Engaging with families and children

Emerging Minds, Australia, 2018

Related to Child and family


Before identifying and contacting people to partner with, know what your goal and purpose is and have ways of communicating them clearly. Then involve children and families from the beginning.

Where purposeful and appropriate, ensure that children and families are invited to contribute to, assess and evaluate projects, resources and activities as much as possible. Remember that successful partnerships are ones of mutual respect.

Children and families are experts in their own stories and experiences, and while they are willing to partner with your organisation and share these experiences, they may have different levels of literacy or computer skills and may not feel confident asking for assistance around this. Wherever possible, use simple language that is easy to understand and offer different methods of communication.

There are many ways of implementing child and family partnerships and the approach taken may depend on a range of factors including what the task or activity is, timelines, resources, the skills of workers coordinating the project, and so on.

Some approaches to consider include:

  • Asking for feedback or review: this is where a document or plan is prepared and then people are asked for their opinion. This is not the most desirable approach, but is sometimes all that can be managed.
  • Consultation: this ideally means involving people from the beginning; discussing and having a dialogue around an issue or project, with the final decision usually being made by the organisation.
  • Partnership: this means involving people from the beginning, working in collaboration with participants on a project or issue. There is more equality and shared decision making in partnerships. Some examples of child and family partnerships are the web post ‘A story about family-sensitive work in practice’ and the paper ‘Supporting recovery in families affected by parental mental illness’.
  • Co-design: is a way of making sure that the people who will be affected by a decision about service development or provision are integral to the decision-making process. Co-design principles start with equitable partnerships and shared decision making. There is shared power in co-design. This practice does require a high level of staff expertise and resources. Some examples of co-design include these videos about mental illness for youth and the parents and kids sections of the COPMI website.
  • Family-led projects: these projects or activities are entirely led by family members, merely coordinated by the organisation’s staff. Some examples of family-led projects include this Family Driven Workshop , this Self-Care Tip Sheet and a ‘Parental Suicide Scoping Report’ (link not shared here due to potentially triggering content).

This work may be done using a combination of approaches, including face-to-face workshops, surveys, discussion forums, online meetings, phone calls and emails. Generally, a mix of approaches is most useful, remembering that not all approaches will suit everyone. In addition, your organisation may not be able to offer a full range of approaches. Have good communication with people and discuss their preferred method of communication and involvement.

Ideally, children and families will be involved in a number of areas of your organisation and projects. Including, but not limited to:

  • service design and planning
  • policy development
  • funding applications
  • co-facilitation (training staff)
  • development of resources
  • workshops
  • development of video footage
  • governance structures
  • authoring and co-authoring
  • sharing stories/personal narratives
  • staff selection (interview panels)
  • article/book reviews
  • input into and reviewing documents
  • quality improvement activities
  • speaking to the media
  • research.

Contacting children and families

Consider how many people need to be involved in certain activities and ensure a diverse representation of people.

If you are establishing a specific forum or working group, you may wish to develop selection criteria to ensure you have the representation you require, and you are not missing important voices. Consider also children and families who are thriving: what can we learn from them that helped them be resilient in this context?

Some suggestions for contacting children and families are:

  • Contact people directly through your service – do you or your colleagues know of people who may be interested in partnering with you?
  • Contact people via other organisations – get in touch with organisations who work with the populations of people you need to partner with and see if they can help you connect with interested people.
  • Contact children and young people through their parents/caregivers or support programs and services they are already engaged with.
  • Contact people through existing networks, newsletters, flyers, posters, email lists, local newspapers and hospital and GP waiting rooms.
  • Meeting people at conferences is also a useful way of connecting with interested partners.
  • Word of mouth from people you are already connected with is a valuable way of expanding your reach.
  • You may be able to use your website or social media to recruit (consider a ‘registration of interest’ form or email sign-up).
  • Finding hidden voices may involve identifying some people who are able to link into their own peer networks and act as conduits for information.

Children and young people

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states:

‘When adults are making decisions that affect children, children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account.’

Children and young people have the right to be consulted in decisions about what is best for them (for example, the development and delivery of services that affect them). In this space, it is critical to move carefully and remember that children must be kept safe. Refer to your organisation’s relevant policies and procedures, consider if all the adults in a room with children have appropriate checks and clearances, and consider what appropriate steps should be taken if a child discloses something requiring action (such as abuse or neglect).

No matter how small, the voices of children and young people are important. Children and young people have a right to:

  • comment about what is important to them
  • be provided with the infrastructure and sounding boards for their experiences and thoughts to be heard
  • be actively listened to
  • be given clear objectives and limits of their influence – what can they expect to happen from their involvement?
  • be provided with appropriate remuneration
  • participate in a way that interests them (this may include sensory expression, music, art, play or creativity in theatre).

Paramount in the participation of children and young people is the wellbeing of participants: they must be supported throughout their involvement (before, during and after). It is important that confidentiality is discussed and respected. To ensure this, participants should be made aware of how what they contribute will be used and by whom.

Your organisation may contact children and young people via their parents/caregivers or support programs and services they are already engaged with. If they are contacted via their support programs and services, all participation activities may be done in conjunction with the support workers known to the children. This allows children to feel more comfortable and supported.

Clear information and opportunities to ask questions need to be provided to parents/caregivers and children and young people prior to any involvement. Consider how you can make communication pathways clear for everyone. You may consider having two ways of explaining the activity: one for parents/caregivers and one in age-appropriate language for the children or young people you are engaging with. Remember to obtain any important health information as well as an emergency contact number for participants. Parents/caregivers will also be required to give consent for the participation of their children under 18 years of age.

Consider how to plan participation activities for children with their wellbeing as a priority. It may be useful to ask parents about the best ways to engage their children. Think about using a variety of age-appropriate activities as different people will have different strengths and interests, for example: art, music, drama, writing, small discussion groups, games and brainstorming. Be strengths-based, promote positive identity and social and emotional wellbeing.

At face-to-face activities, make sure participants know they can take a break from or leave the activity at any time and that a staff member is available to talk to them if required. Getting to know children and young people and their goals in life can often help with creating partnerships. Some children and young people may feel socially isolated, therefore, ensure participation strategies have a social element (for example, providing food during meetings), keep meetings relatively informal and promote social interaction.

Consider that it may be easy to identify children and young people who are struggling with their family situation, due to their behaviours or openness about what is happening for them. Pay attention to these children, but equally, identify and engage with children living with adversity who appear to be thriving. Engage with children who do not display any behavioural difficulties, who excel at school, who ‘hold it together’ and ‘don’t rock the boat’. What are their experiences? Do not assume they are resilient and unaffected, often they are profoundly affected.

Do your best to respond quickly to feedback, questions or suggestions to gain children and young people’s respect and keep them motivated. Be proactive in communicating, for example a reminder text message for upcoming meetings and follow up phone call to thank them for their time and check-in with how they are going. Make sure participants know who to contact after the activity if they need follow up support. You may also consider staying connected with young people outside of formal meetings, to maintain a positive, meaningful relationship with the organisation.

Where possible, involve children and young people in the planning of partnership strategies. In addition, children and young people should be informed of what their input helped to create once the project is complete. This enables a greater sense of ownership and a genuine partnership as they are involved from beginning to end.

If you intend to use creative or theatrical methods as engagement strategies, consider using professional theatre companies with expertise in working with children and young people. Aside from face-to-face activities, other participation techniques include surveys, wikis, emails and phone calls. Remember different methods will suit different people.

Remember that all the key elements of partnerships that apply to adults, also apply to children and young people: cultural, social and economic diversity; thoughtful engagement; thoughtful orientation; equal remuneration; clear communication; thoughtful relationship building; support; quality improvement; and capacity building.

Finally, this document Principles for Trauma-Informed Child Participation in Research and Resource Development by the Australian National University provides some valuable information for organisations engaging with children.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, health does not just mean the physical wellbeing of the individual. It is encompassing and refers to the deep connections and interrelationships with Country, kinship systems, spirituality, culture, social, physical and emotional wellbeing of the person and the community.

Recognising the centrality of culture to health, and respecting and understanding that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the experts in their lives is essential to building effective partnerships. Specific staff, planning, time, resources, and training need to be allocated for developing, implementing and reviewing partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.

For all workers, it will be important to:

  • reflect on their own cultural background and how it shapes their values and actions and the lens with which they view the world
  • learn about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures they will be engaging with, with each community being unique
  • respect interpreters, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander liaison officers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners as having specialist skills and valuable insights you can observe and learn from
  • listen deeply to the wishes of your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners
  • consider how your verbal and non-verbal communication may impact your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners
  • familiarise yourself with available resources such as policies, procedures, talking posters, visual aids, the expertise and knowledge of colleagues and external agencies who provide resources
  • participate in ongoing cultural immersion, training and professional development opportunities.

When developing effective child and family partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is important to:

  • use holistic approaches that work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in ways that take into account the full cultural, social, emotional and economic context of their lives – including an awareness of the ongoing legacy of trauma, grief, loss, stigma and racism associated with colonisation
  • remember to use trained interpreters where necessary
  • actively involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in every stage of program development and delivery in order to build genuine, collaborative and sustainable partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and build capacity within their communities
  • develop collaborative working relationships between government agencies and other relevant organisations in delivering services and programs, acknowledging the interrelatedness of key social and economic determinants across multiple life domains for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and cultural beliefs and practices that are important for promoting positive cultural identity and social and emotional wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • where possible, employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and involve them fully in program design, delivery and evaluation, and provide adequate training, where necessary, to build capacity in these staff
  • adopt a strengths-based perspective that builds and develops the existing strengths, skills and capacities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • develop clear plans for research and evaluation to identify successful aspects of programs, provide a basis to amend and improve, demonstrate success and build an evidence base to justify allocation of ongoing resources.

 In terms of connecting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, consider contacting key Indigenous peak bodies such as SNAICC: National Voice for our Children, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, and the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, to link with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health representatives and professionals who may be able to link you with interested child and family partners. The National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing 2017-2023, may also be a useful framework to utilise.

In addition, social media as well SBS NITV news for may be a valuable resource to promote an organisation’s participation program. And finding hidden voices may involve identifying some people who are able to link into their own peer networks and act as conduits for information.

Culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups are a valuable resource to an organisation, bringing diversity and cultural insight into traditional methods of understanding and managing adversity and engaging with diverse communities.

For services to be culturally sensitive and responsive, the involvement of people from culturally diverse backgrounds is important. Consider that children and families are not a homogeneous group, and therefore one or two people from CALD backgrounds may not be sufficient. You may contact people from CALD backgrounds through a variety of methods, including through services they access. In addition, ethnic radio may be a valuable resource to promote an organisation’s participation program.

Cultural competence requires professionals to develop an awareness of their own cultural worldview and their attitudes towards cultural differences. Remember that no one knows everything about other cultures; treat people as individuals and if you are unsure about something, ask them. There are no magical answers, but the focus should always be on working in partnership.

For some people from CALD backgrounds, the cultural stigma of adversity may have major impacts on a person and their family, where a person may not feel comfortable disclosing their situation within their community. Be gentle and sensitive in your approach.

Remember to use trained interpreters where necessary. Not all people from non-English speaking backgrounds are skilled or qualified to be professional interpreters or translators.

Socially and economically diverse backgrounds

Representation from diverse social and economic backgrounds is important as it allows your organisation to gain insights into particular social and economic situations and the impacts these have on people’s lives and the lives of their families.

Consider that children and families are not a homogeneous group and it is ideal to have representatives from a range of social and economic backgrounds.

When discussing social and economic issues it is important to create a curious, non-judgemental, supportive, safe and secure environment. Primarily this is to ensure safety, avoidance of harm, non-exploitation and respect, but also to facilitate open and honest dialogue.

To facilitate engagement, it may sometimes be helpful to provide extra support to these children and families, for example, by providing travel vouchers, monetary remuneration, or visiting them in their homes (where appropriate).


Remuneration is an important aspect of acknowledging the individual strengths and unique expertise of children and families.

Paying remuneration and covering expenses helps to show respect for participants’ time, knowledge, and often, personal emotional cost.

Children and families have reported feeling valued when they receive appropriate remuneration for their time and energy, and reimbursement to cover costs such as travel and childcare. It also helps to further develop authentic and genuine relationships.

While it is encouraged that remuneration be paid, it is also recommended that legal and financial advice be sought to inform your organisation’s remuneration policy, as there could be implications for both your partners and your organisation. As with everything to do with effective child and family partnerships, careful planning and consideration is key. If you are able to pay remuneration, then you may like to use this template to develop your own Request for Remuneration Form.

If you are genuinely unable to provide remuneration, consider other ways of recognising children and families’ contributions and letting them know how valuable they are (for example, providing a certificate of participation or supporting them to include their involvement with your organisation in their resume).


The time spent making initial contact is critical in building relationships moving forward.

Initial contact may be by phone, email or face-to-face. Wherever possible, face-to-face meetings are especially valuable in creating authentic relationships. It also allows for people to decide if this partnership may not be for them and not become involved. If your program is national and staff are travelling interstate, try to arrange to meet with new people who have expressed an interest in being involved, or meet with people you already know to strengthen relationships.

It is important to discuss with people what their interests, skills, experience and availability are like and to match these to partnership activities: proactively harness the experiences and talents of children and families.

When first engaging with people it is important to be clear about roles and responsibilities. Prepare participants with sufficient information about their role, including what participation involves practically as well as how it may affect their families and the potential impact on their own wellbeing. Also, be upfront about what you can and can’t do. What is the organisation funded to do? Often this is very specific and there is little room to move. Remember to remind people that they have the right to withdraw at any stage. Ensure people are aware of this from the beginning.

At the very beginning, it is also important to discuss any issues of confidentiality. This not only includes the privacy of the person themselves, but also of their family, especially children. Support participants to consider these issues and if necessary, to develop skills to talk about this with their families. Some people may prefer to adopt a pseudonym to protect their identity.

Discuss with people that your priority is their safety, avoidance of harm, non-exploitation and respect. Let them know you are available to support them and ask for any feedback they have with regard to this.

As well as positive and rewarding feelings, children and families may also have strong and sometimes overwhelming responses that could impact on their thoughts, behaviour, emotions or physical wellbeing.  These responses may be quite common and understandable given their past experiences, which may include trauma. Discuss with people their readiness to be involved in this kind of work. This includes people having their own support systems in place. This Self Care Tip Sheet is a useful resource to give people from the beginning of their involvement.

People may have barriers to participation (for example, need to travel with a support person, unable to use public transport due to mental or physical health difficulties, or poor literacy). Consider what practical support you can provide to mitigate these barriers and facilitate participation. Sometimes these people have a depth of knowledge and experiences that are truly invaluable.

Clear and concise communication is key. Always inviting feedback and questions. Different formats will suit different people for a variety of reasons (for example; time, stress, writing skills and anxiety). Use language understood by everyone – don’t isolate people by using jargon or acronyms. Consider that some children and families may have lower levels of literacy or computer skills and may not feel confident asking for assistance around this. Wherever possible, use simple language that is easy to understand. Be aware that sending some people a long technical text document for review may inhibit engagement. Offer multiple, optional mechanisms to involve people (face-to-face, email, telephone, teleconferences, surveys, interviews, focus groups, Skype, and so on).

Flexibility is also key to successful engagement – consider that people’s own health and their family’s health must come first and, as such, sometimes people need to step back from their partnership role for a time, or permanently. Communicate this clearly to participants at the start of their involvement so that they do not feel pressure to stay involved if they feel overloaded or when unexpected life events occur. Also ensure they know that if they have stepped back, they are more than welcome to join back in when their situation allows for it. Partnerships must be practical for people’s life circumstances: adaptive and responsive.

Consider your mechanisms for feedback, written and verbal, with the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback, and feedback to a manager or director if required. Mechanisms for debriefing and support are vital and need to be discussed early on.

Participation programs need time to develop to their full potential and for people to feel comfortable – don’t give up early. This needs to be carefully balanced with the additional need to draw on evolving partnerships with children and families to ensure new voices continue to be heard.

Finally, use consent forms for people over 18 and under 18 years of age as appropriate for your organisation.

Relationship building

Integral to child and family partnerships is a strong focus on relationship building. This means being genuine, authentic, reliable, supportive, available, communicating clearly, recognising people’s distress, holding space for emotions, and providing support throughout periods of participation.

These actions demonstrate your organisation respects and values participants, will help to sustain their involvement, strengthen relationships, and build trust. This in turn leads to relationships that are robust and allow for challenging and deeper discussions to occur in a respectful and non-judgemental space.

Reflect on these tips below to help you in your relationship building journey:

  • Recognise the potential power imbalance between the organisation, and children and families. Keep this in mind during all interactions. The goal is to be equals in partnership, or at the very least to minimise the power imbalance. Be honest with participants about how final decisions will be made (e.g. their level of influence within the organisation).
  • Be genuine and authentic – staff must truly value and respect partnerships with children and families.
  • Understand the people you are working with as whole individuals with valuable experiences, strengths, skills and difficulties.
  • Be reliable, organised and communicate clearly – this shows that you care, and you value and prioritise the people you are working with.
  • Be available if people need to communicate with you.
  • Be supportive – your goal is to create safe, secure and respectful relationships where people feel comfortable sharing their wisdom. Partnerships should be healing and empowering experiences; however, acknowledge that they can also be emotionally exhausting or triggering. Talk with people about their responses to their involvement.
  • Hold space for people’s emotions when they arise; stay present with them, don’t judge, listen deeply and authentically. This is not only respectful, but will build stronger relationships and allow for open and honest engagement. It is the quality of relationships that provides the foundation for effective partnerships. It also allows for people to feel safe to provide critical feedback, which is vital to quality improvement.
  • Provide people with this Self-Care Tip Sheet.
  • Always make contact (usually by phone) after a meeting or significant period of work. It is important to check-in with how people are going and get any feedback or reflections they may have.
  • Remember that your organisation is not the expert, this process is about shared learning and mutual respect.
  • Show that people can trust you by doing what you say you will.
  • Always respect confidentiality.
  • Language matters – words are important. The language we use and the stories we tell have great significance to all involved. They carry a sense of hope and possibility or can be associated with a sense of pessimism and low expectations, both of which can influence personal outcomes, and the outcomes of your project.
  • Respect participants – their input will help others and we can’t get these insights another way.
  • Prioritise listening – be genuine, authentic and curious about people’s experiences. Help people feel validated and understood.
  • People have things they will and won’t share about their lives and that is okay – be open about this. Often this is a good discussion for participants to have with one another, providing mutual support and learning on their partnership journey.
  • Be conscious of how much you are asking of people – is it too much, or not enough? Check-in with people about this. Some people will feel overused and others underused.
  • Be child and family centred. This is about outcomes for people, not the organisation.
  • Pay attention to ‘how’ you are doing things as well as ‘what’ you are doing.
  • Be trauma informed – remember that trauma involves experiences that profoundly affect people’s lives, coping skills, service needs and partnership needs. A trauma informed lens is more useful and relevant than an illness or disadvantage lens.
  • Ensure your engagement of people is not tokenistic. Actively listen to your partnerships, act on their advice, and respect them as experts in their experience.
  • Always provide feedback about projects people have worked on, and ensure they see the final product. This engenders a sense of ownership and pride, personal accomplishment and assurance that their ideas are taken seriously and acted on.
  • Remember: genuine participation is empowering, validating, strengthening and healing.


Orientations allow time to develop a shared understanding of the organisation and project with your partners. This allows for trust and authentic relationships to develop and reduces any ambiguity about the objectives of the task or group.

An orientation will be different in each organisation, and will also be different if the context is one-to-one, working group or governance group. Never underestimate the importance of a good orientation with clear two-way communication.

The following are some orientation topics to consider:

  • The organisation and systems it works within (diagrams can be useful here).
  • Who is who in the organisation? (for example, the organisations structure with photos of staff members and their roles).
  • The specific project: who, what, why, when. How will child and family partnerships fit in?
  • Confidentiality agreement – both for other participants’ privacy and information about the organisation that may not be able to be shared publicly.
  • Roles and responsibilities – be clear about these, including things such as objectives, guidance, expectations, limitations and feedback).
  • Lived experiences of children and families – be clear that this is what the partnership is about. People may also have professional roles to draw from, but the focus is on their personal experiences. Have other mechanisms in place to form partnerships with professionals in your area of work (for example, working groups or interviews with particular professionals in your field).
  • Agenda setting – what you can and can’t do. What is the organisation funded to do? Often this is very specific and there is little room to move. Need to be upfront about this.
  • Language – take some time to reflect on the kind of language both staff and participants use when talking about disadvantage and adversity. It may also be useful to discuss how people wish to refer to themselves. Some prefer ‘child and family partnerships’ and some prefer ‘lived experience partnerships’. Others prefer to be a ‘person’, ‘parent’ or ‘child’, while some may strongly relate to the terms ‘consumer’ and ‘carer’.
  • Purpose of the project and underlying principles – develop a shared understanding. Some examples of these may be: the goal is children’s wellbeing, trauma informed, child and family centred, strengths and hope based, collaboration and mutual respect.
  • Terminology and acronyms – provide a handout for easy reference if necessary to support participants’ understanding, don’t use jargon.
  • Governance forums – if you have a governance forum, have terms of reference and seek feedback on these. Also consider a diagram to visually explain the function of the forum.
  • Right to withdraw – remind people that they have the right to withdraw at any time, especially if after the orientation process they find the project or organisation is not the right fit for them.

Organising meetings or focus groups

Factors contributing to the success of meetings and focus groups are authentic respectful relationships, very clear communication and a genuine interest in participants wellbeing as priority.

Meetings and focus groups allow for people to travel to a meeting location (sometimes for several days) and undertake large pieces of work. They are a good time to undertake an orientation and also provide social opportunities (such as group dinners) which help to foster trust and relationship building between staff and participants.

The following are some planning tips to consider:

  • Give people as much notice as possible about any upcoming meetings.
  • Use clear communication, no jargon, make sure documents are easy to read (for example, good size font and colour coded for easy reference).
  • Be clear about the purpose of the meeting when inviting people. If the meeting may involve discussing potentially triggering topics, ensure people know about this ahead of time and remind them that their own wellbeing is paramount and of their right to withdraw from certain sections, or the whole meeting.
  • Be organised – know when and where everyone will be.
  • Discuss and arrange travel plans, accommodation, parking, childcare, taxi vouchers, petrol reimbursement. Make sure participants have all this information in writing before they arrive, especially if coming from interstate.
  • You may consider using this template to create your own letter to participants.
  • Consider some people’s special needs (for example, are they unable to use public transport due to physical or mental health issues, do they need to travel with a support person, do they need a disabled access hotel room, do they need an interpreter?). Ask about this ahead of time.
  • Consider your meeting venue. An effective process is to find a suitable hotel where everyone can stay that also has a conference room and associated meeting requirements (refreshments, lunch and AV equipment).
  • Alternatively use a meeting room available to your organisation and provide clear directions and taxi vouchers as required for people to attend.
  • Provide food and drink throughout the day, know dietary requirements ahead of time.
  • Provide a meal allowance for food not provided on an airplane or during meetings.
  • Provide a map of the local area, including things such as their accommodation, meeting venue, supermarkets, restaurants and convenience stores.
  • Provide contact phone numbers for at least two staff and relevant helplines (Lifeline, for example).
  • Have an emergency contact number for each person, before they arrive.
  • Organise a group dinner to build relationships, if feasible.
  • Provide people with any pre-reading (to be done before the meeting) that will make the meeting easier for them (ideally, this time would be paid for if it’s a significant amount).
  • Always have an agenda and provide it beforehand – having it colour coded is helpful as it makes it easy to reference for people who are often already presented with a lot of information.
  • Ensure the agenda is well balanced – cramming too much information in can mean quantity over quality and leave people exhausted.
  • Give people a ‘to share at meeting’ form so they can prepare how they’d like to introduce themselves, or a topic they’d like to discuss, ahead of time.
  • At the start of the meeting, discuss that your goal is to create a safe, secure, and respectful environment for people to share their wisdom and experiences. Be clear of the expectation that there will be no judgement from staff or participants towards one another. Be clear about confidentiality expectations.
  • Partnerships should be healing and empowering experiences, however acknowledge that they can also be emotionally exhausting or triggering. Talk with people about their responses to their involvement.
  • Hold space for people’s emotions when they arise; stay present with them, don’t judge, listen deeply and authentically. Ensure they know they can seek support from staff.
  • Provide people with this Self-Care Tip Sheet.
  • Pay attention to anyone who may be showing signs of distress and follow up with them privately as soon as you can. Check-in with other participants too, not everyone will show their distress outwardly. Having more than one staff member at meetings can help if a participant needs support while the meeting is going on.
  • Where possible, use visual aids to help explain and discuss concepts.
  • Balance different people’s points of view. Sometimes a meeting agenda may change dramatically if that is the group consensus. However, at times it may be more appropriate to stick to the agenda and organise an additional meeting (by Skype, Zoom, teleconference or similar, if face-to-face won’t be possible) to give time to new topics that are raised.
  • Balance the voices being heard and give opportunity for those who feel less empowered to also have a chance to speak. This may mean asking them for their opinion during the meeting, or speaking with them during a break to try to empower them to have their voice heard. You may even speak on their behalf, with their permission.
  • Participants who feel less confident may benefit from sitting near a staff member.
  • Have a suggestion box on the table for people to provide anonymous comments or feedback.
  • Have adequate breaks as sessions may be intensive and can bring up emotional triggers for people. Let people know they can step out of a session if they feel the need to.
  • With permission, share participants contact details with one another if they desire.
  • If the participation activity (focus group or committee, for example) involves a group of professionals, make sure there is more than one family representative, so they can support each other and be sure their views are given the same weight as those of the professionals.
  • If a meeting is not able to be held face-to-face, then prioritise using methods such as Skype or Zoom over a teleconference as participants find this more effective and less awkward.
  • Use consent forms for people over 18 and under 18 years of age as appropriate for your organisation and relevant legal requirements.
  • Have an evaluation form for people to provide feedback at the end of the meeting. You may consider using this template.

When organising meetings or focus groups, consider the following recommendations to mitigate some of challenges that may arise:

  • Adults are asked not able to bring minors along with them unless they also bring another person over the age of 18 to be responsible for the minor at all times.
  • Safety of participants is a key issue. All staff should regularly familiarise themselves with the support recommendations and work together to identify any participants who may require additional support.
  • It is important to be clear from the start what is and isn’t possible. Some novel suggestions are achievable, but others are not due to funding or other constraints. Be clear about your organisations boundaries and conscious that it can be easy to unintentionally create an ‘us versus them’ dynamic.
  • If your organisation is government funded and therefore unable to undertake formal advocacy, be very clear about this and try to offer alternative options regarding advocacy if this is not possible within the organisation.
  • Consider that it may be appropriate to have separate meetings or working groups for children, young people, adults and those who are also peer workers. All groups bring vital knowledge, skills and experience; however, there can be a perceived and unintentional power imbalance between the groups.
  • Face-to-face meetings take significant time and money to organise and therefore there are a limit to the number of meetings that can be held. In between face-to-face meetings, use communication methods such as Skype, Zoom and teleconferences to facilitate ongoing partnerships. One-on-one communication by email and phone is also a valuable way of collaborating and continuing two-way discussions and shared learning.
  • Consider that sometimes face-to-face meetings may result in strained relationships between participants. This can be intense for those involved, especially if they are away from their homes and usual support mechanisms. It can also make repairing any ruptured relationships more difficult once everyone is back in their home towns. Ensure your staff provide support around these issues if they arise.
  • If people are travelling to your meeting and staying in accommodation, it is helpful if they are able to arrive the day before and leave the day after the meeting. This allows for time for them to get orientated and not feel rushed, therefore supporting their wellbeing. It also allows for more time for staff to develop relationships and provide any necessary support, or for participants to provide peer support to each other.


Providing support to participants before, during and after periods of involvement, helps build stronger relationships and allows for more open and honest engagement.

It also helps to develop trusting relationships between facilitators and participants which assists people to feel safe to provide critical feedback, which is vital to quality improvement.

It is the organisations responsibility to strive to create an environment that is not triggering, distressing or retraumatising, but a context for enjoyment, anticipation, and the opportunity to make a contribution through sharing wisdom. Partnerships should be healing and empowering experiences. However, the nature of this work is that participation may be emotionally exhausting or triggering. Support is required before, during and after a period of involvement.

Reflect on these tips below to help you provide support to children and families:

  • Discuss with people what their local support systems are. Do they have good family, friend, peer or professional support that they feel comfortable using? If not, discuss these options with them.
  • Hold space for people’s emotions when they arise, stay present with them, don’t judge, listen deeply and authentically.
  • Provide people with this Self-Care Tip Sheet and ensure they can seek support from staff.
  • Pay attention to anyone who may be showing signs of distress and follow up with them privately. Check-in with other participants too, not everyone will show their distress outwardly.
  • Always make contact (usually by phone) after a meeting or significant period of work. It is important to check-in with how people are going, remind them of their own self-care, and get any feedback or reflections they may have from their involvement.
  • Keep connected during periods of low engagement. There will be times when there are fewer engagement opportunities due to less projects being undertaken or the need to share the work with other participants. Be transparent about this. Some people may internalise this as thinking they are not valued, when in fact they are.
  • Consider that people may feel boxed in and defined by their lived experience during their involvement with your organisation. They may feel wrung out being so focussed on the role they are consulting about. Support may be required around this. This is also why paying appropriate remuneration is critical. Giving people opportunities to extend in other areas is another useful way of acknowledging what children and families bring to the organisation. See Developing Skills for more information about this.
  • Recognise that people sharing their experiences with organisations are particularly (and ironically) vulnerable to stigma (often subtle and unintended) from within these organisations and possibly from other participants.
  • Ensure people feel recognised, understood, valued and brave in being prepared to share their stories.
  • Recognise people as whole individuals whose experiences have informed but are not the totality of ‘them’.
  • Allow people to provide support to one another if they wish.
  • Consider matching people with lots of experience in participation with those who are new to the process, as a kind of mentorship.
  • Remember to be trauma informed. Continue to reflect on this to ensure you are providing appropriate and useful support to your partners.
  • Some people may require support around balancing their personal and professional roles. Some people may feel uncomfortable sharing their lived experience in any of their professional capacities, while others may use it freely in a way their employer is not prepared for and may not support.
  • Also consider support procedures for staff who might be hearing trauma stories or stories of harm. Who debriefs the debriefer?

Video footage

Interviews with children and families are powerful and insightful. Video footage can add immense value, authenticity and learning opportunities to resources and training.

Children and families often share very personal details about their lives with organisations and contribute substantially to many and varied projects. It is vital that their wellbeing is paramount throughout this process.

Please note: when interviewing children about their experiences of adversity, this should be done after careful consideration, using audio only, as well a pseudonym, to protect their privacy. This should also be offered to adult interviewees. If parents or others refer to a child during an interview, ensure the child’s anonymity and reassure the parent of this if necessary.

Before undertaking a video interview, provide potential interviewees with this document: Things to consider before doing a video interview.  You may use this as a checklist when talking with potential interviewees. This is a critical process to undertake and includes discussions about the purpose and topics of the interview, their current circumstances or readiness to undertake such a task, and privacy issues for themselves and their family.

If your potential interviewee agrees to go ahead with the interview, consider these suggested processes:

To do prior to the interview

  • If at all possible, use professional camera operators and video editors.
  • Provide the interviewee with questions or discussion topics prior to the interview. Ask them if they need help preparing for the interview, for example, talking through things they would like to share and things they may like to keep private.
  • Invite them to bring a support person with them.
  • Invite them to come as themselves, dressed in what they feel comfortable wearing.
  • Always provide a drink, and consider providing a meal, or morning or afternoon tea to show you have considered their needs.
  • Ensure interviewees are able to travel to and from the venue easily and ask them if they need any assistance. This may include providing reimbursement for petrol or providing taxi vouchers for them and waiting with them for the taxi after the interview.
  • Be mindful of the time. Allow enough time so the interview is not rushed. Advise the interviewee how long you expect the interview will take, especially if it is likely to be over one hour.
  • Consider if you need an interpreter or Auslan interpreter and arrange if necessary.
  • Provide the interviewee with this Self-Care Tip Sheet and ensure they know they can seek support from you.

To do during the interview


  • Ask the interviewee to complete a consent form and explain to them clearly how their audio or video footage or transcripts will be used. Make sure they have an opportunity to include any special conditions.
  • If you are interviewing children or young people under 18 years of age their parent or guardian needs to complete the consent form and be aware of the purpose of the interview.
  • Ensure that consent forms for people over 18 and under 18 years of age are appropriate for your organisation and relevant legal requirements.

Their comfort

  • Ensure the interviewee is able to sit comfortably and consider flattering lighting and camera position.
  • Let them know where the toilet is and ensure they have an opportunity to use it.
  • Let them know they can use their phone as their families may need to contact them.
  • Make sure they are offered adequate opportunities to have a break for any reason (an emotional break, a toilet break, or if they need to contact their family).

Your approach

  • Be genuine, authentic and kind. Some people may become emotional when recalling an experience, this is OK and you can hold space and provide support for them through this.
  • Get to know the interviewee as an individual and respect their ideas and opinions without judgement.
  • Interviewees will come from a range of backgrounds and have had different experiences, and some may have been traumatic. Remember to be trauma informed.
  • Use language that is easily understandable; don’t isolate people by using jargon or acronyms. Don’t assume people will always know what you are talking about, stop and check with them if you are unsure if they have understood what you are asking.
  • Deeply listen to their story and ask them to elaborate on the parts that are relevant to your project. Often when you are interviewing someone for the first time they may want to tell you their story and not necessarily stick to the prescribed questions. This is an important process for some interviewees and you will need to carefully balance respectfully hearing their story with gathering the information you require.
  • Be aware culturally aware when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants and participants from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. You may need to do some research to prepare yourself in this area if it is new to you. But remember that no one knows everything about other cultures and learning for all of us is life-long; treat participants as individuals and if you are unsure about something ask them.

During the process

  • Ensure the interviewee understands they can withdraw from the interview at any time for any reason – they simply need to say clearly that they would like the interview to stop.
  • Ensure they understand they can say ‘no’ if they don’t wish to answer certain questions.
  • If necessary, let people have several opportunities at clearly articulating what they are wanting to say. Remember, the magic happens in the editing room.
  • It is likely you will have interview questions, but remember these are only a guide. It is important that you have a conversation with the interviewee and this may mean you are not able to stick strictly to your prepared questions. You will still be able to get the information you need, but perhaps in a different order or format than you had planned. Be flexible and responsive to your interviewee and consider their needs before the needs of the project.
  • People who require interpreters need to feel you value their feedback like anyone else. Break questions down so the interpreter can more easily interpret what you are saying. Make sure you look and talk directly to the participant and not the interpreter.

To do after the interview

Check-in and gather feedback

  • At the end of the interview, check with the interviewee if there was anything they said that they would not like included in the final video.
  • Provide positive and constructive feedback, pointing out what insightful or unique points they may have contributed without realising.
  • Ask the interviewee how they found it and for any suggestions for how to do better next time.
  • If the interviewee is overwhelmed by the process, ensure you are able to spend some time with them, or that they have self-nurturing or supportive plans made.


  • If at all possible, ensure you take remuneration forms with you and pay participants for their time (which may include preparation time considering the questions) as well as travel, parking, childcare or other costs incurred.
  • Ensure you take an evaluation form and stamped return address envelope with you. Give this to the participant at the end so they can complete and return it at their convenience. Inform them it is important they let you know if they have any feedback to help you do better next time.

Later on

  • Be available to chat with the interviewee about how they are feeling and ensure they know they can contact you over the coming days or weeks if they need to. Ensure they have a copy of the Self-Care Tip Sheet.
  • Follow up with a phone call a day or two after when they have had time to reflect – ask them when they prefer. It is important to check-in with how they are going and seek their feedback about the process.
  • Provide feedback to the interviewee about the outcome of their involvement; take the time to inform them how their input was used and about the result. This includes sending them the final project when completed.

Time to reflect

  • Remember the importance of trying to do the right thing, learning from your mistakes and trying to do it better next time.
Up Next: Contacting children and families

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