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Frontline Voice: A caseworker’s perspective on CAP’s Vulnerable Client Team

Jennie has worked at Christians Against Poverty (CAP) for almost two years and is part of the Vulnerable Client Team (VCT). Jennie has a background of working with vulnerable adults and therefore has a wealth of experience when handling the many cases of complex vulnerability here at CAP. 

What is complex vulnerability?

‘Complex vulnerability is a term used to describe clients who have deep-rooted issues, which affect not only their ­­ability to pay back their debts but also their ability to navigate life. Complex vulnerability is not a black and white concept, there is a whole multitude of circumstances that can make people particularly vulnerable, which may include mental ill health, a terminal illness or a period of bereavement. Frequently we find clients face a multitude of difficult and often interrelated circumstances at the same time, which makes it essential they receive the extra and holistic support they need.’ 

What is the VCT?

‘The Vulnerable Client Team are a group of dedicated caseworkers trained to deal with cases of complex vulnerability. This team is spread across the client-facing side of the charity, to help identify and provide support for vulnerability at all points during the client’s journey out of debt. While CAP’s entire service is designed to cater for the needs of the most vulnerable, we exist to make sure our head office provides effective support to those that need that bit extra, and to complement the holistic support that is provided locally through our network of debt centres.’

How does the VCT complement CAP Debt Centres?

‘With home visiting CAP meets the client in their homes, we are able to learn a lot about them and really understand who they are and their situation. The face-to-face contact builds trust and develops relationship with CAP’s frontline staff, which in turn allows caseworkers to utilise this if we learn that a client is in an especially vulnerable circumstance. There have been countless occasions where I have been able to request a food shop for a client who has nothing in their cupboards. The befriending initiative gives clients a friendly support who can take them out for a coffee and just be a friend if they feel things are getting too much. Being able to draw on this face-to-face support is essential for us and having the VCT gives our frontline staff confidence that their clients’ complex needs are being accommodated at head office too.’

What’s the hardest thing about being on the VCT?

‘I think it’s the knowledge that behind every case is a real person. I have a background of working with vulnerable adults, but I am still shocked at some of the cases I come across. A few weeks ago I was on the phone to a client who was in a lot of debt. On this occasion she had run away with her two-year-old and was threatening to commit suicide. Her daughter was in the room with her. I was able to talk with her and calm her down, eventually contacting someone in the vicinity to go in and help. It was a case that took up the whole day, but having us there to talk to and be a voice of compassion had saved her life. There are also times when I have to make a difficult decision, such as calling social services or the police, in order to protect a client’s best interest. This can be upsetting for the client, but sometimes the case is so desperate you need to call in advanced services.’

How have you seen the VCT make a difference?

‘CAP has always had a strong drive to help the vulnerable and as CAP grew there developed a need for a team to take on the more complex cases. This has helped free up the rest of my team to focus on progressing cases forward and they can give high-quality support to the bulk of our clients as part of the debt management process. They know they can draw on the VCT for extra support where needed. The extra training and experience I’ve received as part of the VCT has also allowed me to train and empower other caseworkers to handle vulnerability themselves and with more confidence.’ 

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