This series of short essays is intended as an introduction to TAC or as a refresher course for everyone around babies and infants who need special support for their development and learning. The article can be translated for use in newsletters, networks and websites in any country
First Principle: When a few professionals are working to support the same child, they should talk to each other. In this way they can share observations and tell each other what they are doing to support the child’s learning and development.
Before we dismiss this as being too obvious, we should ask parents if the people supporting their child and family communicate with each other effectively. In my experience there is generally insufficient communication across disciplines and between agencies. The result can be added confusion for parents (sometimes with contradictory advice) and separate approaches to the child’s development and learning that might or might not fit together.
Do we need research into this situation? It would certainly be good to research the damaging effects on children, parents and families when people do not talk to each other, but I cannot imagine any research concluding that it is best practice for people not to talk to each other!
If people are not talking to each other, or not doing so effectively, there must be reasons. If you are a practitioner, many reasons might already have occurred to you. If you are a parent or family member, then you will have your own insight into the situation. Here are some major reasons that occur to me:
No mechanism or protocols: While practitioners might feel the need to talk to the other practitioners around a child, there is no mechanism for it. This can be true both within a single agency (for example health, education, social care or voluntary agency) or across agencies. When there is no mechanism, it is almost certainly because there are no established multidisciplinary and multiagency protocols requiring people to talk to each other. This is the fundamental situation that TAC is designed to address.
No time or place: The duplication, confusion and chaos that can happen when people do not talk to each other waste valuable time for children, families, practitioners and managers. Time is used more effectively in a TAC system with less time spent writing reports no one will read, rationalising how many people need to work with a child at the same time, and reducing the number of regular appointments child and parents are subjected to. Practitioners’ communications with each other can be face to face or virtual. TAC does not require meetings separate from the where the child and family are. In this way they can be in the child’s home or, if virtual, with parents fully engaged. (In my experience, virtual conversations with parents about a child should only happen once an effective face-to-face relationship is established.)
No trust or self-confidence: Practitioners are human beings and there can be emotions and attitudes involved in sharing their work with other practitioners. This is natural in all professions. The children and families we meet in early child and family support can be very challenging with few hard-and-fast answers and few ready-made solutions. Often we are working without certainty and this can make us wary of exposing ourselves to others in conversations around a child. I wonder if this is particularly true for newly-qualified practitioners? A TAC system provides time and support to help grow confidence, trust and respect.
When people around a child do talk to each other, what will it achieve? The list includes:
- They will start relationships with each other in which respect and trust can grow
- Anxious parents will be reassured to know their practitioners are talking to each other
- They can share their observation about the child
- They can tell each other what approach they are using and what goals they have for the child’s development and learning
- They can easily remove any duplications and mismatches in what they are doing
- They can start becoming a mutually-supportive team with shared aspirations.
You will see there is nothing weird, unprofessional or revolutionary in this first principle. But it is very difficult to make it happen in the UK and in other countries I work in. Staying separate seems to be the default position. What is the situation where you are? Is there effective communication between the people around a child? If not, what stops it happening? What makes it so difficult? What problems does this lack of communication cause for children and families – and for practitioners?
The Team Around the Child (TAC) approach is free for anyone to use and no permission is needed.
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There are books about TAC here
Peter Limbrick, March 2021