This series of short articles is intended to be relevant to you if you are in some sort of non-family early child and family support capacity for families who have a new baby or infant with impairments that are predicted to impact on health, development and learning.
After the first introductory meetings with the child and family there needs to be a mutual and spoken acknowledgement that you are going to continue working together. How many introductory meetings are necessary for this will depend on each family, and there can of course be a decision that you are not needed now that the parents know more of what you are offering. If you are going to continue offering support, this is a good time to take stock of the general situation of child and family and discuss together what shape and style the support needs to take in very general terms.
As ever, it is important to avoid assumptions that can result in misunderstandings. In pursuit of clarity, relevant issues to resolve can include:
- Is your primary role to support child, parents or both?
- Do you need to work as an expert with authority or in an equal partnership with parents?
- Is it your role to work directly with the child or indirectly by supporting parents in learning how they can help the child learn new skills?
- Will you decide what the child should be learning next or do you respond to parents’ views on this?
- Will parents be able to say at any time what they are struggling with so you can adjust your input accordingly?
- Can parents give you a preferred title that is acceptable to them and that they can use with family and friends? Examples are keyworker, field worker, counsellor, advisor, therapist, teacher, professional friend, advocate, special person ...
It might be that the answers to the above are not obvious to parents even if they seem obvious to you so open discussion is always helpful.
It might also be that you are the first professional person parents have met who can see the whole picture of the support they are getting and help them make sense of it. This can be because most practitioners will focus on their own work and area of interest without learning about who else is involved with the child and what they are working on. Perhaps, understandably, new parents have accepted every service that has been offered with the result that they are now subject to a hotchpotch of provision in which there is no coherent plan or valuable interconnections.
It can be very valuable for someone like you to learn the whole picture of provision around a child and, if parents feel it could all be much better organised than it is, discuss with them what can be done to improve the situation. Parents might be relieved to have someone acknowledge the difficult situation they are in. They might welcome suggestions about who to approach to change various elements of support and might be empowered by having your perspective. It is not unusual for parents to feel support is hopelessly fragmented and then value ideas about getting it more joined up and integrated in respect of the child’s wholeness.
It is my view that we should all aim for each child to have the best possible wellbeing and for the family as a whole to have the best possible quality of life. We know parents are typically short of time, exhausted and stressed and unfortunately we tend to accept this situation as par for the course. But we can help if parents want to talk about what the major stress factors are. It might be worry about the child’s future, it might be lack of sleep, it might be family relationships.
But also, it might be the hotchpotch of service provision which can reach chaotic proportions keeping the family more confused, tired and vulnerable than they need be.
Discussion about these issues can mean you and the parents are starting from the same place and avoiding confusions about your role. But you need to be clear too as you enter the discussion. What can your role be? A counsellor? A multi-agency keyworker? An advocate? An assistant parent? A professional friend? A link person?