Communication Skills, Cultural Awareness and Reframing the Parenting Conversation: Professional Development for Family Partners in Western Australia
Jaquie Mayne and Debbie Henderson, Community Development Officer and Executive Officer of The Family Inclusion Network of Western Australia, describe the various forms of professional development offered to family partners.
Q: Can you describe some of the professional skills you work on with family partners in training and supervision?
MAYNE: Some of the skills include communication and listening skills; validating feelings; some narrative therapy tools and strength-based approaches that can help families believe in their ability to find their own solutions and overcome challenges; and motivational interviewing techniques, which can help family partners form productive alliances with parents who may be stuck and not moving forward in reunifying with their children.
An awareness of the impact of trauma on children and families and having a trauma-informed approach is also very important, as is understanding domestic violence, mental health first aid and having an understanding of how to work with families that misuse alcohol and other drugs.
So is cultural awareness. In Australia, we need an understanding of the impact of colonization on Aboriginal people and the Stolen Generation.
Over 50% of children in care in Australia are aboriginal so we have to talk about context. There’s so much racism in this country that it’s a very difficult conversation to have. But we have to really be able to engage with each other in order to move forward.
Some of it is about exploring our own stereotypes and prejudices. It’s also about learning our history. We don’t get taught the real history of Australia at school. Recently we had a local aboriginal organization come in to talk through timelines and history from an aboriginal perspective. That allowed for some great conversations.
SHIFTING HOW WE TALK ABOUT PARENTING
MAYNE: Family partners also need support to talk about parenting. Parenting is a highly emotive topic, and discussions can trigger a lot of emotion and guilt. Many of the messages about parenting in wider society are laden with judgement and shame. Parents connecting with child protection are even more likely to have heard the message that they are not good parents. The way we communicate about parenting can add to that sense of judgement and shame, or help to shift the culture and understanding around parenting.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies, the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, and the Parenting Research Centre worked with the Frameworks Institute to develop a Toolkit and poster for talking about parenting.
The big idea is to for everyone to focus on the health and development of kids, and how to help parents in supporting this development. It’s about reframing the conversation FROM: effective or ineffective parenting, TO: supporting child development. You can learn more about this framework here and here.
When we talk about parenting, we use of the metaphor of navigating stormy waters to bring in the wider context of how things like health problems, financial difficulty and stress can make the waters rough and hard for parents to navigate. For healthy development children need life to be on an even keel. But for families experiencing poverty and stress, raising children can be like sailing in rough waters. Just as a strong skipper learns to be adaptable and to seek help when they need it, we can help parents to navigate life’s storms.