Our social workers keep children and adults safe over Christmas (and the other 364 days a year)

When most people were enjoying the anticipation of Christmas Eve afternoon, opening their presents on Christmas morning or tucking in to a traditional turkey dinner that afternoon, many social care workers were doing their day job.

Children’s social care’s Emergency Duty Team is a key part of Oxfordshire County Council’s 24-hour, 365 days a year commitment to working with vulnerable children and adults in crisis – and the festive period can often be a very challenging time.

The team works alongside police, health and other partner agencies responding to instances of family breakdown, relationship problems and mental health difficulties as part of the county council’s commitment to giving every child a good start in life and protecting everyone from abuse and neglect.

Overnight shift

This year, Penny Young (EDT Team Manager) worked on Christmas Day despite having visiting family staying with her at home. When she left the house on Christmas Day her visitors hadn’t risen from bed.

She said: “As I prepared for work early on Christmas morning I left the mandatory and prepared guidance for dinner preparations, for my return home in the evening along with a few treats and surprises for the family on the side. On my way out of the door in to the darkness of Christmas morning, my bag contained a supply of extra calories for my colleagues on shift - which we enjoyed from the outset."

The team worked out of Abingdon Police Station and Penny received her handover from Julie Morini who had done the overnight shift when Christmas Eve became Christmas Day – the time when Father Christmas is out delivering gifts to Oxfordshire’s young children.

Julie was able to enjoy some of the normal things about Christmas Day but also needed to sleep because she was on duty again overnight from Christmas Day in to Boxing Day. She’s now looking forward to a break in France with her family.

Penny said: “Our day progressed with the management of ongoing and known issues and with new referrals. These were varied, and covered a range of children, families and vulnerable adults. The Emergency Duty Team works very closely with all agencies and particularly so with the police and our health colleagues.

“For many people Christmas is a time of celebration but for some it is a challenging time on a number of levels and for a variety of reasons. It can also be a lonely and isolating time, which again for some, can increase vulnerability. Christmas an create anxiety and impact on an individual’s situation and how they feel able to manage.

“Our aim will always be in working together: with the individual, with families and with our partner agencies to achieve a positive solution, where risks are identified, carefully considered and managed with appropriate guidance and support put in place.

“While the focus is on enabling children and adults to be supported by and within their own friend or family structure, in some situations this is not always possible and intervention may be required to ensure the wellbeing and safety of vulnerable children and adults is not compromised.”

Challenging – but rewarding

Approved Mental Health Professional Operations Manager Dan Peate had two members of staff and an on-call manager during the Christmas period: He said: “Where mental health issues are putting individuals at risk of harm, a person may need to be assessed under the Mental Health Act.

As part of the Emergency Duty Framework he reiterates the importance of all agencies working together to ensure the needs of the vulnerable individual and believes that even though out of hours work and especially during the Christmas period can be challenging, the positives and rewards cannot be underestimated especially when the coming together of all professionals has provided for and ensured a positive solution.

He continued: “Whilst we have to leave our families for the day, we always look forward to the start of our celebrations after work and we do have each other during the shift.”

Raising a glass

Kate Mingham, Senior Practitioner in children’s social care, said: “I was still able to raise a nonalcoholic glass to friends and family in England and across the globe at 12noon. That’s a family tradition and something I have done since childhood - for older relatives since the war”.

And so the patterns continues across this holiday period and again in the New Year. There is a great sense of pride from within the team and from colleagues in terms of the services they deliver during these holiday periods.