We took a call from a concerned relative recently about a 17 year old care leaver who was a dad to a 4 month old baby. He was living with the baby and the baby’s 18 year old mum, in a one bedroom flat in a small village. He had no money, no heating, no food, no electricity and no milk or nappies for the baby. As with many children in our care he came from another county, and his social worker lived 100 miles away.
The young parent has been contacting the relative for money, and although she was able to give him the occasional tenner, she knew that he needed so much more.
The relative thankfully remembered us from an outreach event we did in the local community where she took one of our general service leaflets should she need us for her own family. We took the young parents mobile number and gave him a call. He couldn’t call us because he didn’t have any credit on his mobile but did have unlimited texts and in the following days and weeks as we supported him he would often text our workers mobile with updates, or requests for us to call him.
We were able to put in a whole package of support for this parent, and his young family, to stop the need for more specialist (read expensive) services intervening. If this young parent didn’t get the help he needed we had visions of the cycle of care continuing with his own child and we wanted to do all we could to stop this happening.
I was using this particular case as a example of the work we do and the families, and in this case the children, we support to a manager from a neighbouring, also rural, authority. Their reply surprised me a little. They thought that the 17 year old could have gone into the library and used the computer to search for information to help, which was cheaper than having to use the phone for help, that we should have channel shifted this customer online.
Really? Had they not heard his story?
In my experience 17 year old care leavers don’t use the library, and that 17 year olds generally don’t see the library as a place to go to get money, food, or pick up nappies for the baby. I am sure the staff in the library would have done all they could to help but I pointed out that the library in the village is only open 3 afternoons and 1 morning a week. If you have no food for your baby can you really wait 48 hours for it to open again, before you get the chance to sit at a computer and type into google ‘help, I have no money, my baby is starving, my baby is cold, I am starving, I am cold’.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of digital and online, and we have been working hard to ensure our electronic offer is fit for purpose but when I hear of pushing customers to channel shift, I will recount this miserable tale and continue to champion the frontline services, working face to face with customers, supporting the most vulnerable in our society and remind people that online isn’t always an option, or the answer, and we mustn’t forget that people sometime need people.
25th March 2013