- When first engaging with child and family partners, it is important to help them understand what your organisation does and the purpose and intent of the project.
- Child and family partners should know what will be asked of them, including what their participation involves practically, as well as how it may affect their families and their own wellbeing.
- Discuss confidentiality with child and family partners. This not only includes the privacy of the partner themselves, but also of their family, especially children.
- Consider what practical strategies you can provide to remove any barriers and encourage participation.
The importance of induction
Just like with staff in your organisation, the induction process with child and family partners is critical. It tells child and family partners what they are signing up for and how they will be supported. It also helps to avoid confusion and possible dissatisfaction.
“It really needs to be quite clear from the beginning what the scope of the organisation is and also the purpose of the project or task at hand. It’s important for people to come into this work with an understanding of what it is they are being asked to contribute to.”
– Emerging Minds staff member
Intent, clarity, and purpose of collaboration
When first engaging with child and family partners, it is important to help them understand what your organisation does and to be clear about what you are asking them to be involved in. The purpose and intent of the project should be clearly explained, and in many cases, written documentation should be provided. Child and family partners should know what will be asked of them, including what their participation involves practically, as well as how it may affect their families and their own wellbeing.
‘Why’ and ‘how’ your organisation will benefit from a child and family partner’s input is critical when considering the questions you will ask them and the nature of their contribution. If the intention and purpose aren’t clear, child and family partners may feel the need to share the intricate details of past traumas, difficulties or setbacks. This can create a problem-led account of the child and family partner’s experience, which may be upsetting for them and unhelpful for the organisation.
More specifically, an organisation can formulate questions about aspects of the child and family partner’s experience, such as:
- ‘What are the stories of strength, resilience and hope that have helped you to overcome adversities and challenges in your life? How could services have understood these stories to better support you and your family?’
- ‘What parts of your service experience did you find helpful? What improvements did this help make possible in your life/the lives of your family/children?’
- ‘What parts of your service experience did you find challenging? What would have worked more effectively? What would you have liked the service to understand about you/your family? What could have this made possible?’
- ‘What has helped you to feel listened to, valued and respected in your service experience? What has made you feel judged, stigmatised, or helpless?’
“Preparing to get involved was not straight-forward. Often, reflecting on the work that you are about to do is emotional and difficult work, so I found myself often having to carefully manage the kinds of things I was reading and thinking about, because emotions are usually not things that we have much control over in circumstances where we are reflecting on terrible times. I often had to prepare myself emotionally.
“I also often had to think about the impact that [participating] would have on the children; and because our children were really quite young when I was involved early on in the process, I had to make all of those usual practical accommodations about ensuring that if I was away, the children were safe and happy and secure and able to contact me. Make sure that all of their commitments for the days that I was away had been taken care of. Make sure their lunches were organised. All of those practical tasks had to be thought about and accommodated as well.”
– Child and family partner
Negotiating limitations of project and confidentiality
At this stage it is also useful to 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. You can remind people that they have the right to withdraw at any stage and ensure they are aware of this from the beginning.
It is also important to discuss confidentiality with potential child and family partners. This not only includes the privacy of the person themselves, but also of their family, especially their children. Invite participants to consider the possible consequences of including identifying details in their work with you, and support them to discuss this with their families. If they become part of public facing content, they may prefer to adopt a pseudonym to protect their identity and the identities of their children.
“I think for me, I have a fairly unique last name and I was still looking after my mum as an adult, so I really wanted to respect her within the experience of me doing this work, so lots of times I’d prefer that my last name wasn’t used. It just meant that if there was anything that was online or available, if someone was to search it wouldn’t necessarily link me back to Mum. I felt like that was the right and respectful thing to do for her.
“Also as a youth worker, I think the information that I share I am happy to share, but also not being able to be linked back to my current job was really important as well because this is my personal sharing, not my professional sharing.”
– Child and family partner
“In terms of preparing to be involved, or to engage in a certain project, I took direction from the organisation, and I was asked to have conversations with my family and my children around how they would feel about that. That hadn’t really occurred to me. I was so eager to talk about some of the experiences and some of the things I’d learned that I’d kind of forgotten that they have their own lives, their own identities.
“I was encouraged to think about the fact that we were making videos – they’re going to last forever. So we did definitely have conversations as a family around how they would feel about that, how they would feel if Dad was in a video somewhere [that] other kids may have access to, or [that] other parents may access. It might get back to them that their Dad was talking about his mental illness, or suicidality; how would they feel about that? So, we did have some really good conversations as a family, and we were encouraged to do that. And I was glad that we were encouraged to do that, because it meant that I could take the family on the journey as well, rather than just go off and do my own thing.”
– Child and family partner
Some other points to keep in mind when engaging with potential child and family partners:
- Consider the ages of the people you are partnering with. This toolkit provides information on engaging with children; however, you may also like to consider the varying ages within adulthood that you may be engaging with and tailor your approaches to be age-appropriate.
- Wherever possible, face-to-face meetings are especially valuable in creating authentic relationships.
- People may have barriers to participation (e.g. needing to travel with a support person; being unable to use public transport due to mental or physical health difficulties; having literacy issues or limited access to technology). Consider what practical support you can provide to reduce or remove these barriers and enable participation. You should have a sound understanding of the funds available for particular projects, and how you can obtain a diverse group of participants.
- Use language that is empowering, non-judgemental, and understood by everyone – don’t isolate people by using jargon or acronyms. You may like to take some time to reflect on the kind of language your organisation uses when talking about disadvantage and adversity.
- Consider that some partners may have lower levels of literacy or computer skills and may not feel confident asking for help. Be aware that sending some people a long text document for review may limit their engagement. It is therefore useful to offer multiple, optional ways for people to get involved (e.g. face-to-face, email, telephone, Zoom/Skype, surveys, interviews, focus groups, etc.).
“Having a one-year-old, I don’t have that time to sit down and read. It was really good that I was able to be involved with the organisation and not have to sit down and have hours and hours of things I had to read over. It was easy going and I was able to talk to the staff, and sometimes it was easier to talk to the staff in a phone call rather than read [the information]. So it was really good to be able to work that way and everyone was really flexible.”
– Child and family partner
- Flexibility is an important part of successful engagement. Remember that people’s own wellbeing and their family’s wellbeing must come first and, as such, sometimes they may need to step back from their partnership role for a time, or even permanently. You should communicate this clearly to participants from the start, 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 circumstances: adaptive and responsive.
- Once people are engaged, you may like to discuss with them what their interests, skills, experiences, and availability are like, and match these to partnership activities. In this way, you can make the most of the experiences and talents of children and families.
- Consider your systems for feedback – written and verbal – and make sure participants have the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback, as well as feedback to a manager if required. Processes for debriefing and providing support are vital and need to be discussed with participants early on.
- Use consent forms for people over 18 and under 18 years of age as appropriate for your organisation.
- Don’t forget about support and wellbeing!
“It’s been good to be able to share in a really positive way about my experiences, and I think it’s about knowing where that line is to not overshare, but to share the right amount and with the right kind of highlighted parts within that. I think for me it’s also been really important to unpack some of that story from my childhood.
“So one example would be my timeline of things; so each time when we come back and I share a little bit more, it helps me figure out where those things happened in that childhood timeline. I think it’s definitely helped me to be less embarrassed and less ashamed of my experiences as a child in that family, and it’s definitely made me more comfortable and confident talking with other people around whatever their experiences are.”
– Youth partner
Induction checklist: Child and family partners
This checklist is designed to make sure key points are covered with new child and family partners. The checklist may be completed over the course of several face-to-face, phone and/or email conversations as required.