Rachel Brown-Coordinator of Strengthening Families Service
Tell us about Strengthening Families and the service it provides
The Strengthening Families Programme is
an evidence based fourteen session family skills programme which aims to
improve parenting, family functioning and communication skills within familial
relationships. The families who engage with the
programme find themselves dealing with an array of challenging circumstances
from the small difficulties with communication that cause problems with family
living to the more severe issues, such as mental health, challenging economic
circumstances, history of domestic abuse, addictions, low school retention, to
name a few. What families who have
completed the programme have said to us is that they wished this programme was
available for every parent.
We are currently offering this programme to teens aged 12-16 and their parents who find themselves in need of a bit of additional support. The SFP programme provides a holistic wrap around support to all families attending by ensuring a support agency is also linking in with the family weekly throughout the programme.
SFP has been running around County Galway since 2009 and has been supported by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul who through the Maureen O Connell fund have invested in the Development Coordinator and Administrator’s post for a three year period due to their confidence in the positive outcomes of the programme for Galway families. As part of a regional interagency strategy, the programme has gone from strength to strength. The success of the programme is down to the commitment of the families who continue to attend, the agencies who drive its development, a committed and eager team of facilitators, along with other funders and individuals who give their time and skills to ensure its success. Since 2009 we have successfully run ten programmes around County Galway with approximately 80 families having participated and benefitted greatly from the programme.
What does your role as coordinator involve?
My role is extremely varied. I am involved with every level of the Strengthening Families programme in Galway. Each day brings different tasks and the work involves all areas of coordination from policy development to staff recruitment to furniture removal. Primarily however I am responsible to the interagency steering committee regionally who oversee the strategic development of the programme throughout the county and who support the development of a sustainability plan going forward.
How did you find yourself in this role?
The interagency nature of the work involved in Strengthening Families attracted me to this role. It goes back to the old adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, families need support and it is not necessarily one agency that can provide that support. The number of agencies in Galway that had stood behind Strengthening Families and who have committed to its delivery has been testament to the outcomes for families. I am honoured to be part of that work.
What is the biggest sense of achievement you get from your job?
Following a programme, we get feedback from families and agencies referring those families to the programme and to hear the positive impact that the programme has had in their daily lives is very rewarding. It is also extremely rewarding to see the families group over the 14 weeks and to bond as a group. The peer support families gain from the programme is one of its largest successes.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far?
There can be a fear with families that engaging in a programme like this means that they are doing something wrong or they are ‘bad parents’; this is not the case. Everyone needs support in their journey through life and being a teenager is hard, as is parenting a teenager. This programme is about building support both within the family and building on skills that are already there. The biggest challenge is working through this stigma because families have so much to gain from being involved with Strengthening Families.
What do you think the biggest challenges facing families today are?
Families have so many challenges to face these days-there’s the economic climate which causes shortages in homes, the greater availability of alcohol and drugs can generate conflict in homes. I think parents are more aware of the dangers that face teenagers which in turn causes more stress between them. The technology gap between parents and their teens is also a huge challenge, this causes fear for parents and often results in trust issues between the parents and teens. Look it is not easy, we can go on and on with a never ending list of challenges, each family has a different set of challenges and that is the lovely aspect of Strengthening Families, it is a skills based intervention, no matter what the challenge, these skills are universal..asking for help is often the biggest challenge for families in light of all of the above.
How do you think this service is helping society in Galway?
The main strength of this programme for families and society in Galway is that it highlights the normality of encountering difficulties in our families. Time and time again we hear from individuals doing this programme that it was a fantastic support for them to hear that other families were going through similar difficulties. It gives individual family members a voice while also giving each family member a responsibility to engage with change if they desire better functioning family units.
Do you think there is enough awareness and use of the service?
No, I would like there to be a much wider awareness of Strengthening Families in Galway and that families would recognise the benefits of engaging with it. Saying that, however, each time we run a programme in Galway City, we have a full compliment on the programme and we are not short of applications. This I feel comes down to the work of the local agencies around the county who are highlighting the benefits of this programme to the families they are meeting. This programme is bigger than one agency, it is an interagency response to families who need support and its effectiveness in encouraging cohesion and support within families is fantastic.
In what way is this service of benefit to Dóchas don Óige?
Dochas don Oige has been an extremely supportive agent for Strengthening Families in Galway. The service and its manager, Helen Kelly, are extremely committed to the success of the programme and we continue to be grateful for their ongoing support with programme delivery. I believe that because we use Dochas don Oige as a base for one of our programme, families are coming in the door of a service with which they might not otherwise come into contact. This reduces barriers that might exist and encourages positive relationships between the service and local families and communities. Through their involvement with Strengthening Families, Dochas don Oige, can also become more visible to services other than those they typically engage with and this may possibly into the future open up further points of referral to the service.
On a personal level what did you learn from working in Strengthening Families?
I have learned that there is a huge appetite out there from families who are looking for skills based supports. Every time we run a programme, we encounter the usual grumbles of ’14 weeks? Is there no way you can run it for 7 instead’, and we repeatedly tell families, in order for real change to occur, you need to give it time. The change that can happen over 14 weeks for a family can be quite significant.