There is much to be learned from developing relationships with children and families that are respectful, authentic, collaborative and generate a shared dialogue and ongoing shared learning.
Organisations can build their capacity to develop and implement effective child and family partnership strategies. This is a process that is ongoing, with outcomes that will be achieved over time. Start now with what you can. Start small if necessary and grow from there.
Partnerships with children and families can be an important and highly valued component of modern services. However, they need careful planning and support. Know what your purpose is, then involve children and families from the beginning.
Effective child and family partnerships can be validating and enriching experiences for children and families, and an opportunity for them to use their voices to affect change. They can remind organisations of the experiences and issues of living with or closely with adversity and enhance positive organisational outcomes.
Remember that staff have their own diverse experiences of adversity too: it’s not ‘them’ versus ‘us’. Creating a respectful culture of collaboration sees us all as people with diverse experiences.
Organisational leaders can foster in their staff an authentic enthusiasm for child and family partnerships, born from the desire to achieve the best outcomes possible for children and families. They can acknowledge and encourage workers who are supportive of and engage well with child and family partnerships. They can consider if it is possible to appoint a person who is willing to speak from their lived experience to the Board of Directors, if applicable.
Organisational leaders can also consider if they can create a position dedicated to the development, implementation and review of child and family partnerships. Consider that this skilled role will require resources, professional support, clear role definitions and training. Allow time for them to embark on this new area of work. Consider it an investment in the organisation’s future, as well as an individual worker’s professional development.
You may consider using these role descriptions as a template to develop your own:
- Develop and monitor appropriate policy and procedures to support the engagement of children and families from a range of backgrounds, depending on your organisation’s target populations (e.g. mental illness, alcohol and drug issues, trauma, adversity, child safety and wellbeing, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, culturally and linguistically diverse, and socially and economically diverse backgrounds) from across Australia (or across the area in which your organisation operates).
- Actively assist in achieving child and family partnerships in the development and implementation of strategy, policy, communication, information, research and workforce development resources.
- Leading and maintaining strong, collaborative and meaningful relationships with children and families in the development of strategic initiatives.
- Identifying and building relationships with children and families and promoting collaborative partnerships to enhance existing activities and the development of new initiatives.
- Gathering information from child and family partnerships to proactively identify and address emerging issues that may impact on the objectives of the organisation.
- Supporting the installation of a proactive approach and culture of continuously reviewing and improving resource planning, policies, services and programs as they relate to child and family partnerships.
- Ensuring the quality of child and family partnership approaches are continually evaluated and improved through developing a culture of risk awareness and responsiveness.
- Ensuring evolving principles and practices relating to child and family partnerships are included to facilitate continuous improvement.
Consider how the organisation can stand behind its commitment to child and family partnerships when challenges arise? This requires a commitment from staff at all levels to learn from challenges, be receptive to feedback and strive for continual improvement.
Remember that you will not always get it right, but within mistakes will be learnings and opportunities to continue to enhance your child and family partnerships. Be realistic: this takes time and resources. Start small with what you can. Don’t give up.