Helping Disadvantaged Clients Participate in Important Meetings

At PCAS, we are fortunate in being able to meet our clients in their homes and we know from experience that there is no substitute for face to face contact particularly when a client is anxious or has mobility issues.

During the pandemic we had to resort to phone calls, even meetings through windows as many of the people we deal with do not have ‘smart’ phones, laptops, PC’s or broadband or they are just not tech-savvy and find the whole process of Zoom, Skype or Teams meetings to be too stressful.

One of our advocates, Jackie, currently has four clients who have learning disabilities/difficulties and who are involved in child protection processes and court proceedings in respect of their children.

This is difficult and distressing at any time, but throw in the Covid-19 pandemic and the difficulties escalate enormously.

Back in April, 2020,  clients were expected to participate in statutory meetings and Court hearings remotely or by mobile phone, thus making them more isolated and remote from everyone else participating in the meeting, not being able to know or see who was speaking. This all leads to greater confusion and lack of understanding for those with learning disability or any communication difficulty.

Over the last 18 months, Jackie has been able to help her clients participate in statutory child protection meetings and Court hearings by taking her lap top to their homes so that they can join meetings on the same level as other participants with her support.

She said: “All of a sudden they are almost literally ‘back in the room’ and able to participate in the meeting on a more equal standing. Recently I supported a client to participate in a five-day court hearing via my laptop from her home, without my support she would have had to participate via her mobile phone.

Can you imagine participating in a meeting from 10.00 till 17.00 by mobile phone? It seems unthinkable and yet it is expected. The sad thing is, I don’t see change coming for our clients anytime soon.”

Even the president of the Family division of the High Court, Sir Andrew McFarlane spoke out about how parents were being disadvantaged by this system and that was more than a year ago – but it is still happening because Covid-19 has not gone away and many organisations remain very cautious about face to face meetings.

Jackie really has tried her hardest to support her clients to the best of her ability and would like to acknowledge the commitment of the Local Authority social workers in children’s services and their admin staff, Independent Reviewing Officers and other partners such as Solicitors who have ensured that she has received the relevant information, dates and links to join meetings by email with her clients.


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