- The Benefits
- Who is in My Family Network?
- Family Network Meetings
- How to Arrange a Meeting
- Virtual Family Meetings
Why do we need Family Networking?
Family Networking is about the strengths and resources in your network of family and friends; involving the people who know and care about you and your children best as your supporters when you need help in family life.
- Sometimes it can be hard to let friends and family know when we are struggling and need help to work out what will help.
- Family networking can help us talk about things that are hard to deal with and find answers together.
- Everyone has different strengths and you and your network of family and friends will all bring different strengths to your family life.
Relationships are all about give and take - it might be you who needs a bit of extra help right now - but further down the line it might be you who is offering support to another person in your network.
Getting together the people who care about you and working out how to get the support you need can be a big relief. Your network will know they are important to you and that you value their opinion and help
- Your family and friends network know you and your child better than any paid support workers.
- They understand your family background, your beliefs, and what works best for your family.
- Family, friends and members of your community may well already support you and your children. You probably have people you call on in emergencies or just enjoy being with.
- Your network is around you and your child 24/7, whereas a paid worker is not usually available after 5:30pm or at weekends.
You can plan with them how you will deal with problems and manage the challenges you face with their help. This will help you all feel better and more positive about the future.
Children really benefit when those that care about them work together;
- It will help your child feel safe and cared for. They will know the family network they can depend on.
- When children have one person to turn to it is great but they will benefit from a wider circle of support.
- They will learn it is good to ask for help when you need it, and to help others when you can.
- They can make the most of the different strengths of those who care about you. ‘Grandad is great at calming me down’ or ‘Sheila is good at helping me with homework.’
- Seeing the adults who care for them work together on any problems and difficulties helps children learn to problem solve and develop resilience and personal strengths themselves.
Research tells us that when children are strongly connected to their family and / or wider network they are most likely to feel safe, happy and reach their potential.
This is different for everyone. Your family network is anyone who you feel is important to you and your child. They could include grandparents, a good neighbour, friends, family members, religious leaders or a community group leader. You know who is important to you and your children. Together you all bring different strengths.
You might feel like there is a professional plays a big role in supporting your family – you could ask them for advice and to contribute to your family network. However the most important people are you and your friends and family.
Think about the people you rely on, those who are always there for you and your children through good and bad times.
- Those who are good in an emergency.
- Those who are able to offer emotional support to you and / or your children.
- Those who are good at helping with practical things like lifts to appointments or DIY.
- Those who help with one particular thing – like a neighbour who can always do the school run on Thursdays.
Some people in our network of family and friends live nearby, others live long distances from us. We might have lost touch with others over time. It’s not about where or who they are, it’s about their importance in your life, and the life of your child.
“Why should we have a meeting – we’re family and friends, not workers?”
Family meetings set aside time with your network of family and friends to focus and talk openly about any difficulties happening in your life and the life of your children.
This focused discussion is different to the more general conversations we have in our normal day to day lives because it is about making a plan together to make things better.
The reasons for holding the meeting will be different for everyone but might be because of;
- Struggles with your relationship with your child and how you are parenting and caring for your child.
- Finding the practicalities of running a home hard - like managing money, cooking and cleaning, getting the kids to school on time.
- Your own health problems and how that impacts on your ability to be an active and involved parent.
Everyone finds things hard at times. You shouldn’t feel bad about asking for help. Getting support in place is an important first step to things getting better. A family network meeting can help you plan how you will get back on track.
A family meeting gives everyone time to properly understand what is going on for you and your child and talk through and agree what support they will offer.
Take a look at Aimee and Saheed’s stories. Their parents and other members of their family network, including friends and neighbours, worked together to deal with difficulties in family life that were affecting the children. Both children saw a change for the better in their lives and things got better for their parents too.
A family meeting can be held any time you need to bring the members of your family network together. The meeting is a special time to talk about the worries and difficulties that are happening for your children and you.
When and where?
It might feel hard to get everyone together at the same time.
- If someone can’t attend in person they could phone in on loudspeaker or by video call.
- Family meetings can be held virtually on Zoom or WhatsApp.
- Those of you who can do face to face can meet at the home that suits best.
- Decide the time that best suits you all. Sometimes evenings or weekends are easier.
- If someone doesn’t feel able to be a part of the support network try not to be upset by this. It is important the people who attend want to make the commitment to you and your family.
Family meetings work best when there is good preparation beforehand. It is helpful to have the following items sorted out and agreed before the meeting;
- Who will run the family meeting and help everyone stay on track. Who is best at keeping everyone calm and focused?
- Prepare an agenda – this is a list of the things you need to talk about so you can make a plan of support together.
- It is important your children’s thoughts, worries and feelings are known and part of the discussion.
- If your children are very small you and your network can think about this. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they feel.
‘I think Baby John feels lonely when we leave him in his cot late in the morning’
‘I think Zofia has lots of tantrums because we don’t get out in the fresh air’
- If they are a bit older - Who in your network is the best person to talk to the children about their feelings? It might be a family friend or neighbour - someone they are comfortable with.
- When can this happen? It is good if the children can have plenty of time and feel relaxed when they do this? Going for a walk, baking a cake can all help the conversation flow.
- What will the children do during the meeting? Are there games they can play or is there someone who can take care of them / take them out?
- Organise refreshments – before, after or during the meeting. This doesn’t have to be fancy – a biscuit and a cup of tea is fine.
On the day
Try not to worry too much on the day of your Family Network meeting. Remember the people who are coming are the people that care about you and your children.
- Decide who will take notes and write out the plan of support you agree.
- They will need to share copies after the meeting.
- Older children benefit from a simple version of the plan. It will help them feel confident that their important grown ups are getting their worries sorted out (look at Aimee’s word and picture plan).
At the start of the meeting the person running the meeting should talk about ground rules to help keep the meeting calm and focussed and work together. *Click here* to see an example of a ground rules document.
Some useful ground rules might be;
- People should treat each other with respect, use calm voices and only one person should talk at any time.
- Focus on the future and not things in the past.
- Keep the needs of the children at the centre of the meeting.
- If anyone gets upset or frustrated agree that they can take a break and re-join when they are calm.
- No one should offer to do more than they can deliver on. It is important that the help will definitely be there as agreed.
You might like to look at the Ground Rules that Saheed’s family network agreed for their meeting - *click here*.
And at the end of the meeting, the person running it should;
- Check the agenda items have been covered.
- Re-cap on who is doing what to meet their part of the plan.
- Have a ‘Plan B’ to use in rocky patches.
- Agree who is going to update the children on what is planned.
- Decide if you need to meet again and if so when.
Sometimes it isn’t possible for people to meet up face to face. This might be because they live further away or it is hard to find a time that suits everyone. The Coronavirus outbreak also means we need to be much more careful and follow social distancing rules to keep us safe and well.
Family Meetings still work well if getting together in person isn't possible. The family meeting can be held virtually to make sure as many family and friends can attend as possible. You could use group WhatsApp, Messenger, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. I may be that your meeting has a mixture of some people being able to get together and others dialling in virtually. This works really well if you have people who live a long way away or you need to follow social distancing or self-isolation rules.
How it works
The person who has agreed to run the meeting arranges and hosts the meetings.
If you are using WhatsApp or Messenger for your meeting you can set up a group and add your family and friends in advance. On the day the person running the meeting makes the group call at the agreed time.
If using Zoom or MS TEAMS send those who will be attending virtually an invite or the meeting ID and password, if they do not have access to Zoom or MS TEAMS you can simply dial them into the meeting by calling their phone number.
Things to think about
- If someone in your child’s family network is going to take part virtually in the meeting, it is best to agree before the meeting who is going to be with them at that time. Are you happy if their partner / friend / child is present when your personal family information is being shared?
- Agree with the person who is leading your child’s family meeting what will happen if ground rules are not respected. For example, if someone who has not been invited is allowed to listen in to the meeting the call will be ended.
- If someone important to you and your child can’t take part in the family meeting in person or virtually, ask the person running your meeting to ring and ask them to confirm details of the help and support they want to offer so this can be shared in the meeting.
Things to remember
- WhatsApp – you are limited to 8 people in the call.
- MS TEAMS - everyone taking part via the invite will be able see to each other and their phone numbers. Make sure everyone taking part understands this.
- Zoom – everyone taking part by adding the meeting ID and password will be able to see each other.
- Zoom meetings can, depending on Zoom licence conditions, be limited to 40 minutes.
- MS TEAMS and Zoom have the same functions as each other.
- Whatever sort of device being used to take part virtually in the meeting – DON’T FORGET TO CHARGE THE BATTERIES before the meeting.
- If anyone has BT Call Guardian (landline) they will need to add the meeting phone number to their phone so BT allows the call to go through.
- Remember, Remember – unless the microphone on a device is muted, everyone can hear what is being said in the meeting and what is happening around each other even if they can’t be seen, that includes if someone goes to the loo or has an argument with someone else!
Who’s in your family network?
- Family Network Circles – help you to think about and connect with your network of family and friends, who can provide support for you and your children.
- Tree of Life – Drawing your Tree of Life to help you work out where the strengths are within your family network.
- Helps you to get organised ahead of the meeting.
- Helps to keep the meeting on track
- Being clear on how you are all going to work together in the family network meeting.
- Recording your family plan.
- You can record your family plan in any way you wish to but you might find this template helpful.
- A child friendly version of your family plan. You don’t have to be an artist to do this – just find your inner creativity; use photos, pictures from magazines, draw stick people, things from the garden, anything that will help you explain to your child what is going on. *Click here* to see an example of a child friendly plan.
All documents are also available to download below.
Aimee usually loves going to school. Her dad has been poorly and been off work which is causing her parents to argue. Aimee is refusing to go to school just in case her dad gets poorly again.Having family and friends work with you to make a plan can be an important part in helping everyone get back on track.
Saheed's mum Ayshah is feeling unhappy and misses her mum who doesn't live in England. Saheed has been getting upset when his mum cries. It is really important that Ayshah's family and friends make a plan to support her and help her feel herself again.
Who Can Help?
If you have any questions or worries about your child you can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.
If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of the Healthy Child Programme team.