I was very impressed with the professionalism of the service and literature and extremely grateful for the advice provided. In our case, the [Enquire] Helpline helped to secure a positive outcome from the local authority for our child, together with a commitment to the revision of the authority’s policy.
Amanda Robb – Education Resource Worker with the School Community Support Service, Dundee City Council
Amanda’s current role as an Education Resource Worker (ERW) involves supporting children, young people and their families to ensure they have equal opportunities within the education system from the ages of 5-16.
Amanda explains ‘The main focus of my work is around non-attendance and the factors impacting on this. These can include: substance misuse, welfare, parenting, young carers, mental health, bullying, additional support needs and behaviour to name a few. However, this is not a full list as the reasons a child does not attend school are changeable and often multiple. My work involves assessment and support planning, with a large part of my time dedicated to bringing agencies and families together.
Support with non-attendance is accessed either through the local authority attendance policy and procedure known as an Attendance Initiative Referral or by a direct referral to the service itself.
The Attendance Initiative is a school-based referral system, which kicks in on the third day that a pupil has an unexplained absence. A referral is sent electronically to the ERW who visits the pupil’s home on the same day of referral to find out the reason for the absence. This is a response service which in certain circumstances can respond on the first day of absence if required. Its main aim is to find out the reasons for the absence but as an ERW you have to be prepared to adapt to any other issues that arise, and respond appropriately.
Where attendance is an ongoing problem a direct referral to the service provides a sustained support assessment, which works to identify the barriers for the family and the child or young person. A support plan is then developed in partnership with the family, school and partner agencies to work together to resolve both the non-attendance and any other issues affecting the family.’
The service is designed to be an early intervention process. Each ERW works with a school cluster and supports attendance monitoring in that cluster. However, if families do not engage with support and attendance remains problematic the department will consider following the national government guidelines and legislation in relation to non-attendance. This involves further formal meetings with parents or carers which in turn can lead to a referral to the Sheriff court for prosecution of the parent or carer. As an ERW, Amanda is accountable for the evidence for this process but also continues to offer support to the family throughout. Amanda explains ‘The referral to the Sheriff court is an absolute last resort and may be avoided if there is an improvement in a pupil’s attendance at school or families’ engagement with services or if the referral is forwarded to the Children’s Reporter.’
Amanda’s job can be challenging, given her varied workload. It can be challenging to support families that have multiple, complex needs. ‘It is not unusual to find that a family live within a deprived area who suffer with financial hardship and poor mental health, who may be involved in substance misuse. Or a parent with additional support needs whose child is bullied in school, or a family adjusting to a parental separation or bereavement.
The first hurdle can be establishing a positive relationship with a family, as they may have had a negative experience of support in the past or a negative school experience themselves.’
Another challenge is the Attendance Initiative Referrals themselves. ‘These are often conducted as ‘cold calls’ and as an ERW you have to use good judgement and quick assessment to determine the welfare and wellbeing of a child or young person, the home circumstances and your own safety, whilst finding out the reasons for the pupil’s absence.’ Amanda explains ‘In the course of my work one visit can lead to reporting child protection concerns, police attendance, visits to A&E, to name a few.’
Amanda also explains ‘Resources are always a challenge, but we are fortunate to have good links with the voluntary sector and a responsive provision from our local authority to try to meet the needs of the children and young people. At the heart of this work I feel that our local authority has a fantastic ethos of strong partnership work and development which includes agencies supporting the families, allowing them to remain central to their support.’
Yet, along with the challenges comes the knowledge that her work is making a direct difference to the lives of young people and their families. Amanda believes that ‘non-attendance is often a first indicator of a concern, and as a result we are frequently at the beginning of a support process. Without this indicator children and young people and their families may not be highlighted to support agencies until much later. I am not alone in my experience as an ERW to have come across child protection concerns which have resulted in better outcomes for children, as the result of one home visit through the Attendance Initiative.
I like to believe that my work makes a difference by establishing trusting relationships with hard to reach, vulnerable families and by working in partnership to address issues can increase inclusion and attainment,’ says Amanda.
‘During the support process, things can become really challenging with families. We have to work to a time-scale that families can manage and often you have to rely on their potential for change. However, when that potential is realised the positive impact is really rewarding to witness.
I worked with one young person whose school experience was very negative and who was experiencing a disjointed and chaotic home life too. He was often sullen, chose not to communicate and behaved negatively both in school and in the community and had poor attendance and presentation. Both parents and school felt unable to effect change and he was frequently being considered for removal from the mainstream provision,’ explains Amanda. ‘Support provided an alternative, and by bringing together school and home through lots of outreach work, advocacy for the young person and inclusion in positive learning opportunities he went on to flourish, becoming a role model in upper school, and wearing a smile each day, with no further consideration of being removed from mainstream.’
Contact with the service is voluntary; yet families choose to work with Amanda’s team, sometimes on multiple occasions throughout a child’s educational career which, she believes, indicates that families feel their support is helpful and has made a difference.
Given the numerous different aspects to her work, it will come as no surprise that no two days are exactly the same for Amanda. ‘During the school terms my day begins early at 8am with support in a family home, promoting good morning routines and transporting children to school. This supports a positive start to a child’s day, particularly if they are experiencing difficulties at home. When the school day begins I then check to make sure that the children and young people who I am working with are in school and if not, to establish why either by phone or in person.
Mornings are often then taken up with scheduled meetings in school to review attendance or support packages and Amanda also uses this time to meet with children and young people in school for one to one sessions. By early lunchtime Attendance Initiative Referrals are processed by the schools for Amanda and her colleagues to respond to. ‘You cannot predict how few or how many may be received on any given day and some referrals will require follow up from the previous day too.’ As Amanda explains ‘This can be tricky to plan for and requires a real flexibility in time management.
Late afternoon typically includes planned home visits to families, once children are home from school or parents from work, to complete assessments and consider support plans. Paperwork is completed on an ongoing basis throughout the day or when the opportunity presents itself. It is also scheduled in if support involves formal processes such as report writing for the Children’s Reporter or to advise in prosecution cases.’
During the holiday periods, Amanda works in partnership within her school cluster to deliver transition support activity programmes for children who may have additional support needs who are moving from primary to secondary education.
So, how did Amanda come to be in this busy and interesting role?
‘After leaving university I had a real interest around the barriers to education for children within a social context, in advocacy for children, and family-based practise. What started as a job to gain some experience has become a real vocation for me. It’s hard not to get attached to this job! Some days can be really tough, but I learn so much each day and I am really fortunate to work with highly motivated education staff and a multi agency team who share the principles of a child-centred approach.’
And, the most valuable thing she has learnt …?
‘I have developed an understanding that it is important to accept that each family is unique and each person within it an individual, with their own story.’
For more information visit School Community Support Service section of Dundee Council website