The Safe Project in Leeds have been successfully bringing parents affected by exploitation together to offer support to each other for several years. So, before Christmas I asked if they would share their experiences, learning and reflections with a few areas who are wanting to set up similar groups in their areas.
Peer support groups have been slowly popping up across the country, run in different and varied ways; facilitated by services or led by experts by experience. They all have a common purpose; to bring parents together who may be isolated from their families, friends and communities. Having other parents share their experiences, challenges and hopes within a space where they can be heard is invaluable for parents who often feel that their voice is not always heard. It is also worth remembering that Group sessions aren’t for everyone and one to one input is still important. Some areas are considering online groups, some are moving existing groups online and some are waiting to see how it might work when restrictions are eased. At the time of writing we are now in another National Lockdown with restrictions ramping up so the need for connecting with parents and each other is greater than ever. One thing we have learned from the coronavirus pandemic is that exploitation continues to thrive yet families, children and communities can become even more vulnerable and isolated.
The meeting we held was invaluable; talking about the real challenges as well as the enormous benefits it can bring to families. I have summarised below some of the key points from these discussions. Many services are fearful of parents coming together as parents may be angry about what is happening, or not happening, parents are traumatised and they may be at different stages of processing what is happening to their family. Yet the benefits of parents collectively coming together sends out a powerful message that parents and communities are not alone and as practitioners we have so much to learn from them to enhance the safeguarding partnership. For example, the parents from The Safe Project group created a video and training materials around language and victim blaming which is currently being used by the children’s workforce. A message that I really took out of the meeting from the Safe Project was to “give it a go”, parents are ready to be connected.
So here is the summary of the points raised,
- Culture – Is there an existing culture which values parents as safeguarding partners and value why they need to come together?
- Relational working is key. Groups have worked well when the facilitators already know the parents and have built up that trusted relationships with them.
- Group agreement – to keep everyone safe this must be established and owned by group.
- Sometimes it is better to start with a smaller group with a short timescale and review it and then slowly grow it.
- Risk assessment – including confidentiality, group dynamics etc
- Purpose – is it a group for parents to meet and share support or a forum to engender change?
- Finance – is there a budget to pay for transport, refreshments, worker time, venue etc,
- Worker time – who is going to organise the group, collect parents, and how many workers?
- Online considerations need to be given about parents confidence and access to the tech as well as thinking through how to keep the group safe and engaged.
- Incorporating new parents into existing group
- How do parents refer in, do they have to have a social worker etc?
- Evidence and evaluation – we know it makes a difference but can we measure it for future funding?
Also go to the Leeds Safe Project Blog in NWG blogs to hear directly from the group and how it benefitted them.
We are holding a follow on meeting online on TEAMS on 10th Feb 1 – 2pm for those who are wanting to or have taken the plunge in setting up peer support groups for parents so please email me if you are interested and would like to attend [email protected]