What is your role, and what does it look like in the context of FDAC?
I am one of two senior family support practitioners within the Gloucestershire Turn Around for Children Service which sits within the family drug and alcohol court. My role has evolved over time to mainly focus on working with children involved in FDAC. I have over twenty-five years of experience of working with children and young people in a range of educational and therapeutic settings, equipping me with a large ‘tool-box’ of interventions to help engage the children I work with. For example, I am a thrive practitioner and use “theraplay” and draw and talk amongst other interventions. I use these to build up trusting relationships with the children, allowing them to open-up to me about their situations and feelings, and using this as a foundation to help them to understand what’s happening around them. These tools are also useful in communicating the children’s needs and emotions to their parents and teachers, and in how to meet these, which is a large part of my role. For example, the thrive programme and assessments determine a child’s emotional age; this is an important starting point in order to then tailor the work to meet where the child is in their emotional development. When I complete the assessment, I produce three action plans; one that I use, one for the parents and one for the school. This is to provide a triangle of consistent support around the child. My colleague, the other senior family support practitioner, has a background in drug and alcohol support work and she leads with this work with the parents. It’s been key that we have this wealth of experience behind us and can concentrate on our specific areas using our skills and knowledge, whilst coworking to support the family as a whole.
Parents in FDAC engage in intensive, therapeutic interventions. Can you share what this support looks like?
The support that parents engage in from our service is really varied, comprising of a range of multi-disciplinary interventions. Different team members lead on interventions that they are best suited to deliver from their skillset and experience, whilst all working together to offer integrated support. This includes interventions around drug and alcohol use, mental and physical health, parenting and other areas that parents feel they need support with. My focus is around parenting and helping parents to build on their relationships with their children. This is often by equipping them with the tools to understand their children’s behaviours and how best to deal with them, but also to understand their children’s experience of being parented by them. As the children I work with in FDAC have often experienced a significant amount of trauma, they will often have a lower emotional age than their chronological age and can display challenging behaviours. Using the thrive assessment I just mentioned is a useful framework to explain this to parents. It can help them to understand their children’s behaviour and reactions to things in a way that’s then easier to deal with, so helps with making tangible differences in the ways they approach this. Similarly, we offer non-violent resistant training to parents, allowing them to respond to challenging behaviour in a way that doesn’t escalate the situation. In addition to the structured interventions we offer around parenting, I think it’s really effective for parents to see how we approach the children and respond to challenging behaviours and situations. I have a lot of contact with the children I work with in the home setting, meaning I am often present if problems or conflicts arise. This means I can guide and support parents through dealing with this and I can model behaviour and then review and explain afterwards – highlighting what went well, what didn’t work, what could be done better next time. This is done in a sensitive way, focusing on their strengths. It’s great to see over time the progress that’s made and relationships getting stronger and having less conflict.
How do you amplify the voice of children and young people in proceedings?
A lot of what I do is getting the child’s voice, so that I can make sure they are heard, and that their feelings and opinions are centred throughout proceedings. I use therapeutic interventions to create an environment where children feel at ease and have the space to share their feelings. I amplify the children’s voice in part by communicating their needs to parents and teachers and guiding them in how best to meet these, as I’ve already touched on. In schools, I advocate on the child’s behalf when we have Child Protection or School Inclusion Meetings. I’m very much putting the child’s voice forward in these, by checking that interventions I’ve suggested have been followed through with and that the children have a safe space and a safe adult. I also amplify their voice directly in proceedings to all stakeholders involved in FDAC. Formally, this is via our formulations, which are fortnightly meetings where our whole FDAC multi-disciplinary team gathers in order to discuss the needs of the family. These meetings are where we initially form a family’s Intervention Plan by considering both the risks and protective factors and following this where we reformulate this based on the parent’s progress and any new information or developments. They are crucial as they ensure that support is delivered in a joint up approach and that the team are aware of all relevant information, whilst allowing us to reflect and revise support plans throughout the process. Within these, I represent the child’s voice. If anything’s happened, these meetings are my opportunity to say “they’ve said this”, “they want that”, “they’ve done that”; ensuring that the team are up to date, and that our Intervention Plan is centred around the child. The team regularly communicates outside of formulations, so if I need to share something regarding the child in between these I do so. I also amplify the child’s voice formally in court reports, where I set out what I have been doing with the child and include updates on how they are. Within these I use lots of direct quotes from the children. These are really powerful ways to include that insight from their level. So essentially, my role is to amplify the child’s voice and ensure that the FDAC staff, the school, the parents and everybody involved knows what’s happening for that child.
Families involved in care proceedings have often experienced trauma, loss, grief, and many other emotions leading to dysregulation and heightened fight or flight responses. How does Gloucestershire FDAC TACS work in partnership with parents to address these issues?
We have specialist mental health workers and substance abuse workers in our team who work with parents to address these issues specifically. This can include both working through those experiences and developing techniques to regulate their emotions or deal with situations that present challenges. So generally in my work, I am quite careful in addressing this with parents and try not to move into that area too much, as it is not my area of expertise. However, it does obviously come up sometimes as I am working so closely with the family. When it does, I support what the specialist workers have been doing without treading on toes or going into areas I am not qualified to, but by managing it in the moment with the tools and tricks that I’ve got. I approach these situations using a sort of mix of how I work with the children and my counselling skills, as I have a counselling qualification. I am sympathetic, empathetic and act as that listening ear, reflecting back some of the things they are saying. A lot of the parents I work with are very emotionally damaged and trauma will take them back to behaviours of a much younger age. I use a lot of the same strategies with the parents as I do with the children but by differentiating and changing these slightly to be appropriate. I also use these moments as a tool for them to understand their children’s behaviour. Overall, within my role it’s about listening and giving as much as I can in that moment to support them around what they’re talking about and taking part of the burden. I think that’s consistent throughout everyone in our team and the way we approach parents generally is part of this work, as well as the FDAC process generally allowing them to feel listened to, validated and believed.