These blogs demonstrate how the team have adapted to the challenges of Coronavirus to support service users to continue to engage and to offer much needed support during difficult times. Within the Recovery Near You service, Wolverhampton 360 supports young people and their families with substance misuse issues. Below you can read the accounts of two of our Family Practitioners who share their experiences of engaging with young people in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Since lockdown has eased and schools have reopened they have started to resume some of their school visits in order to meet with some of the young people they support.
Family Practitioner perspectives
During lockdown I have been able to deliver a positive and balanced level of service to families and young people. I guess we have to understand, we have to work within our limits and with the resources we have available.
I feel we have been saving a lot of travel time attending meetings around the city by attending meetings on Microsoft Teams. In the long run there will be a benefit in terms of time management. Previously staff have spent a lot of time travelling around for appointments each week. This will also save us money on travel expenses. Although I do feel that certain meetings would need to be attended face to face, this is not the case for all of them.
I have made contact with families via text, telephone calls and thankfully video calls in the later months. I feel I have had to adapt each contact to the family’s preference as not all families are happy to be on video calls; some are more comfortable having calls and feel uncomfortable being seen on a screen. Some families do not mind having video calls. My observation is there is some disguised compliance with families and the ones who generally don’t want to engage are the ones who don’t like the video calls as professionals would get a better insight of what is happening within the family home.
Generally I have been able to speak to and see the children I support on video calls and have been able to touch base with them on a weekly or fortnightly basis. There has been the occasional barrier when parents are hovering around listening in or prompting the child about what to say so confidentiality can be an issue at times. I have had to be firm and say to parents they need to enable me to speak to the young person alone. Although at times I do not push this too much as it may compromise the young person so this barrier can be overcome once children are back at school, either we can go back into schools too or schools can facilitate one to one sessions via Microsoft Teams.
Some parents who do not want to engage do not answer their phones and I have spent a lot of time chasing parents, whereas in a normal situation we would just go into school to see the young person.
Moving forward in a positive way for the children who are shy and not so sure about talking on video calls I have been able to incorporate my family dog Bailey into my session. It’s a great way of building rapport with young people, breaking barriers and to get the young people to start talking. I have a young person with ADHD who will not talk much to professionals, but he has asked if he can virtually stroke my dog which was a great breakthrough!
In terms of team support, we have team meetings regularly and we have a Wolverhampton 360 WhatsApp group so we can contact each other at any point during the day if we need to talk or need support, and we are also supported by our managers whilst we are working from home.
When I came home on the afternoon of 23 March, my immediate concern was whether I would be able to access IT. I’m not tech savvy and have had quite a history of difficulties in that department, not all of them my fault, I hasten to say. It doesn’t help that I don’t speak the language, so I was full of anxiety as I attempted to set up my new home office in this strange cyber world that I am still inhabiting five months later.
Of course there were problems, but I was lucky enough to be guided by an IT colleague through the mysteries of the Ethernet. He gave me the confidence to deal with the several glitches that have occurred and I only had to call the ICT helpline for assistance once after the first week.
I have missed being with people and have appreciated phone contact with colleagues and fellow professionals but found myself so busy at times that these encounters were short. I have had to be self disciplined enough to finish my work at the end of the day and shut the door on it.
I have also managed to adapt my practice to incorporate Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other platforms to deliver our service to the families and children. Lockdown has also been an opportunity to review the resources and tools available and be more creative in designing sessions. One huge positive has been the ability to more easily involve parents in service delivery, by emailing them workbooks and links, and giving them access to material on which to base direct discussion of the issues with their children themselves. Of course, this works well with families who are willing to engage and who have acknowledged that alcohol or substance misuse is a problem. Nevertheless, it may also lead to some less engaged families to become more aware.
I Feel When You Drink, You Are Not Alone and Help Me Understand, are the three tools I have used most frequently and they are all on the Children’s Society’s website and are based on authentic children’s voices. I Feel When You Drink is incredibly powerful and needs to be used after taking into account parental vulnerability.
Parents who have not yet reached this stage can present with disguised compliance, being unavailable or making the children unavailable for planned appointments. This is very worrying, especially when other professionals do not share my concerns regarding the risks, and gives hidden harm a whole new meaning. I’m sad that so many of our children will be more disadvantaged educationally, widening the gulf between those who are socially disadvantaged and mainstream society even further than before.
Over the last five months our families have struggled to manage the loss of freedom, and the loss of family and friends’ support just as we all have. Those living with the additional challenges of substance or alcohol misuse, mental ill health, domestic abuse, unemployment, bereavement, poverty, overcrowding and isolation have at times been overwhelmed by it all and I can’t help but be touched by it. One of my young people turned 16 at the end of March and it was inspiring to hear how he was managing his sense of disappointment at not being able to mark the important rite of passage as he leaves school to go to college, anxious as to what his future holds in a post Covid world. He and a 14 year old girl reminded me how important young love is at that age, especially when it is thwarted by social distancing.
I am lucky enough to have a family, home, food, water and a job which makes me realise what a privilege it is to be trusted by our families to provide a space where their voices are heard and maybe make a difference. One example was a family judged to be without recourse to public funds; the decision has now been overturned and benefits restored and backdated.
This week I am excited to be meeting two of our families, one on a family walk and the other in their back garden. Planning for them has become a major undertaking as I can no longer just jump on a bus and go; all the risks and eventualities need to be considered but I have masks, hand sanitiser and perhaps more importantly, an umbrella.
I’m glad that at my age, I can still be excited by my job and the new challenges it is bringing. I’ll be even more delighted when I can deliver all the house plants I have been carefully nurturing to their new home when we are finally able to reopen our hub (one of the Recovery Near You sites) and I no longer have the tedious task of watering and repotting them.