The Safe Project is part of Leeds Children and Family Services and offers a forum for parents and family carers whose children are at risk or have experienced criminal or sexual exploitation. The parent’s forum was established four years ago and runs on a three weekly basis with between 10 to 12 parents for family carers attending. It is facilitated by two family practitioners. This articles highlights what parents feel works well for them and why parents keep attending month after month.
Parents were asked to share what the forum offers them, when living with young people who are experiencing exploitation. This is what they told us. The forum offers them a safe place where they can confidentially share their experiences. They feel listened to and are able to learn from others and build up their confidence in managing the complexities that comes with exploitation. Having a safe space allows them to “vent” and express their stress in a way that can then be managed by their peers and the workers at the Safe Project. It allows them to be part of a group environment which supports them to build their confidence. This helps then feel more self-assured when attending multi-agency meetings for their children, which increases their voice and influence around their child’s plans.
The forum is ever developing and practitioners listen to what parents want. Guest speakers are invited to share knowledge and understanding of different topics such as impact of trauma, teenage lives – after all, knowledge is power! Parents also report that they enjoy the social time, fun and laughter that the forum offers. The room is homely and quality refreshments are provided. Members are always welcoming to new parents. It offers parents a safe space to cry and share experiences that are difficult without been judged.
At the Safe Project we recognise exploitation can be isolating and this group tries to support with this. We recognise that when assessed risk reduces, services can drop off and this can be a lonely time for families. The impact and memories of the experience can remain. The forum welcomes parents and carers at any stage of their journey and they can continue once other services have ended.
When others ask what helps keep the forum going and how it remains successful, we reply ‘pure determination and dedication’. We prioritised the time every three weeks to ensure it runs.
The forum has a structure which contributes to it feeling a safe space. We remind the group of the working agreement, which includes everyone’s voice being equal. This helps the practitioners manage dynamics and the different personalities within the group. In the event of any challenges, a restorative model is used.
The parent’s forum is a choice for parents; it is never used as part of a plan. When parents want to attend they are more likely to stay. A large part of maintaining a successful group is offering lifts to and from the group when required. We recognise transport can be a barrier.
At times numbers can fluctuate. As workers we have to hold our nerve. Varying numbers impact on the group dynamics and the group works better with a higher number of parents. However for those who do attend, it’s important that we continue to provide the space. The whole team works hard to identify new parents and family carers.
Most importantly, parents find their voice which we encourage and promote. Over the last year we have noticed a real motivation for change from parents. They want other to understand how it for them. We have explored and offered them opportunities to participate in projects which shape services through voice and influence of parents and carers. This included creating a video called ‘Listen to me, as well as my child,” in which they challenge the language professionals have used and share what has helped them. Parents are now presenting workshops as part of conferences linked to exploitation. They are also part of sessions with senior managers to promote family influenced service. These various opportunities have given them a great sense of respect and belonging and confirms that people do want to hear what they have to say. These opportunities are ongoing and have given our parents and family carers a real drive to create change for their young people.
Here are some quotes from parents and carers who attend or who have attended;
- I’ve enjoyed been part of a group of parents, hearing the strength and determination to keep their young person safe from harm.
- I have enjoyed feeling I’m not alone and to speak confidentially to others
- Not feeling alone
Our new video ‘Key Messages for Professionals from Families Effected by Exploitation’ can be found on our YouTube channel
The film can be viewed HERE
Joanne Ross Family Practitioner The Safe Project – Leeds