‘I want my child to be happy and successful at school’. That’s probably the main reason why parents join Family Group. And that’s a genuine, heartfelt wish for lasting change. But real life is messy. And for many of the families who come… well, there’s a lot of stuff in the way. Sometimes that wish for change can feel a long way from coming true.
So, I want to think about five ways in which Family Group is relevant in the messiness of real life. How is it that people engage in Family Group when their immediate ‘front line’ needs could so easily take priority?
1.The crucial people are in the room together
If you want a child to be happy and successful in school, you need key folk engaged in achieving this together. The voices of the child, the parent and the school need to be heard. In Family Group, the key folk are all there in the room and their work together is supported by the independent mental health specialist, the therapist SFW provides. And all these folk know why they’re there. The meeting is purposeful, honest, familiar. The structured model helps maintain that essential feeling of safety.
2. We do not set the speed
The second way in which Family Group is relevant to front line need is the pace we travel.
Change happens slowly. Change needs time. We go at the pace of the client. We can accommodate blips. There isn’t a Family Group client manual – there’s no programme to be completed. Family Group is more like a new route you adjust to, or maybe a diet that you gradually realise really suits you. We recognise that, when it comes to relationships, people learn experientially: you need to feel trusted, valued, held in order to develop those capacities within yourself.
3. Co-production generates rich resources
What keeps Family Group relevant to immediate needs? Practical problems in daily life need practical solutions. The range of skills and experience in the room is such a bonus. You get lots of relevant advice and ideas from other folk in your area, with children at your school. As relationships develop, friendships grow. Help is offered. Problems are shared. The model is truly co-productive. We’re all in it to help: the good outcomes are achieved by group effort. That heartfelt wish for your child easily morphs into your engagement in helping the other children in the group.
4. It comes to me
My fourth point re relevance of Family Group to front line need? Family Group is local, accessible, familiar. It’s in school. And pretty much everyone goes to school. If you’ve got a primary aged child, you’re going to be there most days. School is one of the easier places to ask for help: you know they’re there to serve your child too. Family Group is another one of the things school offers. You might notice a mention in the newsletter, a flier in the lobby, or your child’s teacher might chat to you about it. It might be another parent who first mentions Family Group to you. You’ll have seen the therapist in the playground: other parents have a laugh with her, and she seems friendly.
5. We get to the root of the issue - together
We invite the messiness into the room, weekly. Every Family Group has a ‘What’s hot? What’s been tricky or difficult?' section. ‘Have a think with your adult, and see if you can find something from this last week that you’d like to change. Maybe it was in school? Maybe at home? Maybe it happened just this morning, on the way in.'
Current difficulties are encouraged into the room each week. Sifting through, we select the most pertinent difficulty for each child and think together to turn the problem into a target. Then, we practice implementing that target during the session, as we work through our programme of games and activities. Where the problem re-occurs, we harness the group to reflect on the challenge and help find a way forward. It’s bit by bit. It’s learning by experience. We might have to work at the same area for some time. But eventually we get to the nub – what it is that really needs to be understood – and the driving energy behind the behaviour is redundant.
An excerpt from the Executive Summary of an independent research project into the effectiveness of Family Group earlier this year provides me with my conclusion;
"The strength of the Family Group model, from the evidence provided by these 23 families, is rooted in the ‘physical’ co-productive nature of the intervention. The therapist, the school based partner, the other families, in a safe environment, in school ‘the child’s daily world’, all contribute to effect positive change for parent and child.
The practical outcomes include improvement in the behaviour of the child and academic performance; improvement in family relationships and between school and parent. The emotional outcomes for parent and child include improved confidence; a sense of achievement after hard work; improved self-esteem and happiness; the new experiences of reflective thinking and emotional containment."
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