WHEN A FAMILY IS SO ANGRY THAT THEY DO NOT WANT TO PLAN OR TEAM WITH YOU:
First, listen. Hear their perspective, reflect back to show you are paying attention, and use your best listening skills to help the person or family feel heard. (Engagement.)
Talk quietly and at a pace that is calming (not condescending, but calming). Find points of agreement, ask for ideas, and above all, have your body language show that you are listening openly. (Engagement.)
Then, listen again. Repeat what you heard as the major points and make sure you heard correctly. Empathize with the emotions that are expressed and find ways to reinforce that you can see strengths in the youth or family. “I know this must be really frustrating for you and your family. You obviously care a lot about what is happening.” (Engagement and Assessing & Understanding.)
Let the identification of the child’s needs forge common ground. Encourage the family to think about and discuss their child’s needs. This will help refocus the conversation on the purpose of your involvement. (Engagement and Assessing & Understanding)
When the temperature is a little lower, invite the family to think about what help would look like to them. Bring forward some of the worries they have shared and help them envision having help from friends, family, and professionals in coping with this situation. (Teaming.)
Leave them thinking about a solution. Give people permission to think about it and let you know how it could work for them. Empowering people to make decisions that impact their lives is a key component of the Core Practice Model. (Teaming.)
Remind families they have not failed… they have just been temporarily derailed. Continuing to offer support and empowerment is the key to building trust, and allowing people to make their decision in their time is true respect. Keep it going.
WHEN A FAMILY OR YOUTH TELLS YOU THEY HAVE NO ONE TO INVITE ONTO THEIR TEAM, OR THEY ARE TOO EMBARRASSED TO ASK:
Empathize with how it must feel to wonder if you have any support or anyone you can trust – especially in a moment of crisis. Leave room and space for their ideas and thoughts as you speak together. (Engagement.)
Invite reflection: When was a time when you did have support or people who would come out for you? What was that like? Who was there? (Engagement and teaming.)
Offer to help parents and/or youth reach out to someone where the bridges were burned. Emphasize that you will not share case details, but that you will share the family goal and seek some way to get people together for support. (Teaming.)
Make finding supports a part of your offer to help. Teaming can be used to identify ways for children, parents and youth to build up a depleted network. It’s okay to start with a small team consisting of the individual/ family and a few professionals, and then build up the circle of support. The agencies involved can help, as well.
WHEN YOU ARE COMPLETELY OVERWHELMED WITH THE TRAUMA AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE FAMILY:
Take a deep breath. Oxygen helps.
Listen not only for loss, but for resilience. Many families tell us of loss and trauma from the past. In telling us these stories, they are also sharing what they have survived.
Remember that although you and the youth cannot rewrite the past, you can help them write the future. With the support of a team that has resources and commitment, this may be a turning point for a child, youth or family.
Create rituals to return to your own, real life. When work is done, take a moment to center yourself before returning to your life. This can include working out, yoga, meditation, a walk, a bike ride, music, art or poetry. It can even be as simple as taking the long way home to catch sight of something beautiful to you.
Remember: you are making a difference. Your presence matters, and you deserve to take care of yourself and your emotional and physical health at the end of a draining day. This is self-care, and will help you as you continue to work with families.