“Without this opportunity, professionals may not realise a parent’s potential and families may be separated when they don’t need to be.”
Ellie, one of our Family Assessment Practitioners, talks about her work and the importance of St Michael’s Residential Assessments in ensuring the best futures for children and families, and how St Michael’s is fundraising to create a sensory room for vulnerable babies and young children.
“It’s very varied”
Tell us about your role as a Family Assessment Practitioner. What is your typical day?
They vary so much. Mostly we’ll spend time observing the families, recording their interactions and the care of their children.
A percentage of my day would be spent directly with the families doing one-to-one work – things like the Parenting Keyring and the 5-A-Day programme, feeding back about what we are seeing.
Then other parts of my day are fun and creative. Creating fun play sessions, helping maintain the house, going out with parents into the community and showing them around.
And admin, there’s always admin. We need to record, firstly the good parenting we’re seeing, but also what we are worried about. The local authority needs to know what is going on with the child, so being able to record accurately is extremely important so we dedicate a lot of time to that.
“It is important to adapt the way we work to each family, in order to get the best outcome.”
Could you give some examples of the types of families St Michael’s has helped, and how?
We work with a huge variety of families with a huge variety of problems, issues and concerns.
More recently we have worked with a few families where either the parent or the children have learning difficulties. Because of this we’ve had to adapt the way we work with these parents in order to help them understand better where they need to change their parenting and why.
For example, instead of giving them sheets of paper to explain what needs doing, we might show them ourselves or use pictures.
We’ve also recently worked with a lot of families with substance misuse issues.
We are currently working on a programme to help these parents with their recovery and maintaining that beyond their stay.
For example, our ‘Lapse Plans’ are for when parents slip up and do return to using substances once they are back in their community. These parents need a plan in place for them to be able to move forward, stay on track and focus on the care of their children.
“Working as a Family Assessment Practitioner is a rewarding but challenging job”
What is the biggest challenge working with the families that come to these houses?
Building a relationship in the first place can be quite a challenge.
Parents can be very defensive and closed off when they come here, they don’t want to feel judged. It’s a very intrusive thing being watched, observed and recorded so forming that relationship and continuing the work can be difficult.
It’s important we get to know the parent and find a way in to build that relationship to allow the work take place. Some parents might never get there, where they’re willing to share with us. But most do.
Giving parents feedback can also be complex. Challenging feedback is often difficult for a parent to take on board and it can be hard for us to find the right way to give it sometimes.
We need to be able to maintain the relationship we have with the parents because we need the work to continue. But they need to know honestly what our opinion is on the care of their children if the situation has a chance to improve.
It’s not going to be helpful to them if we are not honest or if we understate our worries. So delivering bad news or feedback without creating a negative atmosphere is a challenge.
“Sometimes families desperately need this opportunity at St Michael’s to prove themselves.”
What would happen to these parents and children without this intervention?
I would worry for the children.
Sometimes families desperately need this opportunity at St Michael’s to prove themselves. They have every potential to be a good parent, they just need a push in the right direction and the support and nurturing to get there.
Without that opportunity, professionals may not realise that potential and families may be separated when they don’t need to be.
Equally sometimes there is no potential for parents to make the necessary changes within the timescale of the child. But we will have tried every possible tool and technique and intervention, and tested everything. Because of that, the child can be reassured when they are older that everything was done to try and get their parents where they needed to be, but it just wasn’t possible at that point in their lives.
“No one practitioner bears the full weight of assessing a family – it’s a shared thing”
We all work together and support each other.
We work hard here to make our team effective and efficient, to develop and grow as new members join and old members move on.
We have found a bond in our team and we work hard to keep that bond going.
“The five senses are very important in promoting children’s play, learning and development.”
The sensory room is a project to adapt one of our spare bedrooms – well, spare junk room really – into a room that families can use with their babies and young children to enrich their experience of the discovering the world around them.
For these children, their start in life has been rocky and one of great disadvantage. In the sensory room, parents will learn more about their children’s development and explore different ways of playing and interacting with them.
We will use the space to promote families’ sensory learning. This is a great way of helping parent and baby to bond, which is so important in the child’s mental, emotional and physical health and wellbeing, from the earliest stages to adulthood.
All five senses are massively important in promoting children’s play, learning and development. The more we can help parents explore those with their child, the brighter the future can be for them both.
That’s what we hope for the room, and what we’re currently fundraising for.
How much do you need to fundraise?
We need to raise £2500 to create a sensory room. For vulnerable babies and children, a sensory room can be a special place where they feel safe and secure to learn and explore the world around. It can also represent a safe space for parents to develop a special bond with their child. .
There is endless equipment you can buy for sensory rooms but sticking to a budget is key – it’s the use a parent makes of it that matters most. We will decorate the room in soft colours and have some calming lighting effects plus bubble tubes, sensory toys, visual and auditory equipment. Add in their own efforts and imagination and parents will be able to interact with their child and stimulate the senses in wonderfully new ways.
So we need to create a setting where they feel comfortable and confident and inspired to do that. That’s what we hope the sensory room will be.
To find out more about our Residential Houses, click here.
If you are interested in donating to help us create a sensory room, click here.