Amber Family Residential Family Centre, a place shrouded in mystery for many parents before their arrival, often conjures up feelings of apprehension, uncertainty, and nervousness. In a candid conversation, one parent, referred to as Parent A, takes us through their personal experience at Amber Family and shares how this unique environment has changed their perspective on parenting and family life.
An Uncertain Beginning
When asked about their initial expectations before arriving at Amber Family, Parent A admits to having little to no understanding of what a Residential Family Centre was. They believed it was a place for families to undergo assessments of their parenting skills. The absence of clear expectations and last-minute arrangements from their Social Worker added to their nervousness prior to their arrival.
The journey began with anxiety, uncertainty, and the daunting prospect of stepping into the unknown. However, despite the initial apprehension, Parent A expressed their openness to embracing this experience, driven by the understanding that they were here for a reason, even if that reason had not been made entirely clear.
A Life-Changing Experience
As our conversation unfolds, Parent A reflects on their time at Amber Family with surprising enthusiasm. They describe it as one of the best experiences of their life. What makes it extraordinary, according to Parent A, is the opportunity to be together as a family and the unparalleled support and guidance offered by the staff to facilitate growth as a new parent.
The staff’s understanding and non-judgmental approach create a homely atmosphere, relieving families of any pressure to conform but explaining to newcomers the setting is intended as a real-world setting, where they are the authors of their own assessments from day one. Parent A mentions that the support received, for example, staff pointing out alternative ways of doing things, has significantly improved their parenting skills, especially as a first-time parent.
When questioned about their favourite aspects of the placement, Parent A highlights the various opportunities provided at Amber Family. From mums’ and dads’ groups to activities like messy play and the sensory room, the family finds themselves engaged in enriching experiences. They particularly appreciate the memory books and reading materials that allow them to capture moments they might have otherwise missed or overlooked.
Despite the overwhelmingly positive experience, Parent A acknowledges that homesickness has been a challenge, mainly due to being placed so far from home. However, they’ve managed to cope by focusing on caring for their child and supporting their partner who is also in placement with them.
The Value of Parenting Courses
Amber Family offers a range of parenting courses that Parent A states they have found invaluable. While this parent felt some content aligns with common sense, they explained the courses provided much valuable information and signposting to additional material and information. Specific courses, like Shaken Baby, had a profound impact on their understanding of infant care and safety.
When asked if these courses would have been considered or accessible to them outside of the Residential Family Centre setting, Parent A is uncertain. However, they stress the importance of such courses for all parents and the significant benefits they have derived from them.
A Bond That Grows
Parent A’s perspective on parenting has evolved during their time at Amber Family. The “Five to Thrive” approach, emphasising interactive and narrated engagement with the child, has become a cornerstone of their parenting style. They now understand the significance of everyday interactions in fostering a strong parent-child bond.
A Legacy of Love and Learning
As Parent A prepares to leave Amber Family, their most cherished memory revolves around the staff, whom they now consider extended family. The experience has strengthened their relationship as a couple and deepened their bond with their child. The parent-child attachment they’ve developed, marked by effective communication, and shared experiences, will undoubtedly shape their family’s future.
Parent A’s journey at Amber Family is a testament to the transformative power of supportive environments, valuable resources, and the determination to learn and grow as a parent. This story serves as a reminder that, regardless of circumstances, seeking help and embracing learning opportunities can lead to a lifetime of positive outcomes for both parents and children.
In a candid account, a parent known as Parent A shares their transformative journey during their time at Amber Family, a Sefton-based Residential Family Centre. Initially arriving with uncertainty and apprehension about the purpose of the Residential Family Centre, Parent A soon found it to be one of the most enriching experiences of their life. They praised the centre’s supportive and non-judgmental staff, highlighting the warm and homely atmosphere that allowed families to be themselves and actively shape their own assessments. Parent A’s parenting skills significantly improved, particularly as a first-time parent, thanks to the guidance and alternative approaches provided by the staff. The centre offered a rich array of opportunities for parents and children, including group activities, memory books, and reading materials that helped capture precious moments.
Despite homesickness, Parent A focused on their child’s well-being and supported their partner, who was also part of the placement. The parenting courses offered at Amber Family were deemed invaluable, offering vital information and safety insights, leaving Parent A with an enhanced understanding of infant care. As they prepared to leave, Parent A cherished the close bond they had formed with the staff, whom they now considered an extended family.
This experience had not only strengthened their relationship as a couple but also deepened their connection with their child, setting a positive trajectory for their family’s future. Parent A’s journey serves as a powerful reminder that seeking help and embracing learning opportunities can lead to a lifetime of positive outcomes for both parents and children, regardless of circumstances.
This year as part of Mental Health Awareness Day on 10th October, Amber Family have continued with their commitment to train all Amber staff as Mental Health First Aid Champions. We have enabled a further fourteen staff to gain this qualification; I feel proud to be part of the vehicle for this. Mental Health Awareness Day is an opportunity for us to come together as a community and shed light on the importance of mental health. In a world where the stigma surrounding mental health still exists, this day serves as a reminder that we need to prioritise mental well-being, eliminate judgment, and create a safe space for open conversations. In this blog post, I hope to delve into the significance of Mental Health Awareness Day and explore how we can all contribute to promoting mental health and supporting those who may be struggling.
The Importance of Mental Health Awareness Day:
Mental Health Awareness Day is more than just a date on the calendar, this year being 10th October here in the UK. It serves as a reminder that mental health is just as important as physical health. By raising awareness, we can reduce the stigma surrounding mental illnesses, encourage individuals to seek support and reinforce the idea that mental health struggles are not a sign of weakness but a part of the human experience.
Breaking the Stigma, Encouraging Conversations:
One of the key goals of Mental Health Awareness Day is to break the stigma associated with mental health. We need to create an environment where individuals feel comfortable discussing their mental health without fear of judgment or discrimination. By initiating conversations about mental health, whether it’s sharing our own experiences or being a compassionate listener, we can normalize the topic and help others feel less alone.
Providing Support and Resources:
Mental Health Awareness Day provides an opportunity to highlight the various resources available to those who may be struggling. From helplines and counselling services to support groups and online communities, there are numerous avenues for individuals to seek help and support. As community members, we can make an impact by familiarising ourselves with these resources and making them known to others. A simple act of sharing information can make a tremendous difference in someone’s life.
Practising Self-Care and Compassion:
On Mental Health Awareness Day, let’s acknowledge the importance of self-care and compassion for ourselves and others. Taking care of our own mental health allows us to be better equipped to support those around us. Let us prioritise activities that bring us joy, engage in mindfulness, exercise regularly, and maintain healthy boundaries. Additionally, practising empathy and compassion towards others can go a long way in fostering a supportive and understanding community.
Advocacy and Systemic Change:
While individual actions are crucial, we must also recognise the need for systemic change to improve mental health outcomes. Mental Health Awareness Day serves as an opportunity to advocate for policies that prioritise mental health, increase access to affordable and quality care, and dismantle the barriers that exist within our healthcare systems. By amplifying our voices and raising awareness, we can push for tangible change that benefits everyone.
On Mental Health Awareness Day this year, allow it to be a reminder for us to come together and support one another on our mental health journeys. By raising awareness, having open and honest conversations, providing support, practising self-care, and advocating for change, we can strive towards a society that values mental health as much as physical health.
Let us seize this opportunity to create a world where mental well-being is a priority, and no one feels alone in their struggles. Together, we can make a difference and create a more compassionate and understanding society.
It’s that time of year again, the supermarket uniform stock is dwindling, the Halloween decorations are creeping in and in some stores, there is a faint hint of colder days ahead and dare we say it, Christmas! Some parents are breathing a sigh of relief that school is back, and the nightmare of cobbling together summer holiday childcare is over, whilst others will be dreading the morning battles and the homework pressures. Regardless of how we all feel about it, it’s BACK TO SCHOOL WEEK. Over the next few days, our social media feeds will be flooded with pictures of children standing to attention in front of doors, in their shiny new uniforms, ready for first days, new starts and big changes for some children starting their primary and secondary school education. Behind each picture is a proud parent or carer with their own worries, their own stories and excitement about new experiences for their children.
At Amber Family, this is also the time we think about our own ‘Amber Family’. We reflect on the ages of the children who have been accommodated in our settings over the years. Our first “resident baby” will be going into Year 5 this time!!! Others will be starting high school or embarking on their first day in reception. We are lucky enough to receive pictures and email updates from many past families who share these special milestones with us. We absolutely love seeing and hearing updates from our past families and enjoy sharing these with the staff team. It’s a great privilege to know that we have been in the thoughts of many past parents at such a special time.
We want to take this opportunity to wish all our ‘Amber children’ lots of luck this September. We want to let all the families that have resided with us over the past 9 years know that we are thinking of them all. We know that there are also parents who are struggling at this time of year, as they are not part of their child’s back-to-school journey. We appreciate how hard this must be for them. We want them to know that our thoughts are with them too.
The Amber Family Team
Three years ago, Amber Family took the plunge and in partnership with The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) decided we would participate in the Social Work Apprenticeship and offer it to members of the team. Currently, we have four members of staff at various points in their course. I have been the On-Site Supervisor for all our students, recognising that being the Practice Educator as well as undertaking my own role was too much. Alongside this, I also felt it was important that during placement, the Apprentices had the opportunity to work with an external Practice Educator who would challenge their practice, observe them in work and contribute to their learning and development of Law and Theory.
Amber Family has just seen our first student complete her final 100-day placement in the assessment team and submit all her work to uni. We are immensely proud of her; it has been a pleasure to be part of her journey. Through consistent hard work, we have observed her confidence grow and her outstanding results both professionally and academically. Alongside this, in my capacity as an On-Site Supervisor, a Mentor, and a Manager, I have also benefited from the experience and continue to do so. Whilst as a Social Worker I maintain my own Continuous Professional Development (CPD), I don’t think there is anything like being questioned and challenged by a student. The enthusiasm they have for learning, good practice, and professional standards becomes contagious and an opportunity to remind ourselves of why we have chosen this as our career. Revisiting the theory that underpins our everyday intervention has been a good exercise for me.
This has also positively impacted the development of direct work and improvements to our service. Social Work is evolving and being closely connected to the next generation of Social Workers ensures that we are working within the most recent Legislation, and exposed to new Case Law and Service Challenges. As a result of this, we have held peer supervision sessions that have supported the whole staff team to increase confidence about the work that we undertake and ensure that we remain ‘current’ in our knowledge.
I must admit there have been times when I wished that I didn’t have another student review, report, or observation to complete. We all have busy jobs and finding the time to fit in an extra job is hard. The weekly supervision has been time-consuming, and I appreciate for some practitioners this may influence their decision not to take students. I’m also grateful that we have encountered no issues and I’m sure this was omitted as our four students have been established members of the team prior to commencing their Apprenticeships.
I do however believe that as experienced Social Workers, it is our duty to support and nurture the next generation. In doing so, it challenges your own practice and knowledge by making it a partnership working opportunity whilst recognising the knowledge that our students have, along with their own lived experiences and transferable skills.
At Amber Family, we work with parents who are often going through some of the most difficult and stressful times of their lives. We try our hardest to work with them in a way that promotes accountability in an environment of support. We do this by following Restorative Practices, which all our staff have completed training on, to deal with any conflict in a way that allows everyone to be heard in a safe environment. We have adapted the way we work to incorporate specific conversational and group processes into the day-to-day running of each Amber setting, to allow; everyone to be heard, meetings to become more efficient, relationships to be strengthened, and the general atmosphere to be as positive as possible for both staff and the families we work with.
The concept of restorative practices within the workplace has been made as an adaption of restorative justice in the legal system; in the way that we incorporate effective conflict management mechanisms for present conflicts, and utilise effective conflict prevention mechanisms for potential future conflicts. Whilst we don’t find it helpful to use established scripts to aid our restorative conversations, we do utilise the 5 core beliefs that underpin the Transforming Conflict model of restorative practice at Amber Family.
We believe that everyone, be it staff or parents we work with, has their unique perspective of situations or events that occur within our settings. As such, everyone deserves an opportunity to express their understanding of an event to feel respected, valued, and listened to.
What we think at a particular moment influences how we feel at that time, which then shapes our behaviours. To have productive and meaningful interactions with others, it is important to recognise and share our, often underlying, thoughts and feelings, as well as take time to listen and begin to understand the feelings of others if they are comfortable sharing. Only then can we start to understand why we act in certain ways, as well as control our more impulsive behaviours.
We must understand that our actions likely have consequences, and we can unknowingly impact those around us. To show those around us respect, we should consider the impact of our behaviours before we act. As well as this, if our actions do end up causing others harm, to maintain a positive relationship, we need to be open to listening to how we have impacted others. Then, if appropriate, we should try to fix any damage caused to the relationship.
We function at our best when our physical and emotional needs are met, especially when dealing with challenging situations. If these needs are not met, we tend to be less able to cope and may express negative behaviours as a direct result of these needs going unmet. Whether we are the individual who has caused harm, or been harmed, we still have similar needs. Until these needs are met for both individuals, the harm caused, cannot be repaired.
Negative behaviours are often what cause harm in relationships, and with these behaviours often being down to unmet needs; we must address these needs, and then find a way of making sure they are met in the future to avoid further harm. This is a vital part of restorative conversations that are had within Amber Family, and whilst it takes time to meet the parents’ needs productively, the positive outcome of doing so is important.
We must include the individuals affected by a situation or event, in the decision as to what should happen going forward. Allowing them to be involved and giving them back the ‘ownership’ of the decision-making process inspires respect and trust, develops social skills, improves confidence, and even strengthens relationships.
These core beliefs apply to so many of the day-to-day interactions we have with the parents in our settings. I have found that utilising this approach provides a structure to our practice that ensures the families that we work with have a chance to reflect on their experiences and take responsibility for the decisions they have made. Furthermore, it helps them to feel more confident in productively tackling future decisions and potential challenges they may have to face. This gives the parents a bit more freedom and thus builds the confidence needed to prove they can meet their children’s needs independently.
One thing we were taught in our training was how to shape our practices by trying to consider the thoughts, feelings, and unmet needs behind everything the parents in our settings do or say. I believe that applying a restorative approach to our interactions within Amber Family is a vital part of ensuring that everyone is treated fairly.
I have found that this change in my mindset allows me to establish better working relationships with the parents; I believe it ensures I do not come across as judgemental. It is something I now try to carry over all aspects of my job, as well as the interactions and relationships I have outside of work.
As we are approaching the end of the annual celebration of Volunteer’s Week, I have reflected on the benefits of volunteering.
I share my free time with two causes that are close to my heart. I am a Samaritans Listening volunteer and a Squirrel Scout Group Leader. I feel that volunteering is not only a great way to give back, but it also has many benefits for me as the person who is donating my time.
Firstly, volunteering is a fantastic way to meet new people and make new friends. You will have the opportunity to work alongside like-minded individuals who share your passion for helping others. You may even develop new skills and gain valuable experience that can help you in your personal and professional life. I have received some world-class training through the Samaritans, and this has helped me in my role at Amber Family.
Secondly, volunteering can help boost your mental health and wellbeing. By giving back to your community, you can experience a sense of purpose and fulfilment that can improve your overall mood and outlook on life. It can also help reduce stress and anxiety by providing a positive outlet for your energy and emotions.
Thirdly, volunteering can help you develop a stronger connection to your community. As a volunteer, you will have the opportunity to learn more about the issues and challenges facing your local area and to work alongside others to make a positive difference. This can help you feel more invested in your community and more connected to the people and places around you.
Finally, volunteering can be a lot of fun! Whether you are working on a community project, helping out at a local event, or mentoring a young person, volunteering can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience that allows you to make a positive impact while having a great time.
So, if you are looking for a way to give back, meet new people, and have fun, consider volunteering for a cause that is close to your heart. There are many causes that would benefit from your time, skills, and enthusiasm. So why not get involved today and start making a difference to you and your community?
People who know me will understand my long-term view that without our team, we wouldn’t have Amber Family. Possibly an obvious statement, but our team IS Amber Family, and we work hard to support them, care for them, listen to them, encourage them and develop them so that the service we provide to the Local Authorities who place with us and the parents who live with us, is supported by a workforce of professional, engaged and content staff.
Our service has grown from one four-bedded house, which opened in 2014, to now owning three houses which can accommodate 14 families and a fourth one due to be registered this year; we’ll then be able to accept 19 families at any time into Amber. Our initial recruitment back in 2014 was “low-key” (!). We recruited family, friends, and friends of friends, and we operated the first house with six staff who worked three days on, three days off, three nights on, and rota. We now have 43 staff who work a variety of shift patterns/days/nights / 9 am – 5 pm and other funky versions to ensure a team of qualified individuals fully staffs our 24/7/365 service.
I recently received an e-mail enquiry from an agency offering to support us with our staffing needs. I wrote back explaining that we didn’t use agency staff (unusual for a social care service), and I was told how amazing this was and if could we provide them with the secret so they could pass it on. This got me thinking…..what do we do that encourages our team to stay with us?
Be flexible and supportive – When Gill and I set up Amber in 2013 / 2014, between us, we’d raised 8 children and had both worked a variety of full-time jobs whilst doing so. We worked nights, twilight shifts, weekends and weekdays to support our family and this encouraged us to offer the same flexibility to our team. We recognise that everyone has a life outside work, and we are mindful of how important individual lives are. If there’s an opportunity to let our staff have time off work to watch their child in a play, attend appointments with their elderly parents, or take their beloved animal to the vet, then we make sure we pull together as a team to support them to do so.
Be kind – We work with vulnerable members of society, and our service is very much in the public eye, and we are subject to great scrutiny. People make mistakes and get things wrong – it’s human nature. As a service, we are heavily invested in employing a restorative approach when possible, and we train all our staff in this. It’s about appreciating our connections with one another and understanding how our actions and words can impact on those around us, whether this is a colleague a parent or a family member. I’d like to think that kindness is at the heart of what we do, whether this is directed towards our own staff or resident parents. We understand that everyone has a past and a present, and by demonstrating kindness to each other, we seek to support each other to work through any issues.
Communicate – Whilst you may not realise it whilst you are living it, past experiences in the workplace shape your attitude towards work and staff management and at the beginning of your career, you start to sort through the wheat from the chaff, squirrelling away examples of good practice for future use or acknowledging and remembering the poor practice of those who you have worked for, alongside or with. I remember a great mentor from my time in the Civil Service who always took time – once a month, to connect with every member of his staff team. This was an unenviable task as he had management responsibility for over 150 staff. Still, he took this self-imposed objective very seriously, as seriously as providing financial forecasts and future plans to the Board. He understood that people work better when they know what’s going on; they feel more secure in their workplace if they understand the path the business is taking and how they will get there – together. This strategy of keeping everyone up to date has stuck with me, and whilst meetings can be disruptive to the care and support we provide to the families living with us, I am always conscious of keeping the staff team up to date with what direction the company is going in and how any changes may impact them.
Be honest – No one likes to be wrong. It’s a simple fact of life, but saying “sorry” for a bad decision and letting others know you’re vulnerable is empowering. I came from a background in project management and construction, working alongside a predominately male workforce whose experiences and education were far more significant than mine. Showing a softer, more vulnerable side by admitting you’d got something wrong was not welcomed nor supported, and the consequences of admitting that you’d got something wrong were often ridiculed, sometimes a more serious sanction. However, when I look back at the pressure I felt, day in, and day out, to live up to this unreal expectation of perfect performance, I realise how desperately unhappy I was. I never want any of our Amber Family staff to feel like this. I want them to enjoy and value their time at work, and to that end, Gill and I let them know that we don’t expect them to be perfect, but to be honest. If things have gone wrong, let us know, and we’ll support you.
Be realistic – Everyone (no exception) comes to work for the rewards, which are mainly financial. The biggest driver is what everyone is taking home at the end of each month, and we’ve always been honest about pay with our staff. When we started as a fledgling business with no financial support from anyone other than the four of us (Gill, me and our husbands – oh, and a very good friend who sold his house so we could pay our first wage bill whilst waiting to be registered with OFSTED!), we told our staff that when we could strike a balance between the business being financially stable enough to keep going and giving them a pay rise, we would do so. And we did.
Over the last 10 years, Amber Family has grown into a close-knit community that values and invests in its staff. We’ll never be able to match the paying power of the Local Authorities, but what we hope to provide in addition to an attractive salary are other rewards; we offer Perkbox to all employees who have passed their probation, we invest (heavily) in our staff in terms of training and CPD, we organise days out – we’re off to the races this year! – we do treasure hunts and meals out for learners who have worked above and beyond to achieve accreditation.
We’ve come a long way in 10 years, and I’m proud that many of our staff who were part of our original gang of six are still here! Here’s to the next 10 years of running a business alongside the best staff team there is!
It’s literally a tale as old as time, in every mammal over all of history there has been a baby and there has been milk. It has been widely documented that breastfeeding is considered the best start for a newborn with benefits for both the physical and mental health of both mum and baby. That’s not to say that a bottle-fed baby wouldn’t achieve the same great start in life, not at all, every journey is different, here’s mine.
When I had my first child I was going to breastfeed, it was 100% what I wanted to do, but I had a complicated delivery that resulted in me being rushed into surgery for 2 hours. During this time the midwives gave my husband a bottle for my newborn daughter which I now completely understand and appreciate, but at the time I was devastated, and I let it ruin the experience for me. Every time I tried to latch her onto my breast and I struggled I told myself it was because she preferred the bottle, this took over the first few months with my newborn, my mental health suffered, and I felt my bond with my baby break away with every bottle that I gave her. It all came to a head when one terrible health visitor (they’re not all terrible) made a comment during a weigh-in clinic about my baby’s eczema saying, “You know her skin wouldn’t be this bad if she was breastfed”! How dare she, she didn’t know me or my situation, I cried when I went back into the baby group thinking that I had caused her skin condition by letting that one bottle get into my head. Thankfully the fabulous Allison (who now works at Amber Family) was there and was a huge support, I will never forget her telling me that none of it was my fault, babies get eczema regardless and that a happy mum was a happy baby. That was what I needed to hear, and that support was the start of my journey into a happier mindset and happier motherhood.
Pregnant with my second I was utterly determined to succeed in breastfeeding a second time around. I read and read, I watched videos, I went to groups and bought the gadgets. None of this prepares you for how hard it is, but I preserved it! I remember my husband watching me and saying he could see me physically recoil every time she latched on, the pain was incredible, but the reward was so much more and after the first 6 weeks I knew we had cracked it and I was over the moon. When my second daughter was 4 months old, I joined Breaststart Sefton as a volunteer Support Worker. Breaststart was a breastfeeding support group that would keep in touch with the new mums after they were discharged from the hospital and do home visits to help support mums in their breastfeeding journey. Some weeks I would do the contact calls, some weeks I would do home visits but eventually, I ran my own breastfeeding support group in town. I loved seeing the friendships these new mums formed and the support that they gave to one another. Unfortunately, Breaststart had its funding withdrawn in 2016 and I was devastated that my support journey had come to an end. I continued to support friends when their babies arrived and even ended up back in touch with an old work colleague who reached out for help over Facebook. My third daughter came, and our breastfeeding journey was a dream, it came like second nature and lasted for 19 months, she doesn’t remember any of it now and thinks it’s gross when I talk about it, but I will never forget.
During my first few weeks at Amber Family a new mum arrived an email was sent out to say that she was wanting to breastfeed but was struggling. I emailed the Key Worker and told them I was on the night shift that night and I would help with positioning and latching. It was a long night, and that family eventually moved to another house, but I like to think she took some of my advice over with her as she was still breastfeeding when she left us. Another family and another breastfeeding mum. This mum had it in the bag. She didn’t need any assistance but loved to chat with me about breastfeeding and how it made her feel. She shared a lovely bond with her baby, and although her nights were tough and she was a bugger for a co-sleep, she persevered and loved what they had achieved together. Strangely all these mums have been in the same bedroom at Amber Grange, and my latest breastfeeding buddy left only a few weeks ago. This mum had had previous children but this was her first breastfeeding journey. Our first breastfeeding chat came when she brought up her belief that she was suffering from a low supply. I asked her what she had to eat and drink that day, and she told me the issue was clear, she wasn’t drinking anywhere near enough. I talked through the importance of drinking and eating the right things, she needed to up her water intake, and I told her to get snacks for when she was feeding and chatted around cluster feeds, confirming that it was normal to be stuck feeding for a few hours at the end of the day. Pretty soon, she was making up flapjacks for the house and drinking water like no one’s business, and the supply issues ebbed.
Next, she was concerned about the amount of milk she was able to express, she needed to express milk for babysitting, and if staff had to look after the baby, she was struggling with the pump she had, so I brought in two pumps for her to try. She found these much easier to use and was soon expressing multiple ozs daily. She next came to me concerned about feeding in public and wanting advice on feeding bras. I just so happened to have a bag of feeding bras in my boot that a friend had asked me to take to a charity shop. I brought them in and she went through them and picked one out, the sizes were a little off, but I was able to demonstrate different ways to discreetly feed in public, I explained how I used to layer my clothes to make it as discreet as possible. She took all of this in and on my next shift, she told me she had ordered more of the bras I had given her and that she had been practising with the clothing layers and was working towards feeding in public. The day I came into work, and she ran down to tell me that she had managed to feed the baby in town by herself, I just burst with pride, she had come so far, and she was so unbelievably happy. Their journey was complete, there seemed nothing else left to pass on other than my heartfelt congratulations. Before she left Amber, she left my breast pumps on the mantlepiece, fully sterilised and back in their boxes, along with a box of chocolates and a thank you card. It read, “just wanted to say a massive thank you for all your help and support with our breastfeeding journey. You really helped us a lot and we won’t ever forget”
I’m going to keep this card forever, it is up there as one of my proudest moments, and I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to be able to support new mums in this way again
Whilst completing my university degree in Early Childhood Studies, I was introduced to a wealth of knowledge which would help shape and support the ongoing work with children and families across all sectors. After completing numerous placements in various early years settings, I was convinced I had my future career path nailed. As rewarding as working with children in this environment had been, I began to question the different directions in supporting not just only children, but their families in a different context. It was then I took the plunge into independently looking into family support work.
When browsing the internet, I came across Amber Family. This service offered parents and their children a unique opportunity that I had never encountered before during my studies. I was instantly drawn to how Amber supported families undergoing an intense assessment and what I could only imagine, would be one of the most difficult challenges they would ever face.
Luckily (for me) they were not daunted by the numerous emails, enquiring if they took on volunteers to be part of their service. It was from then on, I was supported in applying for one of their current openings as a support worker for nights and weekends, which is where my Amber Family journey began.
I spent a number of years as a support worker, helping families grow in confidence with parenting. This develops through the smallest of tasks which would inevitably shape their assessment and ultimately, their future with their children. When the opportunity for a Trainee Key Worker became available, I applied for the post as my next pathway within Amber. This role meant I had greater responsibility for intensely guiding families through the assessment process and conducting weekly meetings with them, which would help form a substantial amount of evidence needed to inform the final recommendations of a family’s future.
Fast forward two years on as a full-time Key Worker, I have worked with a number of families each and everyone being different from the last. As my colleagues have highlighted in previous blogs, no two days are EVER the same at Amber. But in my experience, it is the growth of each family which keeps the job continuously rewarding. Despite the outcome of a family’s final assessment, as a Key Worker you become a part of developing and encouraging a parent’s ability to overcome their own difficulties of past experiences and you are constantly striving to support them to safely shape their life together with their children.
Being a parent has no instruction manual, but as a Key Worker at Amber, it begins with understanding that life for some parents presents more challenges than others. It is important as a Key Worker to acknowledge what may have brought them to Amber in the first place. With this, you begin to understand and adapt to their way of processing information and explore the most beneficial way to deliver feedback. Doing so gives each parent from different abilities the manageable ways to achieve their best potential during their assessment process.
My own experience shows that being a Key Worker has helped me grow as a person. One such instance is quickly adapting on my own initiative in a setting that is frequently fast-paced and so varied. My journey at Amber Family has been full of so many highlights, both personally and professionally and they continue every day, week and month.
My idea of a Support Worker’s role was very limited before applying at Amber Family. I had previously worked as an admin assistant at a company that had ‘service users’ and ‘support staff’. The support staff shifts were 24-hour shifts, and they would sleep in the staff bedroom. The service users lived in their own flats and came to staff when they needed assistance with medication, shopping, and day-to-day things like that. I remember back when I went for an interview there and saw the bed in the office and thought ‘What on earth happens here!’ Support Work wasn’t a job that appealed to me at that time, administration was definitely more my thing.
Fast forward 10 years and I had left the world of administration, 7 years previous, and was working as an HLTA (a teaching assistant that also teaches) at a primary school. I always told myself that I would see my children through primary school, and then I would get a ‘real’ job. I mean, a job where you get 13 weeks’ holiday a year is a bit of a swizz! Having said that, looking after 30 small people requires great courage, strength, and patience! Skills come in very handy actually.
So, the time had come for me to become a grown-up. I honestly thought I had no transferable skills when applying to be a Support Worker at Amber Family. My day consisted heavily of glue, whiteboard pens, books, being the head of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force, and dishing out dojo points as bribes – I mean rewards! I was also worried the hours would absolutely kill me off. If working 6 hours a day was tiring, what was going to happen to me during a 13-hour night shift? I honestly thought I would have an out-of-body experience. I applied anyway, as I saw it as a challenge and maybe I would enjoy it as people kept telling me I would. Nothing is set in stone; you’ve got to try new things before you decide if it’s for you. I somehow made it through my first interview in 7 years, although I don’t remember much of it (sorry Carol). I was so nervous. It played on my mind the thought of being around people who could potentially have their children removed from their care and the massive impact it would have on everyone involved. How could I be a part of that decision-making? Who was I to comment on a parent’s choices for their child?
I was then invited to do a 4-hour shadow shift. My kind of hours! I arrived at Amber Grange and was greeted by the lovely staff, who were all so friendly…or nosey, I’m not sure! It was February 14th and for 3 of those 4 hours, I sat and made Valentine’s crafts (again, sorry Carol). This was like a home from home! Maybe I could do this.
My second shadow shift was the next day, as I had asked to cram them all in during the February half-term. This time I went to Amber Lodge and again, was greeted by warm and friendly staff. I really felt welcome, and everyone was happy to help and answer my barrage of questions. This time the shift was 8 hours long – the challenge began. The time absolutely flew by, and I left with some kind of Support Worker high as I was buzzing. I had a great day out with parents and got to grips with logs, referrals and weekly meetings.
All that was left was to do a waking night shift. Never have I ever stayed awake all night. I love to sleep, it’s the best. I came wildly under-prepared, even though I had googled what to do! Luckily, the staff who were on until 8 p.m. gave me lots of food and warned me about the 4 a.m. wall that was rushing my way. But I live to tell the tale! I survived and I felt so proud of myself. The night shift Support Worker is a different job from the daytime Support Worker, so it was interesting to compare them both.
I went back to school, the following Monday, and handed my notice in. It was a horrible day, but I’ve honestly never looked back. I often think to myself ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?’.
No two days are ever the same, which means you’re never bored! Some days are lovely, some not so much. The job brings me a lot of challenges, in a good way, whereby I get to reflect on the day and learn from what has happened. In the beginning, I felt like I was doing something bad when I had to approach a parent to discuss a sensitive matter, or when a parent was voicing their frustrations at being assessed. I don’t know why, but I allowed myself to somehow feel at fault! Thankfully, I had a “Eureka” moment. I was passed some wise words of wisdom one day and that was ‘Parents write their own assessment; we just hand them the pen.’ When the parents are pointing the proverbial finger at everyone else, they’re really just deflecting the pain they are feeling. Knowing this, helped with feelings I was having and has made me a better Support Worker for sure.
I find it so helpful that information is shared, and you are encouraged to read up on families – warts and all. This type of learning suits me down to the ground. With everyone in the same boat, I feel fully supported by the staff that I work with, and I feel accomplished thanks to the training I have been given. Finally, I have never once been asked to sleep on a bed in an office, which is a huge relief!
Becoming a parent is something no one can ever prepare you for. People can tell you what it’s like and the challenges you will face, but you don’t truly know until it happens.
As a first-time mum, I had to have a Caesarean section, I was out of action for 6 weeks and was lucky enough that my husband could have some time off to support us both, but when he returned to work, I became really lonely.
Here I was, on maternity leave with a brand-new beautiful baby boy and a partner who was trying to work every hour to support us financially. People always told me maternity leave was a very lonely time and I don’t think I was quite prepared for this because it really was one of the loneliest times I have ever felt in my entire life.
I am lucky to have a big family, and I would use them for support occasionally. However, I did find that sometimes family and existing friends know you too well and will make assumptions or try to take over rather than support you. So I thought right, what can I do? I can’t sit around the house all the time, not doing anything. I needed some sort of routine and I wanted to start introducing my son to new things. Personally, I found that having at least two really good weekly parenting groups was beneficial to me getting through the tough weeks of parenting.
I would recommend trying out a few different groups as not all will suit everyone. I found that I settled into two lovely groups and for different reasons they became essential support for me.
One of my two groups was a church group and I donated 50p and got unlimited tea, coffee and Victoria sponge cake! This group was a ‘no frills’ community group, and I felt so relaxed here. There were lots of toys where I could sit on the floor and play with them with my son and chat with the other parents. We always seemed to be equally tired, and it was so reassuring to chat with parents who were worried about the same things that I was. It was like a secret club where we were all free to talk about the things we generally didn’t feel able to chat to other people about (there was a lot of talk about the colour and consistency of poos!). We sat with our brew and for 2 hours out of the week we shared all of the stories that made us cry at the time, but we laughed together at the absolute baptism of fire being a parent really is.
Visiting these groups not only helped my mental health massively but it also helped me in lots of other ways. It broke my week up, and I would need to work my weekly self-care tasks around them, for example, I knew I would need to have a shower before these groups and remember to brush my hair. Bathing was something that fell by the wayside in those first few months of being a new parent. I would regularly baby wipe milk stains off my clothes and do the sniff test to see if I could re-wear an outfit! Gross I know, but true, and I know through these parenting groups that I wasn’t alone with this. By committing to going to these parenting groups it gave me the motivation to use the washing machine and make sure I was wearing something fresh and clean, and this would in turn change my mindset, and I felt more ‘put together’ and ready to take on the day.
By forcing myself to leave the house (some days were harder than others – depending on the number of night feeds), I felt able to tackle other things after the group, such as a trip to the supermarket, cleaning the bathroom or putting a load of washing on the maiden.
I would recommend to anyone who has become a parent to join a good parenting group. Whether you feel lonely, you’re not sure what to do, you want advice, or you need support they can provide all this and more. For me, they have been essential in helping me get through this massive learning process. As parents, it’s one we are all going through and will continue to go through for the rest of our lives! It’s helped me realise that I’m not getting it all wrong and I met some great lifetime friends along the way.
Talking is the best medicine there is and it makes you realise
We may not be in the same boat………. But we are in the same storm so let’s ride it together!
Working in the training team, I am very lucky to spend time with the parents at Amber Family, completing courses, and giving them the knowledge to be able to support their children. One of the courses I have been eager to teach for many years is Baby Massage and I have been very fortunate to have just completed my training. The course was more intense than I previously envisioned, but I have enjoyed learning the benefits and caution of each move. I will be able to pass my knowledge on to the parents and know it will be lovely to watch as they grow in confidence in picking up on their baby’s cues and watching those bonds form as they have this special time to show their love to their child and their child in turn delights in this pleasurable experience.
Infant massage was introduced to America by Vimala McClure in the 1970s, she had spent time in India working in an orphanage and had observed massage being given to babies and children there. She has combined these strokes along with Swedish Massage, reflexology and yoga to recreate these moves with her own children.
Massaging a baby is such a lovely way to build up those very important brain connections so important for brain growth, performing these simple strokes on a baby gives both adult and child that one-to-one time, which is relaxing for both of them, making good eye contact and reinforcing good attachment. The child feels loved and safe and is something that can be repeated daily as a special time just for them.
Baby Massage has many benefits for babies it can help with sleep, colic, teething, and congestion and can improve muscle tone. For the parent, it can reduce stress, and blood pressure and improve a sense of wellbeing.
Cross-cultural studies have found that societies where infants are held, massaged, rocked, breastfed and carried are less aggressive and violent, and more cooperative and compassionate adults.
If delivering a Baby Massage can help towards this, how lucky am I to be the one delivering it?
From my experience of facilitating various relationship courses at Amber Family over the past 3 years, I have found that there is no universal definition of what a perfect relationship looks like; we all have our ideas about what we think is the most important aspect of a good relationship. Generally, I would suggest that we know we are in a healthy relationship when we feel happy to see and spend time with the other person.
What I do know is that no relationship is ever perfect; there are bound to be moments when minor disagreements occur and cause frustrations. Healthy relationships take time to build and need constant upkeep to remain optimistic. This is all part of managing our relationships with those around us, whether it be a family member, friend, colleague, or even a romantic partner.
Many factors contribute to the development and maintenance of a healthy relationship, including;
It takes two people to have a relationship; each person has different communication needs and styles. People in a relationship must find a way of communicating that suits them. Healthy communication styles require practice and work; they will never be perfect all of the time. However, we need to communicate clearly to avoid misunderstandings that may cause hurt, anger, or resentment. It is essential to be clear about what you want to say, try to understand the other person’s perspective and double check you have understood correctly to avoid misunderstandings.
Tips for good communication include:
Remember, communication is not just talking; non-verbal communication is just as important- posture, tone, facial expressions, and eye contact- you can all tell the other person how you feel. Non-verbal communication is sometimes more important than what you say.
All relationships also require an element of trust. It is an essential part of establishing a bond with others. A relationship not built on trust risks disagreements, suspicion, paranoia, and breaking apart. Therefore, respect is important in all relationships and should be prioritised along with responsibility.
Responsibility in a relationship means being honest about your actions and being willing to face the consequences of certain behaviours. This is easier said than done, but if you are consistent with your approach, you will earn the respect vital to a healthy relationship.
It is also important to ensure that the relationship is a priority; finding a balance between work, family, friends, and partners can be challenging. Ensure you take the time to ensure those you have a relationship with feel important to you and set limits in areas where you feel they are needed. Take the time to find hobbies or interests that you can share. This will allow you to spend positive time together and could be as simple as finding a TV show you both enjoy.
People who have healthy relationships are more likely to feel happier and more satisfied with their everyday lives. They are also statistically less likely to suffer from physical or mental health problems. Healthy relationships can also help increase our self-worth, boost confidence, reduce loneliness, and help us better understand ourselves.
It is normal to have ups and downs in your relationships, and it is also okay to have different opinions. It’s essential to find solutions that work for both of you and that you both respect and accept those differences. Finding solutions that work for both of you will require compromise and time. However, if you feel safe and happy around the other person, chances are you’re on the right path.
Since opening Amber Family in 2014, the staff team have collectively been responsible for publishing over 250 parenting assessments; some of these have concluded that the family can return home together, whilst some have recommended – for a variety of reasons – that the child would be safer and better safeguarded by living away from his or her parents. I am sure that every final assessment recommends the right outcome for the child; they remain our focus throughout the entire 13-week process.
Many Local Authorities and other professionals in Children’s Services consider a Residential Parenting Assessment an “expensive” option for deciding a child’s future. However, the assessment produced at the end of the placement provides all professionals with a more robust, evidence-based, and fair assessment than any community undertaking could provide. We live and breathe alongside our families for 13 weeks and, during this time, observe them day and night caring for their child. If it’s safe to place parent and child together, then a residential parenting assessment is far more effective and conclusive than a community-based assessment.
When a family arrives at Amber, there has already been so much work undertaken to ensure that we can offer them a service to meet their needs, both from a parenting and personal perspective. We look at how introducing them to a specific setting may impact the other families already living there and whether they already know them if they are from the same Local Authority. Our Referrals Team consider the history and what the parent(s) are struggling with; for example, is the care of their child a concern, or are they already skilled at caring for their child and it’s their own social and environmental issues, e.g., drugs, alcohol or domestic violence that’s a concern for professionals working with them.
Our trained staff support the families whilst in placement and makes detailed observations about how parents undertake the “basic tasks” for their child; bathing, feeding, making and sterilising bottles and nappy changes. But parenting is about so much more than this. We consider the emotional warmth towards a child; whether a parent can provide essentials for their child by demonstrating good budgeting skills; can the parent recognise when their child is ill and seek the correct medical advice and can they administer medication correctly; is the parent able to address their own physical and mental health by seeking advice, eating well, showering regularly and keeping themselves as well as their child clean? The list of observations is endless.
Several training courses in baby safety, attachment theory, weaning and a balanced diet, childhood illnesses, healthy relationships, the importance of play and internet safety supplement all evidence gathered in the day-to-day lives of parents and their children. We also offer a domestic abuse course – the Gateway Programme- and three staff members have been trained to work with those who have/are experiencing domestic abuse. Additionally, each parent will have their bespoke assessment plan divided into weeks 1 – 6 and 6 -12. This explains in detail what work will be undertaken by whom and on what week. Direct work undertaken with the family will look at support networks, their understanding of risk, their responsibility to safeguard, historical experiences, and “old me vs new me”…..the list is endless, and the staff team are very creative in ensuring as much information and understanding are drawn out of the parent as possible.
Each family is also allocated a Key Worker who will work with them day to day to provide feedback – both good and that which needs further support, and an Assessor who will ultimately be responsible for compiling the final assessment, which will be submitted to the Local Authority for consideration when deciding on a future care plan for the child.
The final assessment and recommendations are not just a week’s work. They are based on the outcome of 12 weeks of direct work, observations, and analysis. The final recommendations are discussed at length between the Key Worker, the Registered Manager for the setting where the family has lived, the Assessor and the Amber Family Care Director. I know from working closely with all our Assessors that the recommendations are not made lightly; many have complained of sleepless nights leading up to writing the report. They are aware and conscious that the report published under their name could mean a family being separated, and this decision is not easy to make, mainly when you’ve lived alongside a family for three months.
I asked a couple of Amber Family Assessors what their role means to them;
GW – I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work closely with families throughout their parenting assessment. For me, it’s not just about assessing and making decisions but developing a relationship that will imprint on people’s lives. I never underestimate the importance of my assessments; they make life-changing recommendations. I feel that the time I invest in developing relationships with families, investigating issues, completing person-centred direct work, considering history, reading other expert opinions, and recognising change and progress makes my assessments fair. I always feel my practice is safe and adheres to everything I signed up to do when I became a Social Worker.
AM – Writing an assessment is much more than just writing a report. You need to know the family, their family, their support and the professionals that work with them, inside and out. Ensuring the children are at the centre of the assessment is so important; however, it can sometimes be difficult when you have spent so much time building a relationship with the parents who, for most, have already been through trauma and hardship. Ensuring the proper recommendations are made is crucial for everyone involved and takes a team of people and a lot of information sharing! If love were the only thing a child needed, many of our families would surpass all expectations of the assessment process; however, sadly, they need a lot more, and we need evidence that they will get this now and in the future.
To conclude, the Team at Amber work tirelessly to ensure that our service’s mission statement is fulfilled for each family;
We believe every parent should be allowed to live with their babies in a safe, supportive and caring environment and for their assessment to be fair, robust and honest.
It is common for parents to believe their baby does not need play until they begin smiling and responding to them. However, research has found a baby’s brain begins developing in the womb, and the first 1000 days, from a child’s conception to age 2, is a critical period to begin building the foundations of a child’s health and development (physical, cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural).
Our brains are made up of several areas that control everything we do, from walking and hearing to problem-solving and how we feel. Each area in the brain has millions of neurons which communicate with each other by repeatedly passing messages over and over, forming a ‘neural pathway’, which is thought of as the brain’s wiring. A baby’s brain’s wiring is not fully connected at birth but is very active and developing in response to what’s going on around them. It means the day-to-day experiences such as being read to, interacted with, or even just when people respond to them help their brain develop. These connections develop extremely fast in the first years of a baby’s life. A person’s health, well-being and life chances in the future are thought to be affected by how their brain develops in their early years, starting in the womb.
There is evidence and research that healthy brain development is created by a simple and effective approach, which is known as, the ‘five to thrive’, created by Kate Cairns. Five to Thrive is based on five key activities that are thought to be the building blocks for brain development and healthy communication, which will help them to grow, develop and have positive connections with you, as well as help maintain healthy brains as they grow throughout their lives.
The five key activities of Five to Thrive are;
From the moment your child was born, they needed you. Without your care and love, your baby wouldn’t have survived. You did this by responding to their needs. As your baby grows, it is essential to continue responding and being consistent in how you interact with your child. Responding warmly and predictably to your baby and creating routines helps them feel safe. It shows them that they can count on you when they are sick, hungry, upset or need comfort and that you can meet their needs. But babies also reach out to you in countless positive ways—babbling, making sounds, or smiling. When you respond lovingly and consistently, your baby’s brain connections grow strong. These strong connections then carry messages between the different parts of their brain more quickly. Responding early to their needs enables babies to feel secure and calm.
Cuddle your baby as often as you like; babies cannot be spoilt or have too much contact. All sorts of touch can be included in using the word ‘cuddle’, being picked up, feeding, massaging and holding hands when they are older. Being near you and feeling safe fills their body with special chemicals that help their brain grow. Research shows that the patterns that grow in their brain when you cuddle them are essential for your baby’s mental, emotional and social development. Also, the bond developed has effects later in your child’s life, in terms of self-confidence, their ability to cope with life stressors and future relationships, meaning that they will be able to feel safe with safe people all their life.
Your baby’s body works in tune with yours, so if you are stressed, your baby will feel this way too. When you relax, your heartbeat slows down, your blood pressure drops and your muscles relax. Then you feel calm and comfortable, which will mean your baby will too. That calm feeling in babies fills their bodies with chemicals that help their brains grow.
Your baby loves the sound of your voice. They love it when you talk, sing, and make nonsense noises. Talking to your baby and listening to them in return is one of the best ways to stimulate and bond with them. Even before your baby begins to talk, they communicate with you through facial expressions, body language and crying. When you interact or take turns communicating with your baby, thousands of new brain connections are made. They learn so much more from conversations than just language, for example, how people communicate and interact. This will support them throughout their life.
Your baby needs you to soothe them when their upset, but they also need you to make life interesting for them. Play is central to your baby’s learning and development. When you play with your baby, their brain builds a connection that helps them make sense of the world while having fun! Play helps your baby develop social, language and communication skills, as well as feeling loved, happy and safe, which helps build their confidence.
Just looking at your loving, smiling face when you respond to them or hearing your voice are the best toys for newborn babies, as they need to interact with loving adults in their lives actively.
As you can see, just as your baby’s body grows better when you feed them, your baby’s brain grows and develops better when you do five simple things that feed their growing brain daily. As well as giving them the tools to maintain a healthy brain as they grow.
At Amber Family, we have used a restorative approach in our practice since 2017. Before this, we probably thought we were a restorative service and on reflection, we were certainly using bits of it. However, we were firing in the dark, using bits of theory, paperwork, and articles we’d read and considered, and trying to make the best of it. This initial dabble into the restorative world was, and we felt, a good approach to address conflict and house issues. Little did we know there was so much more than simply resolving conflict.
In 2017 we took the plunge, and Carol and I went on a 5-day residential course, not knowing what we would be letting ourselves in for. We both struggled (and still do?!) at the thought of leaving our service for a whole week, and we were apprehensive about how the course would be delivered; were we going to be bored? Was this really for us? Who else would we be with? And, of course, the dread that there would be ROLE PLAY…..!
The course started with circle time. Carol and I looked at each other; ‘Who signed us up for this?! Help!!!!!!!!’ However, there was no way out, and we immersed ourselves in the day. Very quickly, things started to fall into place; we stepped out of our comfort zone and listened to what was at the heart of restorative. We did not take any convincing that this was just what Amber Family needed, and we could see the benefits in many more areas than just managing conflict.
One of the first things we noticed was how it improved our communication skills. Restorative taught us active listening skills, teasing out more meaningful feedback and information, the benefit of silence and what it feels like to be listened to. Before this, I thought I was quite good at this, but it turned out that there was room for improvement.
This approach enables us to implement and nurture an ethos that everyone has their view, thoughts and feelings. It also recognises that thoughts influence emotions, and emotions influence actions. We can acknowledge these without necessarily agreeing with them. Understanding how someone feels and what they’re thinking supports the development of a good relationship and develops skills in seeing things from another person’s perspective. As a professional, it elevates your communication skills to share your thoughts and feelings eloquently whilst considering those on the receiving end of your message.
One of my reservations about adopting a restorative approach was that we would lose some authority in our service and would be left unable to manage risk or conflict whilst we used a much softer strategy. During the course, we discussed how this is used extensively in schools. There was a point when I thought the children would run riot as traditional authoritative respect would be lost in exchange for restorative interventions with no consequences. However, the more we learned about the approach, the more reassured I felt.
Restorative encourages everyone to think about their behaviour’s impact on others, rather than exhibiting that poor or ‘bad’ behaviour and then accepting the consequence of their actions or words. Thinking about our behaviour’s impact on others helps to conclude that we don’t want those impacts to occur, thus encouraging us to change our behaviour. This is a much more valuable lesson to learn than that of consequences. An example of this in Amber Family could be that a parent steals from another. Traditionally, the consequence could be a warning or ‘telling off’ and instruction to pay back and apologise. The parent would accept the consequence or try harder to avoid the consequence by not getting caught next time. However, using a restorative approach with the parent, we can look at the ripple effect and impact of stealing on the victim, the staff within the setting and the children. We would explore how it has affected everyone and their thoughts and feelings. Understanding how our actions affect others is essential in creating new skills and changing behaviours. Using a restorative approach is more likely to discourage further stealing. Whilst this is one simple example, adapting the approach is becoming second nature to our staff team.
Despite housing four families in each setting, conflict in the houses is rare as we adopt a restorative way of dealing with any potential conflict. Our staff team have had intensive restorative training, which supports a calm and respectful way to live together in a communal setting.
Part of the restorative model looks at the person and their needs. We use this regularly at Amber as we now acknowledge that talking about needs and acknowledging unmet needs is when we can function at our best. This has been incorporated into our parenting assessment tool, Impact Assessments, as we check in with parents and enquire about their feelings and needs.
One of the added benefits of restorative is the way that it develops problem-solving skills. I believe that everyone working in the caring profession has the instinct to help and solve others’ problems. Whilst this intention is good, the downside is that helping doesn’t enable independence and can impact confidence and self-esteem. At Amber Family, we resist giving parents all the answers; instead, we will use subtle restorative enquiries. For example, a parent may ask, ‘Do you think my baby is due a feed?’ Rather than answer, we would say, ‘What makes you ask that?’ Or ‘What do you think?’ ‘Go on, tell me more about why you think that?’ Before you know it, the parent has answered their question, and in time they won’t even need to ask as we’ve enabled them to resolve the issue for themselves.
Whilst a placement at Amber is only a short intervention, we hope that all parents placed with us have an opportunity to develop skills that will continue to benefit them well beyond their assessment. We hope they develop their communication skills, become more in touch with their needs and feelings, develop confidence, and clearly understand how their behaviour and choices affect others. Below the anger, there is an unmet need, and that conflict is not the answer.
I would recommend that any school, residential setting or workplace adopt a restorative approach. I know our service will never lose the enthusiasm for creating a restorative service. Since our training, we have commissioned the full week course for all our staff. Every time we hold this training event, we receive a wealth of positive feedback and continue to recognise the benefits this has on practice and, ultimately, the families we work with.
Regularly being exposed to crisis and hardship is bound to take its toll on anyone, regardless of your job. Many of us working on the frontline, in this case, the care sector, are exposed to trauma daily. We will witness first-hand individuals struggling with adverse childhood experiences, intimate partner violence, addiction, loss of a child/parent, homelessness and death, to name just a few. It stands to reason that dealing with these issues over a prolonged time will affect any individual personally, eventually impacting the organisation itself. Whilst working within the care sector can be, and very often is, very rewarding, we also have to contend with emotional challenges in the workplace, which include vicarious trauma.
“Vicarious Trauma”, is a term most often used by psychologists to describe the changes an individual can experience from working with traumatic experiences, both in the short and long term. In simple terms, it is a way of acknowledging that challenging workplace factors, such as exposure to trauma or adversity, can negatively impact the employee’s emotional well-being. If you spend your working day caring for others, you may take on their stress, experiences, and trauma yourself. While this isn’t always the case, it is worth recognition and discussion.
When it’s hard to separate yourself from an individual you work with and their trauma, learning how to recognise, address, and manage vicarious trauma responses is vital. This ensures that our well-being is maintained and allows us to provide the best support for our colleagues and those who need our help.
The effects of vicarious trauma vary from person to person, but some common signs include.
These signs can vary from short-term responses to long-term struggles. Whilst it could be argued that these are normal human reactions to stressful events, it’s easy to see how they can be detrimental to an individual’s well-being and work performance if ongoing for too long.
Whilst the cycle of vicarious trauma is hard to break, cultivating awareness around the issue allows us to start to do something about it. There are also several easy steps that we, as individuals and the companies we work for, can begin to bring into practice as part of our daily routines to start breaking the cycle. These include;
It’s not enough to recognise that we are exhibiting these trauma responses. We must also be open to discussing how it impacts us personally and professionally. There is no shame in admitting to struggling because I guarantee you’re not the only one. Unfortunately, it’s often a standard part of advocacy work with those who have experienced trauma. However, rather than hide from this eventuality, your workplace can provide you with tools and resources to address this issue if and when it first appears. Mindfulness comes in many forms, so it’s often about finding what works for you and having an open conversation with your company surrounding this. Take some time outside of work to focus on hobbies that make you feel good, maybe practice mindfulness or yoga, and if needed consider therapy; talking to someone neutral about your struggles could make all the difference.
When working in a challenging area, it is important to avoid feeling isolated. A good relationship with those you work with and an emphasis on support should be championed within your workplace. Simple things, such as introducing a peer support system, mentoring, professional supervision and decompression sessions, could make all the difference. Building those connections with your colleagues can help alleviate the feelings of isolation and hopelessness and allow you to understand that you do not have to tackle these challenges alone. Then outside of work, make sure you’re also socialising; allow yourself time to meet up with friends, family and loved ones. Socialising is soothing for the soul and fuel for the mind.
We can consciously alter our emotions by focusing on positive things. Start trying to actively think of all the good you are doing within your role, spend at least 5 minutes a day reflecting on what went well, and take time to acknowledge your accomplishments. You’re trying your best, and whilst it might not always be easy to see yourself, others will do.
It can also be very helpful to use humour to help you unwind; laughter is the best medicine for relieving stress and improving your mood. This may not always be appropriate within work, but make sure you’re finding opportunities to smile in your own time.
It is very important to establish boundaries, and as such, creating a healthy work/life balance is crucial. If you are starting to feel overloaded, ask for help! You can’t pour from an empty cup, so if all your efforts go into ensuring everyone else is okay, you will quickly feel the repercussions. It’s always important to increase your self-observation and acknowledge when things are becoming too much; make sure you’re checking in with yourself as much as you do with everyone else. Also, ensure you’re not shouldering the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of the individuals you work with. Instead, aim to supply them with the tools to help themselves.
Above all, it is essential to acknowledge that with trauma, there is also resilience; trauma exposure within work also offers us the opportunity to experience personal growth. When you feel supported within your role, the chances of experiencing vicarious resilience over trauma are far higher. Despite how common vicarious trauma is, especially when working with individuals who have experienced traumatic events, maintaining a good self-care plan and receiving adequate support from colleagues and the company you work for can massively reduce the risk.
Since opening its doors in 2014, Amber Family has always tried to ensure that they offer our families many opportunities to learn and grow with plenty of support. We have seen so many lovely success stories of families leaving Amber and moving on to live independently as a family, taking with them lots of memories and new skills they have gathered from their time with us. The same level of support and encouragement is afforded to the staff team too. It is in everyone’s best interests for us all to feel supported, fulfilled and indeed, enthusiastic, at work.
The role of Amber is to complete an assessment of the parenting ability and how they have evidenced their capability. So, as a Support Worker at Amber Family, it is up to us to ensure that we are documenting and logging all occasions when this has been achieved or if there is ongoing support required.
Amber Family invest heavily in the development and skilling the staff team to ensure they all feel confident and able. Working with some of our families can be quite daunting and there are never two families the same, which means that every working day at Amber is completely different! Therefore, being pretty adaptable and flexible in our approach is all part of the role. This is not always easy to explain to new staff until they have completed their first few shifts.
Everyone is offered the opportunity to complete an NVQ, minimum level 3, but a lot of our staff have opted for level 5. We have trained 4 current staff in baby massage & baby yoga and we have four staff currently undertaking Social Work degrees. We have a staff member completing their forensic psychologist training, as well as 3 staff training as domestic abuse Gateways practitioners. All of this is funded by Amber Family, and the opportunities are endless! We have training booked for the next few months of Safeguarding Officer Training, Mental Health First Aid and a Restorative Practice 5-day workshop. Investment in Amber’s staff team is one of the top priorities for the business.
Some of the incentives of working here include a Perkbox membership, where each week we are treated to a monthly cinema ticket, a cup of coffee from Nero or a sausage roll from Greggs. This also gives access to great discounts and features a recognition platform, where someone is recognised (and rewarded!) each week, on ‘Perkbox Friday’. This is coupled with cheeky little perks including …. free parking, a relaxed dress code, free tea and coffee, regular staff nights out and events like a treasure hunt or awards evening. Prizes at these events have included smart speakers, TVs, holidays and cold, hard cash! This all makes for a pretty great place to work.
We pride ourselves on a low staff turnover, with some of our current staff having been with the company since day 1! More often than not, we tend to recruit because the business is expanding, and not because of people leaving. All staff are given the option to have monthly supervision sessions where they can offload any thoughts concerns, ideas or suggestions. We call these a ‘little chat’ and then once a year, there is a ‘big chat’ where it is discussed about future plans or aspirations within the business. We aim for this to go some way toward a happy workforce, where we take ideas on board, and deal with any concerns quickly, as we don’t want anyone feeling unhappy to come to work!
Our low turnover is a testament to the development opportunities and incentives that we offer. We asked a few staff recently what they enjoy most about their jobs and were met with responses such as ‘amazing team spirit’, ‘I enjoy how rewarding the job can be’, ‘I have found Amber a really happy and positive place to work’, ‘I think it’s really lovely working for a company that appreciates and treats their staff well. I look forward to coming to work each shift which is not something I’ve felt for a long time before starting at Amber’.
We may be biased, but we think that Amber is the best place to work, so why not drop us an email to see if we are recruiting? We are always interested to hear from potential future employees!
National Apprenticeship Week is designed to celebrate apprenticeships and their positive impact on individuals, businesses and the broader economy.
I remember back in the olden days when I was starting work, and after finishing college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. If the apprenticeship scheme had been available back then, it would have prevented so many poor job choices for me! I always assumed apprenticeships were only for tradesmen or mechanics, so it’s great to know that the jobs I thought were out of reach when I was a wide-eyed and ambitious 18-year-old are now entirely accessible to everyone.
At Amber Family, we greatly support the apprenticeship scheme, which means we have apprentices peppered throughout the business. They work in settings with our families and the office, alongside attending College or University. Our apprentices are key parts of our business; we couldn’t be without them.
Apprenticeships have been around since the early nineteen hundreds, with some of the most common types of apprenticeships initially being dressmaking, engineering and carpentry. Nowadays, the most common types of apprenticeships are business administration, childcare, construction and health and social care. An apprenticeship allows you to combine work and study. This benefits the learner, as it provides the practical skills of the workplace alongside the theoretical skills learned in the classroom.
Here are a few words from Ellen, who recently left school to complete an apprenticeship instead of attending college.
I am completing my Level 3 Business Administration Apprenticeship in the Amber Family offices. My school had not told me that an apprenticeship was an option after leaving. It always seemed to me that college was my only option. I didn’t know I could do an apprenticeship until I left school and started doing some of my own research. I had applied for two of three college courses, but I had figured out that I did not want to go to college full-time, so an apprenticeship seemed the most sensible thing to do. I would be earning money whilst still learning and gaining experience in the workplace.
I attend college once a month. I thought this would be once a week, to begin with, but due to COVID restrictions, the college had decided only to hold the sessions once a month. On top of this, a part of my apprenticeship consists of one day a week to complete my college work in the office. For this, I have to put together evidence for my end-point assessment. I find this work manageable and much less demanding than what I expect A Levels are!
Although I enjoy being in the workplace, I think I would benefit from college being held every week. Being the youngest member of the team is difficult at times, and I miss socialising with people in my age group. At the same time, I am gaining lots of real-life experience by being around people with more knowledge of the sector.
An apprenticeship is very different to a college. Most apprentices are only entitled to the same annual leave as their colleagues, which can be demanding when you are not used to working full-time. However, when you start an apprenticeship, you know that you will not be entitled to a half-term. It is hard to imagine what working full time is like when all you have had is a part-time job alongside school, but so far, I have learned so much and made some great friends.
Although not everything about an apprenticeship is perfect, neither is college. If you are unsure about what career path you want to take, an apprenticeship is perfect, as experience in any workplace is useful.
I qualified as a Social Worker in 2010 and moved from working in a Local Authority to working at Amber Family in 2014. Over this time, I have had my own experience of Social Work but also met so many Social Workers from all over the country.
When I started my journey to becoming a Social Worker, I didn’t envisage I would work in child protection, as serious case reviews had convinced me that this was not the place for me. I had so many reservations about how vulnerable I would be. I was scared that I would become solely responsible for making decisions that would impact the well-being of children. This was further exacerbated by the media scapegoating one Social Worker who had made significant mistakes.
However, following a final placement in a Local Authority’s initial assessment team, I worked in front-line Children’s Social Care. The one thing that eased me into this role was a supportive manager and a fabulous staff team. As the placement progressed, I naturally became a qualified Social Worker within this same team and felt supported. I will always be grateful for this experience and the colleagues who continued to teach me as a newly qualified Social Worker.
Since Amber Family opened, we have worked with Local Authorities from all areas and have met numerous Social Workers. I have met many great people who want to be good Social Workers and adhere to the BASW Code of Ethics. However, it is evident that the pressure they’re under and the workload they have, is significantly impacting their ability to do this. More often than not, I meet Social Workers with no line manager or an uncontactable manager. I have seen the struggles that some have to go through to get someone more senior to help or support them. Furthermore, we meet Social Workers who are allocated families that they have inherited from other team members who have unexpectedly left their roles or are off sick. I know that I’m not the only member of the Amber Family team that has taken on the role of supporting a Local Authority Social Worker who is stressed, feels under pressure and is unsupported as their case load mounts up. It is not unusual for us to see Social Workers once and then find out they have left their position, which starts the unfortunate cycle again.
The pressure of the pandemic has further exacerbated these issues. Staff are unexpectedly off sick or are trying to work whilst juggling caring responsibilities. Furthermore, Social Workers have been denied face-to-face office support from colleagues due to home working. When I worked in the Local Authority, I greatly valued the safe space of an office where I could observe and learn from my colleagues but also have that on-hand peer advice and support. I do not believe that this can be replicated in a virtual way, which in turn, has denied so many people the support that they need.
Whilst we see these dilemmas from a professional’s perspective, we also experience first-hand the impact it has on the families we work with. We hear their frustration when appointments are changed or cancelled, visits are late, families can’t get hold of their allocated Social Workers, or promises are broken. Understandably, this impacts the relationships families have with the Local Authority. From a parent’s perspective, they feel that they are heavily scrutinised by Social Workers who have high expectations of them, yet, Social Workers’ expectations are not met in return.
As we come out of the pandemic, I hope that Social Work teams will reunite and have a safe, supportive environment within which they can work. We must remember the importance of peer support and friendships in the workplace. I hope that the well-being of frontline workers is at the forefront of planning in Social Care. Social Workers have been Key Workers and will have many war wounds due to these unprecedented times. As such, they will need time to recover and repair, but this won’t be possible without support. In turn, I believe this will improve staff retention and health and well-being, which will improve family experiences and outcomes.
Let’s all look after each other, be kind, offer support and … remember why we wanted to be Social Workers in the first place.
From working with families for over 5 years at Amber Family, I have received lots of feedback about their experiences and feelings about being in one of our settings. Some feedback relates to communal living, and some relate to the assessment process. Most parents are grateful for the opportunity to be with their children and have a chance to prove they can care for them safely. However, at the same time, almost all of them feel the pressure and strain of being ‘perfect’ as they are monitored 24/7 and every part of their parenting is scrutinised and assessed. In addition to this, their whole lives are being looked at with a fine tooth comb. Relationships, housing, budgeting, how they manage stress and upsetting news, court proceedings, cleanliness – everything!
The situation the families that reside with us find themselves in is unnatural. They are being asked to live with 3 other families they do not know and a staff team. This adds stress to an already stressful situation for them. Professionals working with these families must recognise this added pressure and understand the challenges these parents face during their time with us. During placements, we try our best to support parents and give them the skills and tools to manage this stress and pressure. We ensure they are listened to when they tell us how they feel.
I have spoken to a parent that we currently have in placement and asked them to summarise what they think the best and worst things are for them about being in a residential family centre. The parent explained that the best thing is the support she gets. She feels she needs all the support to care for her baby. She also explained that the staff in Amber make families feel welcome and offer lots of reassurance. She said if someone were to move in and be scared, she knew the staff would make them feel welcome and reassure them that they were safe. The parent explained that she also appreciates the bond she has built with staff members. She feels comfortable coming and talking to staff about things she is struggling with and thinks the atmosphere is quite relaxed. This parent said the worst thing about being in placement is its impact on her freedom. For example, she can’t just nip to the shops when she wants to. She has to wait for a staff member to accompany her as she must be fully supervised with her baby. The parent explained this is frustrating, especially when many appointments are booked, so staff may not always be available immediately.
Generally, when gaining feedback from parents at the end of the placement, no matter the outcome, they say they have been grateful for the opportunity to show their parenting skills, learn new skills and be given a chance to spend time with and build memories with their children.
I was encouraged to steer towards more male-dominated industries like plumbing and building work when I left school. As my dad is a builder and his dad was, too, he naturally assumed I would follow in his footsteps. I went to college, followed my dad around for a few years, and became a qualified electrician.
The rewards of seeing a job done well were great. I started working in one of the large energy suppliers and enjoyed a 10-year career as a smart-energy expert. I got lots of praise from friends and family for working for a big company. Wearing a recognisable brand on my uniform and van gave me some “excellence” status. However, I was so miserable and sad inside. I worked for a large PLC company that treated me like a number. Before communicating with anyone in management, I had to supply my 8-digit employer ID number. It was a faceless enterprise in a lone working environment pretty much all of the time. I was under massive pressure, and I was responsible for ensuring I got a 10-star review at the end of a job. Although I didn’t struggle to get good reviews, I couldn’t help but feel like it was all very fake and forced.
I often left families without gas or electricity because their appliances were unsafe or they hadn’t paid their bills, which used to keep me awake at night, mainly because I would be the one who had to give them the bad news, either I cut their energy supply off, or I would likely lose my job. There was no loyalty to my hundreds of ten-star reviews. If I didn’t cut the power to these vulnerable families, they would sack me. It was awful. I didn’t realise it then, but I was really unhappy. I look back now and realise that I only went into this industry because it was the ‘done thing’ to go into a manual role. However, since working at Amber, I feel there should be a shift in opinion or how we see gender-specific roles.
Working in this role suits me so much more. I find that I have the time to really get to know our families. They confide in me, and they tell me so many sensitive and complex confessions. I feel like I am in a privileged position to support these families. As a man, I have found a general theme amongst the other men who come for their assessment. Lots of men say that “people” assume that I should know what to do, and I have been too proud to say I don’t.
Lots of our dads haven’t had the most supportive upbringing or have no point of reference for what is expected of them, possibly due to growing up without a significant father figure around.
I’m unsure why, but other men tend to confide in me. Maybe it’s because they seem to be able to chat with another bloke, and there is less embarrassment, who knows, but I take this responsibility very seriously. I try to be a safe pair of hands with their feelings and hope to steer them in the right direction.
I love my job, I really thrive off seeing people improve their situation and become the people they want to be. I just wish the care and social work industry was advertised to me when I was younger and not the male-orientated industries.
Hopefully, the next generation will be given all the opportunities and not gender-stereotyped roles.
I have been part of the Amber Family for 5 years, and it was the best decision of my life to apply to be part of the team.
In October 2016, I was a stay-at-home mum with 3 children, my youngest being just over the age of 1. I had recently qualified as a Social Worker; however, after graduating from University, I decided I did not want to work in a Local Authority setting. The reason for this is that I felt that Social Workers in the Local Authority are so busy and overstretched that they must struggle to invest time and support into each family they work with. My decision to train to be a Social Worker was because I wanted to fully support parents, especially young parents, to become the best parents they could be. I had my first child at 18 years of age, and without the support of my family, I wouldn’t have been able to manage. However, not all parents have the luxury of being supported by a close-knit family as I had.
I was informed about Amber Family during a visit from my youngest child’s Health Visitor. I subsequently applied for a job, and my journey began. Initially, I was employed as a support worker, working nights and weekends. I thoroughly enjoyed this role and enjoyed working so closely with the parents and getting to know all about Amber. After a short space of time, continuing my role as a support worker, an opportunity became available for me to become a trainee keyworker. I jumped at this opportunity. I enjoyed completing this training as I had the opportunity to work closely with the other established Key Workers, who had a wealth of knowledge. Following my training in this role, I was promoted to key worker, where I would be responsible for closely working with 2 families. My responsibilities as a keyworker were to complete weekly keyworker meetings with my 2 families, attend professional meetings for the family and inform the allocated assessor about the families’ progress. Whilst completing my role as a Key Worker, I was offered the opportunity to train to become a PAMs assessor. Again, I jumped at this opportunity and was delighted that management believed in me and could see I had potential. Therefore, I went to London for an all-expenses paid overnight stay to complete my PAMs training. This was the first time I had been to London and although I was nervous about going on my own, I had the best time, as well as completing the training I did have the opportunity to be a tourist for a couple of hours each day.
I continued my role as a Key Worker, working very closely with various families. During this time, my confidence and workability increased, and I gained lots of knowledge and new skills while being a key worker. One day I was informed that an opportunity had arisen to cover a manager due to go on maternity leave. This position was offered to me. I was absolutely made up when asked to do this and of course, accepted. Whilst covering this position, I again developed more knowledge and skills and became more involved in decisions made by the management team. I was so grateful for this opportunity. I understood that when my colleague returned from maternity leave, I would return to my role as keyworker and PAM’s assessor, which I was more than happy to do. However, when my colleague returned from maternity leave, I was offered the opportunity to become a Registered Manager of another setting in the company. I was so pleased to be given this opportunity and immediately said ‘yes’. Following an intense Ofsted interview for this role, I officially became a Registered Manager in May 2020.
This journey I have had with Amber Family so far has been one of the best times of my life. I have developed quickly to be where I am today, however, this has not been without determination and some ups and downs. I cannot thank the management team at Amber Family enough for believing in me and providing me with the opportunities I have been given. Reflecting on all the opportunities I have had whilst working at Amber, I feel this is one of the only times in my life where people have believed in me and supported me to be the best person/employee I can be. I would encourage all staff at Amber Family to approach management if they want to develop further in their career, as there are always options and support available to do this. When working at Amber Family, I definitely feel part of a family, and I will remain working here for as long as I am needed.
Since beginning my role at Amber Family over 7 years ago, hundreds of parents have walked through the doors at Amber House, Lodge and Grange for the purpose of a parenting assessment with their child(ren).
Unfortunately, It is common for parents to arrive at placement and state they ‘dislike the Local Authority’ or ‘don’t trust any of us’. These two things can be linked to previous negative experiences that families may have been subject to, whether this be lack of communication, poor relationships with professionals, removal of other children, or feeling that things recorded about them have not been fully accurate in past or present paperwork. These are all common reasons that we hear, and they ‘don’t even need to be here’ as they are not accepting of concerns that have been raised.
We take time from day one in induction to the final day of placement in week 13 to allow parents to be listened to and encourage and promote them to share their thoughts and feelings. We put a lot of time and effort into building a strong working relationship to allow parents to feel at home whilst residing with us, giving a true reflection of what life would be like back in the community.
Unavoidably, it is also not uncommon for allocated Social Workers to change, which can be for various reasons, mainly due to going off on long-term sickness or a change of team, depending on the case. If a Social Worker has built a good relationship with a particular family, it can be difficult for a parent to rebuild this with someone else, similarly if the relationship is negative, this will have an adverse effect on the newly allocated worker, and automatically they will not get off ‘to a good start’.
We work hard to promote a good working partnership between parents and the Local Authority, and Amber Family like to ensure all parties are informed simultaneously about the placement progression. We do not work secretively, and we are open, honest and evidence-based regarding our conversations with others, writing reports and giving feedback in meetings. We feel our parents must have a voice and can give their opinions and feedback, as this involvement with services is mapping out their future.
Building good relationships helps achieve better outcomes for all involved, and in my opinion, this is needed in all sectors of our social care.
I have been a Social Worker for 10 years, and I recall, as a newly qualified Social Worker, that there was no standardised tool available to complete a parenting assessment. Typically, we used a range of direct work around different areas of parenting and information provided by Family Support Workers. There were times that the lack of a consistent method to assess parenting meant that I felt vulnerable in my practice as I was trying to gather good quality evidence to determine the next steps for families without a comprehensive and structured procedure for doing so.
When we started to develop the services for Amber, I wanted to use a set assessment tool, and after some research, I discovered that there were such assessments available for use. I subsequently attended the face-to-face training and purchased the downloadable system. This was then the end of the relationship with the company, as I later found out that there was no further support or advice available to me when I had questions about the system. My only option was to re-attend the training or seek help from other users.
As I became more familiar with the assessment tools over the years, I adapted and changed many of the features to make them more user-friendly. I came to my own conclusions about this tool as there were a lot of advantages to using a recognised assessment. Still, the assessment itself was becoming more diluted as aspects of it were not parent-friendly or gathering the good quality evidence I needed for the final assessment. The system I was using did not substantiate the assessment journey in detail; I could not quickly present improvement or regression in the care of a child. Furthermore, the contentious questions about the frequency of the care were very subjective. I was hearing some negative reviews about different assessment tools in court. I concluded that the situation around parenting assessments was akin to ‘the emperor’s new clothes’, and there needed to be a new way to combine a good quality assessment with teaching, the monitoring of improved skills and some updated areas of investigation. To scrutinise this further and to get a better understanding of other professionals’ experiences of using these tools, we commissioned a piece of research to be completed. The results of this research highlighted pitfalls with current parenting assessment tools that were recognised across the sector. The results indicated that although there was congruency that a structured assessment framework was useful, the assessment itself was somewhat reductionist and did not contain enough elements for it to be considered a standalone process that could be easily quantified and used fairly within the court arena. Instead, a lack of available and standardised alternatives appeared to be the key reason that certain parenting assessments were used so frequently in care proceedings.
As such, the development of the Impact App has sought to make a new, modern assessment that collates good quality evidence to inform teaching, support, and the final care plan for a family. This assessment is easy to use, works in partnership with families and can be accessed by various professionals, including Support Workers, Social Workers, and Foster Carers. Rather than looking at the evidence once and making one judgement, the Impact assessment forces a ‘story’ to develop where we can observe the development, or the regression, of parenting over time. An Impact assessment also considers environmental factors and the parent’s well-being throughout.
The Impact assessment is not just a new assessment tool. It’s a new way of approaching parenting assessments and looks to improve the face of social work. The tool is embedded with good practice and contains features that create obligations for the assessor to see families together, spend time getting to know them and record a true reflection of the parent’s skills. The app ensures that time is re-organised and the assessor’s time is spent with the families, as the app itself is easy to use, and evidence and observations can be easily incorporated. The app is responsible for collecting the evidence and preparing reports for the assessor to analyse and use their professional judgements to make recommendations.
Many of us would class ourselves as ‘social drinkers’; we don’t tend to drink alone or to excess, but what’s the harm in a cheeky one with friends, family, or colleagues? The issue with this classification is that ‘social drinking’ does not have a set numerical value. What we class as social can vary a lot from person to person.
One person may class social drinking as a glass of prosecco on a Friday night with the girls from the office, whilst to someone else, it might be 4 or 5 pints at the football with their mates. Another might class it as a few drinks after work on a Tuesday, student night at the union on a Thursday and a binge at the weekend; if they make it to work on time in the week and it’s not affecting their job performance then what’s the issue?
So, what’s the truth? Well, this really depends on who you ask, some experts say that the term “social drinking” is purposely vague and is based largely on what is acceptable within a particular culture or group of individuals. This ‘norm’ is also up for debate depending on the specific situation and social connotations associated with that situation, for example, what’s appropriate on a night out for St. Patrick’s Day, would not be expected for a family meal. What’s normal for a student during fresher’s week is not during a family holiday to Disneyland.
This is a very relevant area of discussion at the minute; with lockdown easing and life returning to the new ‘norm’, people are starting to venture back into situations that go hand in hand with ‘social drinking’. Lads’ nights out, hen dos, weddings, and long overdue birthday celebrations are being held in gardens, pubs, and restaurants again, all of which are great fun anyway but are likely to be enhanced by the free-flowing alcohol for many of us. Though admittedly, most of us will have to admit to ourselves that the standard doubles in the pubs will not compare to our homemade garden bar doubles that have been the norm for the last year and a half!
At what point do we pass that invisible line between social and problem drinking then, when it differs from person to person and place to place? Ultimately, the key component of ‘social drinking’ is knowing your boundaries and staying within them. Social drinking is not something that would impact your life, it wouldn’t cause problems with home or work responsibilities, family, health, relationships (friends or family) or leave you with any financial issues. It comes down to moderation; drinking when done in moderation should enhance other activities rather than disrupt them.
However, even social drinking when done often enough can start to become problematic, with the weekly recommended limit being 14 units, regularly drinking more than this, risks damaging your health in numerous ways. For example, you are at a much higher risk of developing certain cancers, liver disease, damage to the nervous system, or it could even damage your mental health.
Before you get to this point, it is possible to notice the signs and get yourself some help.
Signs to look out for include;
If you feel like any of the above explains your relationship with alcohol, you may be dealing with problematic drinking habits. If none of this seems relevant to you, then ask yourself, “Has anyone expressed concern to you about your drinking?”. If your alcohol consumption has caused issues for someone else, you may need to take a closer look at your behaviour.
If you have identified that you may need to address a problem, what should you do? Try to cut down, there are so many benefits to moderating your drinking such as; improved mood, sleep, behaviour and even your immune system.
Here are some simple tips to help you cut down:
If you don’t feel like the above would work for you, then you could always try considering professional help. The first step would be your GP. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to your GP, you could speak to community groups such as;
Drinkline– the national alcohol helpline. If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, you can call this free helpline in complete confidence. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays, 9 am to 8 pm, weekends, 11 am to 4 pm).
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group. Its “12-step” programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups.
We Are With You is a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals, families, and communities manage the effects of drug and alcohol misuse. If you are worried about your drinking, call 0808 8010 750
For most of my life, I have been living with a mental health condition, mixed anxiety and depressive disorder. I have made the personal choice to keep this to myself and not disclose it to others. Although I hope to be brave enough one day to be open and honest about it and not feel the overwhelming shame of having poor mental health.
I am not convinced that I am not alone in this. Research conducted by YouGov on behalf of Mind, the mental health charity, has found that 92% of the British public believe admitting a mental illness would damage their career.
My formal diagnosis came in 2005, and I dipped in and out of medication and therapy, but really not taking care of myself at all. Spotting the signs of when the big black cloud was looming, but choosing to ignore it and hope it would go away of its own accord.
I would often lose days, if not weeks, of sleep, panicking about my impending doom or relaying conversations I’d had ten years ago and reliving all the scenarios I could have done differently. I would have reoccurring daydreams of accidents that have never happened, finding danger in the most innocent of things, and almost becoming terrified of leaving the house to avoid harming myself or anyone I care about.
I had chosen not to disclose the diagnosis, and I have hidden the symptoms for many years. They are masked, veiled, and denied by me – because being depressed is incompatible with the identity of someone who considers themselves strong and supportive.
Sometimes it was an exhausting and alienating task to come to work. To disguise my illness, I tried my best to be the very opposite of what depressed people are. I tried to become the funniest, the smiliest and the most supportive colleague at work. At times, the performance was successful, and I felt a fleeting sense of invincibility. However, this feeling would quickly dissolve and leave me feeling utterly alone, dark and lost. A colleague once told me that she thought I was the most positive person she had ever met and that everyone enjoyed working with me. I couldn’t say anything to her at that moment. But if I was to speak my truth, it would have been to tell her that I was probably the darkest and saddest of her colleagues at that time. That darkness frightens the hell out of me – so I keep it to myself.
Previously I have felt that the best-case scenario of disclosing my illness would be that colleagues will see me as emotionally weak, and the worst-case scenario is that I am unstable or a burden. As a female with depression, I am sure my experience is quite different from that of a man. The stereotype of the hysterical, screaming, emotionally unstable woman rears its head. There are fears of being an outcast in your own community if word gets out means that it is becoming increasingly impossible to “come out” as depressed.
But since working at Amber Family, I am trying to get better. I have been in talking therapy for 18 months, and I started taking antidepressants a few years ago. I did this not only because I wanted to perform better at work but because I didn’t want to be ‘that’ person. The person who has to consider every option, both real and make-believe, before making a decision.
If I had a broken leg, which meant that walking on it was physically painful and exhausting, nobody would struggle to comprehend this. So why do I, and many other people, feel that they cannot say that some days they can’t handle the world, and I feel emotionally hurt and exhausted?
Although discussions around mental wellness are becoming much more frequent and the stigma is slowly disappearing, I feel the ‘stiff upper lip’ culture is still very prevalent. We have a way to go before the closet depressives like myself will feel confident enough to share their diagnosis with colleagues or friends.
I often envy the parents who come to us and how they engage so well with the services available to them. Our parents are unashamedly their authentic selves, making them braver than I could ever be.
Surely there must be more people like me out there. Can anyone relate to this?
Since beginning my job at Amber Family 2 years ago, one question I have heard variants of more times than I can count is, ‘Will too much cuddling spoil my baby?’. Coming to Amber Family off the back of a master’s degree in Forensic Psychology, which very heavily emphasised the role of attachment in an individual’s childhood development and later life successes, made it hard for me to see why this myth was something that was so readily perpetuated within our society.
Personally, I believe that you can never show your child too much love or affection. By offering them as much emotional warmth as you can, you are not only establishing a positive bond with them, but you are also giving them a solid starting point for their own development. Cuddles and other non-verbal communication tools, such as eye contact, the tone of your voice or even something as simple as smiling at your baby, could make all the difference in how strong the bond they form with you is.
In more technical terms, the ‘Attachment Bond’, is the emotional connection formed via non-verbal communication between a child and their primary caregiver. Whilst attachment will occur naturally, the quality of the bond and the attachment style formed is critical to the child’s future and impacts them throughout their life in numerous ways.
I believe this is something I see every day within Amber Family; many of the parents we work with confide in us about the poor relationships they have with their own parents. They also acknowledge the influence this has had on their entire life and, ultimately the decisions they made that led to them being at Amber Family. We can see first-hand the impact of insecure attachment and if not addressed, how it can become a cycle of behaviour that passes from one generation to the next. We at Amber Family are very keen to break this cycle.
So, what does this have to do with cuddling? Cuddling is one of the most basic ways to strengthen the attachment bond from the very beginning. Attachment theory largely focuses on a parent’s capability to be both sensitive and responsive to their child’s needs, and the impact this has on the child’s development of trust, resilience and confidence.
As we explain to the parents we work with via our in-house attachment course, A secure attachment develops when you are able to manage stressors respond to your child’s cues and successfully soothe them when necessary. This will meet the child’s innate need for security, calm and understanding, which should allow for optimal development as they grow. Overall, the child needs a safe haven, so they know that they can explore the world but they have a secure base to come back to for soothing and comfort if needed.
We do explain that several other factors could inhibit this development. However, the primary caregiver, if responding appropriately to the child, will act as a protective factor against external stressors such as the environment.
If the child is given a chance to bond to their parent or caregiver securely, the resulting foundation they have to mature from is likely to be based on a feeling of safety and has been seen to result in:
However, if a child’s need for security, calm and understanding are not met, they are likely to form an insecure attachment with their primary caregiver, which can hinder their development- mentally, emotionally and physically. This generally causes long-term problems for the child that can be expressed in both behavioural difficulties and difficulties forming positive, long-lasting relationships as they mature. According to research, children who have an insecure attachment style have difficulties trusting others, as they have learnt from a very early age that those they should be able to trust the most are not reliable.
The Insecure attachment types can be broken down further in numerous ways. However, most research recognises 3 distinctive types; Disorganised, Anxious-Ambivalent and Anxious Avoidant. All of these insecure attachment types lead to a number of distinctive limitations for infants later on in life, particularly in regard to emotional attachments. However, it is possible for these individuals to change their relationship patterns through awareness and support in a way that can allow them to live a more fulfilling life. However, our hope at Amber Family is that shedding light on this issue will give our parents the necessary tools to create a secure bond with their child from the beginning.
As attachment is the result of dynamic and interactive exchanges of nonverbal emotional cues, it is something that impacts the child from the moment they are born, and some even argue that it begins prior to birth. The aim is to make the child feel secure, safe and stable. It is important to remember that babies are like sponges- they absorb everything, and as such, they pick up on emotional cues very easily, such as gestures, tones of voice and facial expressions.
The child will also very quickly begin to mimic these cues and begin to signal back to their caregiver by crying, cooing, laughing, pointing and even mimicking facial expressions. As soon as the caregiver picks up on these signals, they should respond with warmth and affection. As the infant is nonverbal- that is they cannot outright tell us what they are thinking or feeling, when we respond to their nonverbal cues, we give them a sense of recognition, comfort and ultimately a sense of safety.
Some communications we can use to help build and strengthen a secure attachment bond are:
Ultimately, the answer to the question, ‘Will I spoil my baby by cuddling and picking them up too much?’ is, in my eyes, a resounding no! Babies need to be shown that you are there for them to depend on. Ignoring your baby when they are fussing will not teach them to sort their own issues out because they are just a baby and cannot do that yet. All it shows them is that no one will be there for them when needed. This is an awful thing even to consider, so why would we let children live with that reality if we can stop it?
Prior to working at Amber, I had been working in various law firms for 5 years. I was working in an office, doing the same sorts of things day in, day out and felt I wasn’t really getting anywhere in terms of a ‘career’. Having worked at Amber for almost 4 years now, I can confidently say that no two days have ever been the same. There is no chance of my job here ever becoming boring, and that’s probably the main thing I enjoy. I actually look forward to coming to work which is a nice feeling! It’s a busy job, and there’s such a big responsibility for all of us as we’re working with some very vulnerable people, but it’s a job that you can really get something out of. I’ve been able to complete further qualifications since I started working at Amber and am due to complete an MA this year, which I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do anywhere else. I feel that I have been given such good opportunities for development, which have previously been hard to come by!
Day to day, I come into the office and can be answering the phone to Solicitors, Social Workers, Barristers, Health Professionals and more. We receive lots of referrals from Local Authorities, and it’s surprising how many different reasons there are for families being referred to us. It can be sad to see how many negative experiences people have had in their lives, but it’s so rewarding when they get to the end of a placement, and there is a positive outcome for them and their child.
Amber is a much-needed service, and it’s lovely to see the company growing all the time. With this comes a lot of work in terms of recruiting, training and retaining staff. There’s so much more that goes into recruiting staff at Amber Family than just an interview – there is an interview, shadow shifts, a second interview, inductions and more. We don’t necessarily look for qualifications and formal experience but look at personal qualities, life experience and being a good fit for the team. It’s nice to see people coming into interviews who are passionate about a career with us and then see them go on to progress in their roles and become great members of the team. There’s such a lovely family feel to the company, and I enjoy being part of adding new people into the mix.
If someone asked me if I wanted to be an apprentice when I was a teenager, I would be instantly transported to a greasy car garage, where spotty boys would be doing a two-year stint at following their dads mate around, holding a spanner and a screwdriver whilst making a brew or two and learning the trade. Alternatively, I would have considered upping my hours from washing hair as a Saturday girl in the hairdresser to doing five full days a week and a day release at college to learn all techniques of cutting hair and all of the science behind hair colouring.
Every grandparent in that land could be heard saying, ‘You need a trade if you ever want to make any money,’ and it was commonly understood that the only real way to get a trade was to complete an apprenticeship.
An apprenticeship offered little to no money at the time, and it would be a full-time job alongside a full 2-year college course at the local polytechnic college.
There was no mistaking that being an apprentice was not the easiest way to get a qualification back in the day. In fact, it was probably so much harder back in the early nineties, which is why I probably chose the college route. It left me free to get a part-time job which paid enough for me to get my own Tammy Girl bleached jeans and a New Kids on the Block LP from Our Price or Woolworths.
Nowadays, Apprenticeships are very different; they offer almost every skill in the education handbook. There are hundreds of subjects to choose from, which vary from intermediate to master’s degree level. They are unique in terms of how you learn on the job. You can apply the new knowledge immediately and not have to wait until you are on a placement to implement your new skills.
As a BA Social Work apprentice, I absolutely see the benefit of this work-based learning method. My college days taught me a lot academically, but it took me years to actually apply it in practice – by which time a lot of that knowledge was old and outdated.
An apprentice is a real job where you learn and gain experience, and (the best bit) you get paid. It can take one to six years to complete depending on which one you choose and what level it is, plus the 20% learning section of your week will be delivered at a college or university.
An apprenticeship is funded by the Government and your employer. It is a sustainable way of upskilling the workforce of the future whilst keeping the valuable talent that exists within the economy and passing it down to the next generation.
As we celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, we can celebrate the fantastic successes that apprentices bring to the economy and how they will shape the future. Have a go at this quiz to see what kind of apprentice you may be.
Like lots of people across the world right now, I am having a go at homeschooling. I have felt totally out of my depth, trying to understand information that is brand new to me, confusing, yet so important to my child.
It has got me reflecting on how parents under assessments must feel when they are placed in the position of ‘not understanding’ and being faced with reports that are confusing, inaccurate, long, and with lots of terminology yet massively important. As an assessor, I will read and try to make sense of reports, key documents, and past assessments. Despite having academic qualifications, and an understanding of the topics, it still takes me time to unpick information. I feel a great deal of empathy for parents trying to engage in their assessment but are genuinely overwhelmed by the whole process and, because of this, perform poorly in their assessment. Perhaps reaching back to old coping strategies; anger, fear, avoidance and demonstrating an inability to change.
At Amber Family, we work hard to make our reports, teaching sessions, and feedback understandable to all our parents. But is this a true reality of social work? Given that Local Authority Workers have a set format for reports, limited time and now even less time for face-to-face explanations. I have seen the fear in the face of a parent who is presented with a Local Authority report that is confusing, wordy, and inaccessible to them.
Changing the way we present reports, feedback and information; may appear to be time-consuming, daunting and yet another task to complete. However, we should never forget that all Social Workers are duty-bound to adhere to all the professional standards, for example:
Value each person as an individual, recognising their strengths and abilities.
Actively listen to understand people, using a range of appropriate communication methods to build relationships.
Practise in ways that demonstrate empathy, perseverance, authority, professional confidence and capability, working with people to enable full participation in discussions and decision-making.
At Amber Family, we uphold our responsibility to work in partnership with a parent to ensure they can engage fully in their assessment. We have developed a range of resources that can meet an individual learning style. These don’t have to be complicated changes, and I believe they can be introduced to all social work, regardless of administration constraints. We talk about how parents like feedback at the start, so we have a basis to work towards. We use bullet points to break down lengthy texts and create a clear message, we agree on clear expectations, and we use ‘to-do’ lists and visual planners.
It’s not just parents with a learning need that require uncomplicated, clear information; it’s all of us….. take it from a mum who has said, “Siri, what is a fronted adverbial??” several times already this week! I think what I’m trying to get across is we all need information that is clear, accessible, and someone at the end of the phone who can reassure us and explain things. Something that may seem really easy to one person is really confusing to another, as practitioners we are familiar with social care, parenting, and safeguarding, but the people we work with are not; we all need to be patient, take our time, and consider each other when communicating through the paperwork.
As a parent myself and a parenting assessor, I have lots of experience demonstrating positive parenting as well as observing positive parenting. Unfortunately, there is no official ‘textbook’ on how we positively parent our children, and we learn a lot from how we were parented ourselves and from watching others parent. As an only child, my parenting experience will be somewhat different to a child who has grown up in a family home with lots of other siblings, I did not have the hustle and bustle of a busy family home; mine was more tranquil and calming. However, I do not feel being an only child affected the way I was parented or taught me anything differently in respect of parenting.
As I have mentioned above, there is no official ‘textbook’ on how we should or shouldn’t parent our children; however, the most important thing is that if we decide to become a parent, we accept our responsibilities for our children and make them the main priority in our life. So yes, there might be no more nights out with friends, no more buying expensive clothes & shoes, and no more sleeping past 7 a.m. at a weekend. However, this will be replaced by the unconditional love that we receive from our children.
A child requires their parents (whether this be both parents or just mum or dad) to meet all their needs, all of the time and to prioritise them above their own needs and wants. Unfortunately, not all children receive this commitment from their parents. Throughout my career at Amber Family, I have worked with parents who are able to fulfil this role to their full potential and thrive within their role as a parent. I have also, however, worked with other parents who are sadly unable to do this. Sometimes, this is through no fault of their own, while some parents make a choice not to prioritise their children’s needs above their own.
Positive parenting can come in lots of different ways, and the list is endless; however, here are a few examples of what I would encourage to all new parents… stay calm when meeting your baby’s needs; make meeting their needs your priority; talk to your baby; sing to your baby; read books to your baby; cuddle your baby; be kind to your baby; protect your baby from others who may cause harm and when possible take some time for yourself, this can be difficult however it is important that we look after ourselves to ensure we can fully look after our children.
When Gill and I started working on the concept of Amber Family, she was on maternity leave from the Local Authority, and I was working as a Construction Project Manager in the Midlands. Our geographical distance meant that nights were spent on the phone talking about policies, service users, EDTs, Local authorities and what we’d consider suitable attire for our staff whom we’d not even recruited yet….in fact, did we have a recruitment policy?! No!
We rented a large residential property that had fortuitously become available in our local area. We set about dealing with planning permissions, building regulations, CCTV companies, plasterers, carpet fitters, furniture providers, IT providers, data and comms providers – we’d speak to anyone and everyone who could give us a helping hand to realise our dream of opening a residential family centre.
Amber Family was opened on 1st June 2014 and in that time, what a learning curve we’ve had. Having started off with 6 staff and one setting (Gill and I being two of those staff), we now have a workforce of 40, made up of the most brilliant full-time and part-time staff across three settings, all of which we now own, having handed back our “first” Amber House to the Landlord earlier this year.
At any one time, we can accommodate up to 12 families, four in each house and placements last, on average, about 13 weeks; we’ve just accepted our 202nd family into placement. We could grow bigger and accommodate more. However, we emphasise ensuring parents get a focused, honest and robust assessment in a supportive environment. Gill and I still have complete control over the company’s day-to-day operation and our assessments; we wouldn’t have it any other way.
So, what have we learned?