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

Working with vulnerable children and adults in crisis situations is a 24-hour, 365 days-a-year commitment – and the Christmas and New Year period can be a particularly challenging time.

Oxfordshire County Council’s social service emergency duty team clocked on at 5pm on Friday before Christmas. By Wednesday morning, the team had taken nearly 100 calls about families and vulnerable adults – 26 more than last year – and are gearing up for another busy bank holiday weekend.

About three-quarters of the referrals related to children at risk of neglect or abuse, with the rest about vulnerable adults.

The council’s social care Emergency Duty Team (EDT) works alongside police, health and other partner agencies responding to instances of family breakdown, relationship problems and mental health difficulties.

EDT Manager Penny Young says:

“For many people, this is a time of celebration but for some families it is a difficult time, with some families under pressure. This year has been a challenging period for us with more calls than we have had in previous years.

"Our role is to respond directly to emergencies and other referrals that need to be dealt with before the daytime offices reopen. Our number one priority is keeping children and vulnerable adults safe.”

A typical shift involves a team of three social workers. They work with a mental health specialist – known as an approved mental health professional (AMPH), also employed by the council - who gets involved when an individual’s mental health poses a risk to themselves or others.

The EDT team work closely with the police and NHS, who are often the first point of contact for families in difficulties.

Penny says: “There are many challenges and we always try to achieve a positive resolution and where risks are managed appropriately. Over Christmas we had several families saying they really appreciated the support we provided."

While the focus is on enabling children and adults to be supported by their families, in some cases, an emergency care placement might be needed for a child. Where mental health issues are putting individuals at risk of harm, a person may need to be assessed under the Mental Health Act.

AMHP team manager Daniel Peate says: “Christmas can be a difficult time for some people. They may have experienced difficult life situations – bereavement or divorce for instance, or have other problems which become magnified over Christmas. We ensure their needs are understood, and being sensitive and supportive in working with them to find a positive solution.”

Councillor Steve Harrod, Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services, says:

“Most people don’t know about the vital role social workers play in helping people through difficult times. I’d like to thank the emergency duty team for helping people who really needed their support this Christmas.”

The emergency duty team of social workers covers all out of hours calls. Safeguarding concerns should be reported to 0345 050 7666 (office hours) or 0800 833408 (out of hours).

Photo: Members of the council's EDT (l to r) Penny Young, Amanda Addison and Alex Spriggs.