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Friday, 12 April 2013

Short films give practitioners skills to engage with troubled families

Written by Guardian Professional
The films explore possible responses to a range of scenarios, such as how to handle people who are verbally aggressive, by
Wendy Weal

The troubled families programme has made progress in encouraging agencies to work together at a whole family level. However, practitioners must also be better equipped to engage those families, in order to bring about change and achieve positive outcomes.

Louise Casey's recent report highlighted the need for "hands-on support and a persistent, assertive and challenging approach" to troubled families. For even experienced practitioners, such an approach can require new skills. A failure to acquire those skills can put practitioners at risk, or result in a negative outcome for the family.

This is true for practitioners from all agencies, but take social workers as an example. Much of children's services social work has traditionally focused on assessment, risk management and referral. As a result, some frontline social workers lack the experience or confidence to deliver direct interventions themselves.

Interface has supported those working with vulnerable and complex families over many years – working with local authorities and voluntary community sector organisations across the country to set up and run intensive family-support projects. Questions raised frequently by practitioners during supervision sessions range from what to do when family members are verbally aggressive or sexually inappropriate, to how to handle those that are depressed or in denial about an alcohol problem.

It can be difficult for practitioners to prepare for such emotionally charged situations and often there is only one chance to get it right. The use of short films can be an effective way to foster emotional intelligence and let workers explore possible responses to a range of scenarios in a safe environment. To that end Interface has worked with a leading production company to develop "troubled families skillsbites".

The films might explore something as seemingly simple as what to do when faced with an unanswered door. The initial reaction might be to walk away but, quite aside from the possibility of child protection issues, a practitioner cannot make progress with a family if he or she cannot gain access to them. The films help practitioners understand what is happening at an emotional level and to evaluate the risks and consequences of various options including doing nothing.

The use of film to explore possible responses to emotionally charged situations is not new. Many practitioners use it themselves – maybe unwittingly. How often is a conversation about the choices facing a character on last night's EastEnders used to prompt a discussion about choices closer to home?

Why not use the same approach to explore the choices facing the practitioner? Mobile technologies now enable the practitioner to access films online at a time and place to suit their busy schedules.

Family-focused approaches have proven to be effective in sustaining change and improving quality of life for the whole community. Vulnerable and complex families often have multiple problems spanning generations, so the whole family needs to be targeted to deal with the problem and involved at all levels of the solution. Engaging those families can be daunting. We must ensure practitioners are confident in their abilities to do so effectively.

Wendy Weal is managing director of Interface, a provider of support, training and services to those working with vulnerable families.