Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Relationship-based practice with families in need

Hazel G Whitters, Senior Early Years/Child Protection Coordinator in a Glasgow Voluntary Organisation reflects on her experiences working with asylum seeking families.

Jungle, asylum, war, removal, displacement, help… the daily descriptors that we are becoming used to reading in our newspapers or viewing on our televisions as we eat an evening meal.

Familiarity can breed complacency. A plan of responsive action and prioritising resources is easy to achieve from the perspective of our armchairs as we view the world through our screens. I have great respect for policy and decision-makers who examine, and respond to the current humanitarian crisis from a strategic perspective inter-mingled with personal stories of human atrocities and suffering. But at best the world is not yet ’Getting It Right for Every Child’.

It seems so much easier to be a practitioner. Traditionally, child care and education workers are used to embracing new ventures, stimulated by the challenges, sympathetic to the child’s needs regardless of the cause, and immune to the frenetic political communications. Play is our medium of interaction and care. Play is our therapy to heal the effect of adversities, and to promote achievement. Play is our world’s common language.

Government statistics tell us that in the UK 36,465 asylum applications were made in 2015-16. I always think it is useful and relevant to place statistics in a context of practice. The cause of human needs must influence the approach to intervention in current proactive response by services. Many years ago practitioners encouraged parents to forget childhood adversities and focus on the future - the premise being that out of sight = out of mind. Today, research (Whitters, 2015, 2016) has given us a greater understanding of human development, and the significant impact of historical influences upon our abilities to operate as successful individuals and effective contributors to society. A high level of human involvement in a learning environment can only be achieved if accompanied by emotional well-being. A plan which has goals, and a process to recognise success. Empowerment which is gained through decision-making for a life-plan is key for human beings to rehabilitate post-trauma.

The voluntary sector is well-placed to respond to these needs as service planning and delivery can incorporate responsive personalised care. A therapeutic approach to supporting the needs of people who are striving to create a different inner working model is essential: Healing of mind and body for people who are determined to forge a positive pathway through life, and who have decided to embrace the culture of another country as a source of support. Engaging with parents who are seeking asylum is straightforward in practice as language and cultural differences are certainly not barriers but provide focus for interaction. Our clumsy attempts to reproduce dialects prompt laughter and shared moments of partnership with parents.

Interactive guidance, in the form of supported play with parents and children, creates a learning environment for families which provides ample opportunity for the promotion of mental and physical good health for children and parents. Experience has shown me that human beings can identify positive aspects from childhood and adulthood. A young teenage mum, who spent time in the infamous jungle at Calais, told me of the community spirit which enabled her to walk tall and view the world with dignity. She talked about the creation of an athletic club in the camp which enabled her to demonstrate physical prowess, and to shine amidst the mud and misery. The resilience of human beings is legendary…

Politicians, strategic planners – good luck. Practitioners - continue what you do best - relationship-based practice with families in need – innovative intervention which helps us to learn and improve alongside families who are embracing life from a different perspective.


Hazel G Whitters has worked in child protection for over 30 years and was awarded her PhD from the University of Strathclyde in 2015. Her thesis 'Perceptions of the influences upon the parent-professional relationship in a context of early intervention and child protection' is available online from the British Library

Whitters, H. G., (2016) The Parent-Professional Relationship in Child Protection. A WithScotland Briefing. pdf:

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