and begin the conversation aggressively. Tell them calmly who you are, what your role is and why you are visiting them and be prepared to show them your ID card. Be honest and clear and use plain language that they can understand. Avoid using words like "notification", "abuse" and "statutory" but don't understate the concern.
- Let the family/whānau know what the process of working with them will be, who you will be talking with, why and how long you think it will all take. Make sure they have your contact details and that they know who else they can contact if you are not available.
- Be prepared to spend time with the mokopuna and their family/whānau, particularly on the first visit. Listen respectfully and give the family/whānau as much time as they need to talk about their lives as aspects of this may be painful and traumatic.
- Families/whānau that we visit are often fearful of our role and their negative reactions can be because of the power that we have in their lives and the lives of their mokopuna. Be honest and transparent; we have nothing to hide.
- Using the Child/young person and family consult , the Three Houses engagement tool and the Tuituia assessment framework with the family/whānau can help them to understand why you are there. The tools can also assist you to better understand the family/whānau's values and history and help you establish a good working relationship with the family/whānau.
- Ask the family/whānau what is important to them when you visit, or when they come to see you in the office. Perhaps they would like to start the visit in a special way, or sometimes it is simple things like offering or accepting a cup of tea that will be important to the family/whānau you are working with.
Take time after each of your visits to record your visit in a casenote in the CYRAS record for the mokopuna and debrief with your co-worker or supervisor. This is an opportunity to apply analysis to your work and gain insight into the impact of your visit, and also think about your next steps.
Visits with mokopuna as part of your regular visiting schedule provides the opportunity to catch up with them about school and home, understand their current worries, and have in-depth discussions about their future hopes and dreams and how you can work together to make these become a reality. Visits need to be frequent enough to build and maintain a relationship, assure yourself of the safety and wellbeing of the mokopuna safety and enable you to effectively review and monitor their plan.
Use your visits to build trust and confidence. Ensure that the mokopuna is clear about the purpose of the visits and your role.
It is important to talk with mokopuna by themselves, and to just spend time with young mokopuna who are not yet talking. When you spend time with mokopuna, you are not interviewing them; rather, you are getting to know them. However, it is still important to listen carefully to what they are saying. You can explore all of the safety and wellbeing concerns that you need to by spending time with mokopuna. Using the Three Houses is particularly successful with mokopuna of all ages. With young mokopuna, try drawing a picture of you with them and write your name on it so that they know who you are. Explain what a social worker is and why you are talking to them in words that they can understand.
Be reliable and honest and always do what you say you will do - this will help build trust between you and the mokopuna.
Explore the best visit environment for each mokopuna; it may be at school, feeding ducks in the park, or going to the library.
Make sure that you know the developmental stage and expected abilities of the mokopuna you are visiting so that you can identify any gaps in their development (see the Age and developmental stages resource).
Remember, there isn't just one way in which social work visits can or should occur. Attending parent/teacher interviews with the mokopuna and their caregiver, watching the mokopuna compete in their school athletics day, supervising a mokopuna's contact with their parents, and transporting them to and from appointments and meetings are just a few of the many opportunities we can use to ‘visit' with mokopuna.
Visiting when mokopuna return or remain at home
When safety concerns have been identified and we are working with the mokopuna in their home environment or are thinking about returning a mokopuna home after a period of time in care we need to intensify our effort and frequency of visits to ensure that the wellbeing of the mokopuna remains our core focus. It is important that:
- you have time alone with the mokopuna, both at home and away from home
- everyone in the family/whānau knows that the time you spend with the mokopuna is important and that they are able to support it happening
- you spend time building a trusting relationship with the family/whānau so that your monitoring role is seen as helpful rather than an intrusion
- you ensure that everyone in the family/whānau and their support networks know the evidence of safety and wellbeing you are looking for
- you look for and talk about strengths in the family/whānau and take the time during your visit to verbally ‘notice' positive changes that the parents or family/whānau have made.
Visiting mokopuna in care and their caregivers
Research and studies of mokopuna views tell us that for mokopuna in care having a positive and sustained personal relationship with their social worker promotes their wellbeing.
As the social worker for the mokopuna, the decisions you make affect their life. In the words of one mokopuna: "everything, you know ... it's about my life. You lot are just doing your jobs, but it's all pertinent to me and it's all mine".
Talk to the mokopuna and their caregiver together and individually. Some mokopuna may not like to be singled out by a school visit so arrange to pick them up after school for an ice cream or a visit to the playground or a cafe.
Visiting often, even for a short time, shows the mokopuna that you are a constant and trustworthy person in their lives.
Visiting caregivers regularly and being available to them gives the caregiver confidence to contact you before small problems become big ones.
Use this time to ensure that the caregiver is kept informed about the plan for the mokopuna and that you are up to date with their progress in their care.
Visits with professionals
Use your valuable time away from the office to connect with other people involved in the life of the mokopuna (e.g. school, health professional, community agency worker, mentor, etc).
Check in with the school or daycare that the mokopuna attends to find out how they are doing in class, what their relationships are like with their peers and teachers, their strengths and any concerns. If mokopuna are involved in extra-curricular activities (e.g. sports, music, art, drama), endeavour to have regular contact with the adult in charge and take note of achievements, improvements and issues - these will be things you can talk to the mokopuna about when you next visit them. When talking to the doctor for the mokopuna, find out if the mokopuna have had all of their immunisations and ask the doctor if there is anything at all that they are concerned about with regards to the mokopuna, their siblings and their family/whānau.
McLeod, A. (2008). Listening to Children: A Practitioner's Guide. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
McLeod, A. (2010). 'A Friend and an Equal': Do young people in care seek the impossible from their social workers? British Journal of Social Work, 40, 772-788.