While planning for and undertaking home visits has its challenges, effective well-planned visits are an essential casework tool for attendance officers. Joanne Sierzega considers what should be done before, during and after a home visit.
- It is important to be clear about the purpose of your visit and to ensure that you have everything you need to carry it out effectively.
- Be alert for risk factors, check who is on the premises and trust your intuition if you feel unsafe.
- Keep a careful written record of all home visits and be clear about what is opinion and what is fact.
Home visits often come under the remit of the school’s attendance officer. However, there is rarely much training or information on best practice. It is important that new and experienced attendance officers feel equipped to undertake home visits. This article provides some practical advice and tips for those new to home visits and a helpful reminder and checklist for those experienced officers wanting to reflect on their practice.
Why do them?
There’s no doubt that home visits can come with complications – so why are they so important? Home visits can:
- establish positive contact and communication with families when undertaken in open, honest and non-judgmental ways
- help gather information and inform assessments about why a pupil isn’t attending school
- be a way to engage and undertake direct work with children, parents and families
- help us to establish where a child is when they are not attending school and whether there are any welfare or safeguarding concerns
- be a valuable practice for capturing pupil voice and experiences
- be required as part of a local policy/procedure or legislation, for example, reasonable enquiries in a CME case.
In order to ensure that a home visit is a successful intervention, it is important to be adequately prepared. Below I outline things you should consider before, during and after a home visit. Some of these relate to the experience of the parent or pupil, and others to your own safety.
Before the visit
The school should have a lone working/personal safety policy in place and any visits should be undertaken following this guidance and any other staff code of conduct. Prior to setting out you should be clear about:
- the purpose of the home visit
- whether the visit is the most appropriate intervention or just a default reaction
- whether a pre-arranged visit or a cold call visit will be the most effective to achieve the best outcome
- whether you need to take any resources/activities with you to engage with a pupil
- whether there are any information, signposting or referral documents you need to share with the parent or carer
- whether there are likely to be any communication barriers, such as language.
You should make as many safety checks as possible prior to conducting any home visits. If risks are identified, alternative arrangements should be made to engage the parent or carer, such as meeting in school or a joint home visit. All home visits must be recorded in a calendar or diary which is shared with the SLT, and this must include an address.
During the visit
You may want to drive past an address first to establish the safest place to park and assess any risks in the area. Be mindful that you are visiting someone at home in a professional context and should have due regard for appropriate professional boundaries and conduct.
In the professional relationship between an attendance officer and parent/carer or pupil there is a power imbalance which you should be aware of and sensitive to. You are employed in a position of perceived authority and have made the decision to undertake a visit which the parent/carer or pupil has limited choice about. Mitigate this by doing the following:
- Introduce yourself, including your full name and role, clearly stating the purpose of the visit – be open and honest.
- Have a pre-prepared letter, calling card or compliment slip that you can leave at the property if there is no response to a visit.
- Be mindful that your visit may not be welcomed, and you may be seen to pose a threat.
- Identify anyone else who is in the property and clarify if the parent/carer and or pupil is happy for you to discuss information in front of anyone else who is present, such as wider family or friends.
- Before ending the visit, summarise the key points that have been discussed and any actions agreed.
- Make sure you have explained what you will be doing next (if anything).
- Leave your contact details in case the parent or pupil has any follow-up questions or needs to contact you.
You may not be invited into the home, and it may turn out to be a doorstep visit. In this case you need to be aware of issues of confidentiality, especially where there are shared entrances and hallways, for example, in a block of flats.
Safeguarding yourself and others
Attendance officers should ensure that they carry their allocated work mobile phone with them into home visits and that this is charged and accessible in an emergency (call 999). While written risk assessments for each home visit are deemed impractical, it is essential that attendance officers look for risk factors within the visit. These might include animals, aggression, isolated areas and hazardous substances.
If, in your professional judgement, a home visit appears to be dangerous, or you feel unsafe at any time, leave at the earliest opportunity and feed back to a senior leader. Also consider if there is any risk to the pupil and if any safeguarding referral needs to be made.
If, during a visit, you observe young children potentially alone in the home, you should call the police to attend while you are still at the property and take advice from them.
You should never enter a property and visit with a pupil in the absence of their parent/carer. However, it is recognised that on occasion children may come to the door when no adult is home. It is then up to you to use your judgement to decide how to proceed with the conversation.
It is good practice to identify your nearest exit upon entry to the house you are visiting and, if possible, to position yourself near it. Trust your gut feeling and if you feel something is wrong, make an excuse and leave the property.
Covid 19-risk assessment
In light of Covid-19, attendance officers should have additional risk assessment measures in place in line with current government and local guidance. This includes gathering information on any positive cases or symptoms, where possible, prior to the visit so you can assess if a visit is appropriate.
Complete a dynamic risk assessment when you arrive at the property, ahead of any other conversation. Discuss with the parent or family what measures will make them comfortable, such as wearing a mask, opening a window, or giving reassurances about any lateral flow testing you are required to undertake. If your assessment is that a visit poses a risk or that legislation guidance prevents it, consider alternative ways of engaging, such as a Teams call or a telephone conversation.
After the visit
There should be a mechanism in place for you to report your safety after a home visit, or for someone to identify if you haven’t returned from a visit and take appropriate action. It is important to make a written record of all home visits, including details of what was discussed and any professional observations, distinguishing opinion from fact, and listing any actions agreed. Take time to reflect on how you felt during the visit and why.
Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice: