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Family Networks

What is Natural Family Networking?

All families have ups and downs. When times are tough asking for help is an important way of looking after your children and yourself.

Sometimes this support comes from specialist services and the professionals and volunteers who work for them. This can be important but in the long run we know that most of us get the best support from the people who care about us most; our friends, families and the community we live in – this is our Natural Family Network.

  • Why do we need natural family networking?

    Natural Family Networking is a way of reminding ourselves and our loved ones that we need each other. It means involving the people who know and care about you and your children best as supporters when you need help in family life.

    • Everyone has different strengths and you and your natural network will all bring different strengths to your 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.
    • Natural family networking can help us talk about things that are hard to deal with and find answers together.

    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 natural network knows you and your child better than any paid support workers.
    • They understand your family background, your beliefs, and what works best for your family.
    • They may well already support you and your children. You probably have people you call on in emergencies or just enjoy being with.
    • Your natural network is around you and your child 24/7, whereas a paid worker is not usually available after 5:30pm or at weekends.

    Family networking helps everyone understand what you need and what they can offer. Everyone can share the load.

    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 natural 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 natural network they are most likely to feel safe, happy and reach their potential.

     

  • This is different for everyone. You know who is important to you and your children. Together you all bring different strengths.

    Think about the people you can rely on. People in your network might have different roles in your life

    • Those who are always there to rely on through good and bad times.
    • Those who are good in a crisis.
    • 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 natural networks 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.

    Your natural family network is anyone who you feel is important to you and your child and is not a paid worker. They could include grandparents, a good neighbour, friends, family members, religious leaders or a scout leader.

  • “Why should we have a meeting – we’re family and friends, not workers?”

    Family meetings set aside time with your natural network to focus and openly talk through 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 natural network 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.

    Plan ahead

    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 lead 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 Sue 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?
    • 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 taking the lead should talk about ground rules to help keep the meeting calm and focussed and work together.

    Some useful ground rules might be;

    • One person talking at any time. People should treat each other with respect and use calm voices.
    • 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.

    And at the end of the meeting, the person leading 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.
  • Who’s in your natural network?

    • Family Safety Circles – help you to think about and connect with your networks, who can provide support for you and your children.
    • Genograms – help you build a pictorial image of your relationships – past and present.
    • Tree of Life – Drawing your Tree of Life to help you work out where the strengths are within your family network.

    Meeting Agenda

    • Helps to keep the meeting on track.

    Family plan document

    • Recording your family plan.

    Words & Pictures plan for children

    • 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 understand what is going on.

    Ground Rules document

    • Being clear on how you are all going to work together in the family network meeting.

    All documents are available to download below;

  • Animation in development

    Aimee is 7 and used to really love school, but now she is refusing to go; she cries every morning and has told her teachers she can’t come to school because she needs to stay at home with her dad [Jon] in case he gets poorly again. 

    Aimee drew a picture of dad and mum [Dana] arguing; Aimee said mum is really cross with dad because he won’t go to work, and they haven’t got enough money. 

    School contacted Jon and Dana and explain their worries for Aimee.  Dana and Jon sat down and talked together about what Aimee had told her teacher, that they were both worried about Jon’s health, he has been signed off sick from work now for 3 months and his wages are reduced to sick pay, and this has badly affected their finances – Dana and Jon hadn’t realised that Aimee being upset about going to school was based on those problems, and that they were both struggling with the situation.

    Mobilising the network –

    Dana and Jon were honest with each other that they would need support to deal with some of the difficulties they were experiencing and to help Aimee feel safe and happy to enjoy school again.  Dana suggested they talk to their friends Jamie and her partner Steve, they have all known each other since college and trust and value their views.  Jon suggested speaking with his mum Jackie, Aimee loves Nanny lots and often talks to Nanny about what is going on in her life and Nanny might be able to help Aimee understand that mum and dad are going to sort everything out. 

    Family Network Meeting -

    Jon phoned Jackie, Jamie and Steve and everyone agreed to meet on Saturday afternoon, granddad Mike agreed to take Aimee swimming while the grown-ups get together.  Jamie and Steve told Jon that they had realised things were difficult for him and Dana and they really wanted to see how they could help.

    They made and agreed the following plan at the meeting –

    • Jon is going to book to go to the monthly money advice session at the local Early Years centre because he knows they offer advice on budgeting and to ask about any other financial support available for the family? Steve is going to attend the advice session with Jon, for support and to listen to the information given.
    • Steve is going to stay alongside Jon and Dana in the weeks ahead to help them to fully follow up all of the finance advice given.
    • Once a month Dana with Jamie, and Jon with Steve, are going to take turns to take Aimee out for the day; they will swop the day around between them so they all get adult free time with their friend and Aimee has lots of positive social fun time.
    • On another weekend each month Aimee will have a day, and possibly an overnight, with Nanny Jackie and Granddad Mike while mum and dad have some time together.
    • Jon and Dana agreed that if either of them felt cross with each other they would say so and take time out, taking a bath or going for a walk, until they felt settled enough to explain their worries calmly [after Aimee was in bed or at school]
    • Jon and Dana, with Nanny Jackie’s help [she is good at drawing] are going to make a special words and pictures version of the family plan for Aimee to help her understand that mum and dad are dealing with the things she was worried about. They will make the words and pictures plan within 3 days.
    • Nanny Jackie will have a copy of Aimee’s words and pictures plan at her house so that if Aimee wants to talk about the plan or her worries Nanny and Granddad can support that conversation.
    • Dana and Jon will talk to Aimee’s teacher about the family plan so that school can help Aimee to understand what family adults are doing to sort out her worries and help her feel happy and safe at home.

    They also made the following Plan B to cover emergencies -

    • If Jon or Dana feel the situation with their finances or their relationship is over whelming and they can’t manage it positively and safely they will contact Steve; Steve is able to meet with them very quickly to help them look again at how they manage their worries and feelings
    • If any of the family adults see that either Jon and/or Dana aren’t managing their feelings in a way that is safe for for Aimee they will ask Jon or Dana to take time away from they family home; Jon would stay with Steve and Jamie, Dana with her parents. Alternatively, Aimee could spend a few days with her grandparents.
    • If Jamie, Steve, Jackie or Mike are worried about any thing to do with family life, Aimee’s wellbeing or family finances, they will talk honestly with Dana and Jon equally.

    After they had made their plan and the actions in the plan; Jon typed up the plan on his laptop and gave everyone a copy before they left.

    Everyone agreed to meet again in 6 weeks to see how their plan of support was going and if it needed to be changed or be updated.

  • Animation in development

    Saheed’s mum Ayshah is feeling unwell and unhappy and very much misses her own mum who doesn’t live in England.  Saheed, 11 months, spends lots of time sitting in his buggy and sleeping; Saheed cries when mum cries.  Saheed’s dad Abdul is really worried about going to work and leaving Saheed and his wife at home on their own but has taken all the leave time he can from work.

    Mobilising the network –

    Abdul talks to Ayshah about his worries and suggests they ask for some help and support from friends and family members and also suggests they contact her GP to talk about how Ayshah is feeling. Ayshah agrees to them seeking some help from people in their family and friend’s network.

    Abdul speaks to neighbour Suzie along the street who has a similar aged child because he knows his wife and Suzie have been to parent & toddler group together and wonders if Suzie might reach out to Ayshah and encourage her to take Saheed to the group sometimes.

    Abdul speaks to his sister Jamila who was a great help when Saheed was first born; he knows his wife and his sister have enjoyed chatting together about all sorts of things in the past.

    Abdul supports Ayshah to talk to her parents on facetime and tell them how she is feeling.

    Abdul supports Ayshah to make an appointment to talk to her GP.

    Family Network Meeting

    Ayshah and Abdul ask Suzie, Jamila and Ayshah’s parents (through facetime) to all get together to talk about the worries they have and to see how everyone can help. 

    Everyone came together and talked openly and honestly about the worries, thinking through how they could help, listening to Ayshah and Abdul about their views and wishes; everyone carefully considered Saheed’s needs as a small child – what help and actions did Saheed need from his mum and dad and members of his natural family network to be safe, well and happy.

     They made and agreed the following plan at the meeting –

    • Ayshah has made an appointment with her GP, Jamila is going to help her get to the appointment that day and will care for Saheed while Ayshah talks to the GP. Jamila is able to come into the consultation if Ayshah wants her to.
    • Ayshah and Suzie will take their children to parent and toddler group together at least once every week.
    • If Ayshah doesn’t feel well enough to go to the group, either Suzie will visit Ayshah and Saheed at their home or Ayshah and Saheed will visit Suzie at her house.
    • For the next two weeks Jamila will either phone Ayshah around 2 pm each day when Abdul is at work or call in to see her and Saheed at home.
    • Ayshah’s mum is going to either phone or facetime Ayshah every other day for a chat between 7 – 9 pm; Abdul will put Saheed to bed on those days so Ayshah can chat freely with her mum.
    • Suzie is going to pop in for short visits to see Ayshah and Saheed at different times when Abdul is at work.

    They also made the following Plan B to cover emergencies -

    • If anyone is really worried about Ayshah or Saheed; if they think Ayshah is too unwell to care safely for Saheed, they will phone Abdul so he can make arrangements to be sure Saheed and Ayshah are safe.
    • Jamila will provide emergency care for Saheed if needed at any time.
    • Jamila is able to help Ayshah and Saheed travel to appointments, or she can care for Saheed if Ayshah needs to attend an important appointment on her own.

    After they had made their plan everyone agreed to meet again in 4 weeks time to look at how their plan was going.  Abdul wrote up the plan and gave everyone a copy.

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.

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