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The clinical psychologist is increasingly being seen as an important element of social services and child and adolescent mental health services. Working in a hospital or health centre setting, psychologists often operate alongside - rather than independently of - other professionals including healthcare staff, social workers, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. The introduction of a clinical psychologist has the effect of enhancing the evidence base of practice in a variety of care settings.

Working across different areas of society

Psychologists help people to overcome depression, stress, trauma or phobias; easing the effects of parental divorce on children; speeding up recovery from brain injury; and helping to stop or prevent bullying at school or in the workplace. But a growing area of expertise, and opportunity, lies within the health and social care setting and significantly within family safeguarding and child protection as part of a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) approach.

Child protection work

Within the child protection field, key areas to which the professional practice of psychology can contribute include an understanding of children’s individual development and identity needs; a professional assessment of skills such as methodological understandings, (e.g. culturally fair psychometric assessment); and an understanding of family systems/caring environments and intervention strategies including individual and family therapy, group work across a wide spectrum of presenting needs, offending behaviours and support for families. 

What is apparent, for example, is the impact a parent with a mental illness can have on a child. Alongside social work specialists and those with expertise in domestic abuse and drug and alcohol issues, the team can draw upon the knowledge and experience of a clinical psychologist to add an extra dimension to the care and safeguarding of the child involved.

The British Psychological Society recognised the value of the role in this context early on, endorsing the Working Together to Safeguard Children document – from 2006 (updated in March 2015). It noted the importance of the key principles to the work of psychologists in this respect as being child centred, holistic in approach, focused on outcomes for children and involving children and families. The strength of it being multi-/inter-agency in approach and a continuing process was underlined.

Evidence-based interventions

The clinical psychologist can play a pivotal role in informing the MDT about factors that influence people’s lifestyles, what motivates certain health-related behaviours such as smoking, dietary change and exercise, or mental health issues. From that, there is the opportunity to apply evidence-based interventions to enhance health and well-being.
Ways in which psychological theory and research can contribute to improvements in health and social care include an awareness of how people’s understandings and needs vary, thus ensuring care is appropriate and optimal.

Psychologists can help gain a better understanding of communication processes to identify ways of improving the therapeutic relationship, and identify factors that affect how people cope with such situations as acute and chronic illness, pain and loss, and the demands of everyday life and thus help them cope better.

Hertfordshire family safeguarding initiative

One example of where this inclusion of a clinical psychologist – and the psychology skill set - is being embraced as part of the child protection team is in Hertfordshire. In January, Hertfordshire County Council - working with their partners in health, the police and probation service - was awarded a £4.86m grant from the government’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme. Under a revolutionary approach to child protection services in the county, 22 Family Safeguarding Teams are being established, bringing together professionals from children and adult care services.

A first in the UK, the ground-breaking Family Safeguarding model brings together all the professionals under one roof, to provide intensive support to parents to address the substance misuse, mental health and domestic abuse that place children at risk of harm. Co-located teams of skilled professionals will work together in teams to tackle the root causes of harm in families, with three area offices supported by a clinical psychologist. In addition, an important element is the introduction of the motivational interviewing technique with all members of the Family Safeguarding Teams train in the psychological counselling technique. Read an interview with Hertfordshire’s Director of Family Safeguarding in Sanctuary Social Work News magazine.

Career opportunities

The role of psychology in social care is being acknowledged as adding a further dimension to the support social care teams can provides to families, individuals and children. With that growing area of expertise are opportunities for clinical psychologists to play an important part within the health and social care setting, and significantly within family safeguarding.

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