I was very impressed with the professionalism of the service and literature and extremely grateful for the advice provided. In our case, the [Enquire] Helpline helped to secure a positive outcome from the local authority for our child, together with a commitment to the revision of the authority’s policy.
Working well with parents and carers
At last year’s Enquire seminar, Working smarter together for additional support, one of the discussion sessions was on Better Working Relationships by Working at Relationships. It was presented by a parent of a child with additional support needs, Willie Rutherglen, who spoke honestly and openly about his experiences of working with professionals and gave practical examples of ‘what works for parents’.
Given the current financial climate and commitment to ‘get it right for every child’ – Willie’s presentation was a good reminder that improving relationships with parents is not about spending more time and money on ‘relationship building’ but is often about how we engage with people. Here are a few of the points Willie raised:
- Trust should be two-way – parents trusting practitioners and practitioners trusting parents.
- Small acts of kindness or consideration mean a lot to parents and can help build positive relationships.
- Parents are only ‘amateurs’ at looking after a child with complex needs. For some parents it can feel like a second job, one they are not trained for.
- If a child has a bad day at school this can have a knock on effect on how the child behaves at home and vice versa. However, only sharing ‘the bad bits’ can have a negative effect on relationships, so it is important to share good and bad information.
- Parents often fear the worst. Honesty is important as the reality of a situation is often not as scary as what parents have been imagining.
- Avoid surprises – give parents plenty of notice of the times of meetings, when decisions are going to be made, changes to support etc.
- Understanding how a parent may be feeling about a given situation is helpful, particularly if it involves changes to support.
- Question parents – ask parents what works for them and why.
Willie stressed that we do not need to reinvent the wheel. Over the years considerable effort has been made by the many agencies working with families to collect their views on what works for them in their relationships with professionals. The key messages are distilled down to a useful set of guiding principles in the Working with Children and Families section of the Supporting Children’s Learning Code of Practice. Importantly, the benefits of spending a few extra minutes thinking about how to engage with parents or considering their situation may have long-term benefits in the future, helping to avoid any disputes or disagreements.