Families can get help from the Council's Team Around the Family advisors

27 February 2019

Families who are struggling to cope with issues in their households are being urged to refer themselves to get help from the Council.

Council officers have a history of transforming the lives of families who find it difficult bringing up challenging children.

The Council’s Early Help and Prevention Service helps families by running Team Around the Family Assessments (TAF). They involve skilled officers developing strong bonds with households during regular visits, and offering non-judgemental, tailored support which results in lasting change. 

One family whose circumstances have improved immensely since they started a TAF is the Partington’s in Winsford.

Sheena Partington and her husband Dale have three children. Their oldest son, 17, and youngest son, seven, are autistic. They also have a daughter aged 14.

At 9am one morning four years ago, Sheena received a phone call about her oldest son that shook the family to its core. 

Sheena, from Winsford, said: “A lady said our son had come to school and disclosed a serious safeguarding issue. He had said he was beaten with sticks and that we poured bleach down his throat and we were very cruel.

“It was a shock to myself and my husband; we are not a household that agrees with smacking. They said you can’t have access to any of your children and an emergency social worker will come out to your home. Straight away you think social services are coming here to demonise me. We never had social services in our lives before. It was a huge shock.

“They removed all three from their schools and kept them at a holding area until they came out to make an initial assessment to prove the house was safe enough for the children to come home. It only lasted for a couple of hours. 

“All of these allegations were proven unfounded and as they delved more into my son he decided to tell them that he had made this up. He couldn’t go on his xbox and that was his way of showing mum and dad, it was his weapon and his cry for help.”

Life in the Partington House leading up to this incident had been so chaotic that Sheena and Dale had begun to feel unable to cope.

Their oldest son has high functioning autism. He is highly intelligent but struggles to interact socially. He has suffered emotionally and physically violent bullying attacks from classmates from the age of eight to 15. When he was 14, his grandmother died and he could cope no longer with his emotions. He attempted suicide.

Sheena said: “His grandmother was almost his second mum. Once that happened, he didn’t know how to deal with the grief. We were struggling at home and couldn’t manage the behaviour. We considered asking social care to remove him from the home because we didn’t know what to do as parents.”

A GP referred him to the NHS’s Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) who diagnosed his autism. The family continued to struggle at home, especially as their son was sharing a room with his younger brother who has Asperger’s syndrome.

Home life began to improve following the incident at the school after an officer from Council’s Early Help and Prevention Services met the family and began a long term TAF assessment.

Sheena said: “The officer stepped into the household and not only supported each child individually but she listened to Dale and I, which was a massive thing because no one had listened to us before.
“Usually when outside agencies come into your home you think they are watching you, they are judging you and interfering. That wasn’t the case here. They have been with us for 18 months now. She was the medicine that we needed in the household.  She helped to develop the entire family.

 “She came round every day to begin with and would stay for as long as we needed her to. She was contactable on the phone at any point. 

“They  look at your family life dynamics and say we can see you are struggling and we have some fantastic services we can put you in touch with, let’s go down that route.

“She introduced us to some great parental courses and helped me to seek out university courses on autism, which I have now studied. I wanted to know as much about his condition as I could.

“She suggested a fabulous play therapist who was also a mental health worker who really did break down the individual aspects of his issues. After that 12 month period it was almost like we were getting our son back. I have really noticed some differences in him.”

Despite making fantastic progress, there was an incident a year ago when their son couldn’t control himself and he lashed out, dislocating Sheena’s jaw.

Sheena said: “That was hard to deal with as a parent. The officer stepped up her intervention again, she was here to offer as much support as we needed. 

 “Having looked at the whole family individually, it brought the calmness into the household that we were missing. It gave you the opportunity to sit back and view the situation that was happening as an outsider and change your mindset on how you would deal with those things.

“The support has given us the tools and strength to look at situations differently. 18 months on, we are a completely different family. It was the empowerment that she gave us.

“For a long time we did think that there wasn’t any light at the end of the tunnel and life as we knew it stopped completely. It halted work, it halted family time, there was no life outside these walls. There needs to be more awareness out there that services can be accessed by self-referral rather than people thinking that being involved with outside organisations makes them a bad person, that’s not the case. There is a stigma. In reality people are only there to listen and to encourage you to get that help that you need.” 

Sheena now works 30-50 hours a week volunteering for a charity pre-school for autistic children. She added: “This has all come from the TAF and the strength that was given to me. Without that I wouldn’t have been able to do this.”

Councillor Nicole Meardon, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said: “Some families are struggling to look after their children because of various issues. They should contact us and self-refer if they need help tackling their problems. Our Team Around the Family Assessment is proven to help people turn their circumstances around.”

To self-refer or to find out more information speak to the professional who may be already helping you. Alternatively, contact the Early Help and Prevention Service on: 01244 972908 for Northwich and Winsford, 01244 977720 for Chester and Rural, and 0151 337 4535 for Ellesmere Port and Neston. Information is available online at http://www.altogetherbetterwestcheshire.org.uk/ and follow the link to Integrated Early Support.

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