Meet our Social Worker

We spoke to Jackie Whithouse, our social worker for children and young adults with palliative care needs. She told us about her role within our family support team; a multi-disciplinary team which includes play specialists, counsellors and chaplains.

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

After training as a nurse, I completed a diploma in social work and an Open University degree, qualifying as a social worker in 1995. I worked for ten years as an education social worker and then ten years as a community based palliative care social worker within the children’s community nursing team in Southampton. I then spent two years in a kinship fostering team with a focus on fostering assessments and support for children and families.

Can you tell us more about social work and why it’s important in hospices for children and young adults?

Social work in children’s palliative care covers everything that contributes to a child’s social and welfare needs, including safeguarding, emotional or practical support, benefits and financial support. This service is really important because children with palliative care needs are generally very sick or disabled. Research has shown that disabled children are more at risk of types of abuse, poor housing and poverty due to the impact on the family from their condition. Children with disabilities generally cost about 30% more to raise, so families can face real financial pressures and stress.

How do you work with families?

It’s all about advocacy; supporting families and acting on their behalf to ensure they receive the care they need, for as long as they need it. Some of the many ways I might be able to help a family following assessment include procuring other services, phoning up charities, looking at finances, liaising with our family support team and offering practical or emotional support.

As parents, you have multiple professionals giving you input on different aspects of your child’s life and demanding action; you have people looking at you, watching you and judging you, which can be hugely overwhelming for a lot of parents. All it takes is a crisis to make everything come tumbling down, so a big part of my role is offering emotional support and helping families call on their normal coping strategies.

The preventive work I do with families is to give them the support they need to be able to manage the sheer amount of information they receive from professionals. We need to make sure that the child is at the forefront of everyone’s minds and is being listened to. It’s about ensuring that all of the professionals communicate, joining forces to make life easier for the family.

How do you work with other organisations to support our families?

Families may not understand their rights under legislation or have the information they need to access the services that are available to them, so one of my main tasks is to constantly update my knowledge and be aware of the resources that are available. I sometimes feel like a bit of a broker! Even if parents do have the knowledge, they still have quite a battle on their hands to be able to advocate for their child. I can support them with this or, if needed, help them engage with professional advocacy services.

How do you work with families inside our hospices?

I host initial visits to Naomi House & Jacksplace, so when a family is coming in for the first time, I or a member of the family support team will show them around and introduce the concept of family support. A lot of the families I work with haven’t been here before and some may not be ready for the hospice environment, so I help to ease that process and introduce them to our services.