Having spent the last few months thinking about the issues of delivering work to families online, interviewing practitioners (here and here) and a parent, and reading commentary and reports, I have formed in my head a series of questions, the responses to which seem fundamental to safe and respectful delivery of this particular type of work:
- Power. Who is defining the problem, the need, and the appropriate response? What demands are made in terms of compliance and availability? How are solutions negotiated and achieved?
- Technology. Access to devices, to broadband, to knowledge and skills.
- Space / Time. The possibility of being able to think clearly and speak safely. The possibility of making use of suggestions made within current family life. The possibility of escape.
- Monitoring of risk and safety. Awareness of coercive and controlling behaviours and their impact on the ability to monitor this remotely.
- Knowledge and skill sets. Including confidence in the issues and in technology, curiosity, creativity.
All of the work I have looked at so far has been designed originally for face-to-face delivery, and then adapted for online work. In contrast, The Kent Adolescent to Parent Violence programme for families with children aged 10-18 experiencing Child and Adolescent to Parent Violence (C/APV), currently being developed and piloted in Kent, has been written almost entirely with online delivery in mind. It was interesting then to see how these questions had been considered and answered. Elaine Simcock, Practice Development Officer within the CYP Directorate talked me through it.
Elaine had observed a lack of confidence from practitioners around how to respond to the issues of C/APV within the authority – practitioners coming across the issue frequently in their work with families but unsure of how to respond. Several staff are trained in Non Violent Resistance (NVR) and there are pockets of NVR approaches being used by some staff in Kent. Some excellent parenting work was happening within Integrated Children’s Services but she identified a need for a consistent and more specialised response to C/APV. Elaine had training in the Who’s in Charge? Programme, and in NVR, she also attended the NVR Advanced Level Certificate Course-Working with Trauma, with Peter Jakob. Elaine set out to compare these approaches within her current role and designed a programme which would be relevant to the issues faced by the families within Kent, a vast authority with a complex mix of wealth and poverty, poor health, and high levels of migration. A small working group of interested practitioners/managers was set up and the group identified a small focus group of parents with a view to co-production.
Elaine was initially interested in where the current gaps in provision were as far as parents were concerned, and in where they were currently finding help, however useful it was proving; and co-production of this new resource was a non-negotiable in her view.
Starting with an introductory session, 2 focus groups of affected parents met online to look at the proposals, offer comments and changes. Their feedback was used to design the remainder of the programme, and then it evolved further, taking all the comments on board as it was piloted. As it stands, the programme lasts 6 weeks with a later follow-up session, a month after completion. Parents are invited to form their own WhatsApp group during the programme and for ongoing support once the programme has ended. It is designed to complement ongoing support from key workers, and to sit within the traditional “half-term” model of work making it feel less overwhelming. However, the possibility of revising this for individuals who might need longer to engage, or to access the materials and concepts, remains a possibility for the future. The focus is on “improving relationships and communication”, taking a non-blaming approach, and enabling parents to build a support network. Having a team of 2 co-facilitators as well as a technical support worker makes it possible to meet the needs of individuals within a session with virtual ‘break out’ rooms for small group work and a ‘quiet space’, if necessary, while the rest of the group continue their ‘work’. Currently the work is only with parents, though with an expectation that young people will be being supported elsewhere; and great care is taken in the way that the work is presented to the young person so as not to increase risk and danger to parents.
It was identified that facilitators need to be knowledgeable. The facilitation team for the Pilot is skilled, and offer a training session to parents (online) prior to the group starting to ensure parents are confident in their use of MS Teams, including break-out rooms. Printed manuals are delivered to those with less access to technology to enable them to complete exercises. While delivery remains small scale at the moment, there is a possibility of exploring the use of loaned devices if necessary. There are clearly issues of tech accessibility that will need to be addressed when the programme is rolled out further. It was also observed by facilitators that a smaller group seems to work better online. Seven parents in a group was successful; sixteen as originally envisaged might not be so good given the intensity of the content. It was felt a larger group might be hard to manage.
So far feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, a 100% retention rate speaking volumes in itself. Facilitators speak to each parent after each session. The Adolescent Duluth Abuse and Mutual Respect wheels, (adapted by Routt and Anderson from the Duluth Model wheels) in conjunction with a scaling exercise is used at the beginning and end, and locally used evaluation tools have also been brought into the mix.
Some verbatim comments from parents:
- Learnt not get too stressed and pick my battles
- Its ok to ask for help
- Parents recognised children were making choices, but before they were excusing it
- They were hiding behind diagnosis and it has changed their thinking
- Brilliant. Useful to know others are struggling and there is a support network
- Brilliant, was terrified of her boys, but while she is still apprehensive, she feels more in control and has greater courage
- Its ok to be angry, but not violent.
- Was feeling scared, but this has changed our thinking.
- Understand the children and self-better. More quality time and as a family. Very few meltdowns.
The presentation of this material will now hopefully lead to the possibility of more families receiving the help they need, while the staff working group are already looking at further areas to be addressed:
- How to better meet the needs of those with ASD diagnosis or other learning needs
- How to better access work with young people
- How to make it possible for families with limited tech access to be involved
- How to work with the police to develop a consistent response to C/APV across the authority
- How to continue to involve parents in the design and delivery of work such as this
“What makes programmes such as this work?” was a question we ended our discussion on. Awareness of the issues and confidence in the material and tech is a given, but beyond that? The consensus was that it comes down to relationships: relationships between parents and practitioners, the way they and their views and knowledge are valued, respected and developed; professional curiosity and a willingness for practitioners to not only support families but to respectfully challenge them; and the nurturing of an environment where parents are not patronised and told what to do, but are enabled to find new skills and confidence, and new understanding of the needs of their young people to move things forward and to maintain the changes that are achieved.
Elaine would like to acknowledge the hard work and support of everyone in the working group and in particular, the focus group of parents, who were so critical in getting it off the starting blocks. Their input cannot be underestimated in bringing this programme to its current stage. We hope to adapt and fine-tune the programme, following evaluations from the parents who attended the Pilot and the staff: Erin, Sophie and Stephanie, who facilitated brilliantly. Thanks also to Emma who provided the session around the Teenage Brain and who formatted the parent manuals. We now have an action plan in place to progress this programme more widely within Kent.
Huge thanks to Elaine for the time involved in producing this post. Please do get in touch if you have anything you would like to share about work with families experiencing violence and abuse from their children, or indeed about your own experience. We all have so much to learn still about this issue, but together we can bring our knowledge and understanding to offer hope – to continue to restore safe and healthy relationships within families.