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 on 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 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 psychologists 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 we the business is expanding, and not because of people leaving. All staff are given the option to have monthly supervision sessions where they can off load any thoughts and 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 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 the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy.
I remember back in the olden days, when I was starting work and after finishing at college, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. If the apprenticeship scheme was 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 completely out of reach when I was a wide eyed and ambitious 18 year old are now completely accessible to everyone.
At Amber Family we are great supporters of the apprenticeship scheme, which means that we have apprentices peppered throughout the business. They are working at the settings with our families and in the office, alongside attending College or University. Our apprentices are key parts of our business, and we couldn’t be without them.
Apprenticeships have been around since the early nineteen hundreds, with some of the most common types of apprenticeships originally being things 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. Which 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 attend college.
I am currently completing my Level 3 Business Administration Apprenticeship, working in the Amber Family offices. My school had not told me that an apprenticeship was an option after leaving school, it always seemed to me that college was my only option. I didn’t know that it was possible for me to do an apprenticeship until I had left school and started to do some of my own research. I had applied for two of three college courses, but I had figured out that I did not really want to go to college full time, so an apprenticeship seemed like the most sensible thing for me to do. I would be earning money, whilst still learning, and gaining experience in the workplace.
I attend college once a month. I thought that this would be once a week to begin with, but due to Covid restrictions, the college had decided that they would only 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 to be manageable, and lots less demanding than what I expect A Levels are!
Although I enjoy being in the workplace, I do think that I would personally benefit from college being held on a weekly basis. I find that being the youngest member of the team is difficult at times, and I do miss socialising with people in my own 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 college. Most apprentices are only entitled to the same amount of annual leave as their colleagues, which can be demanding when you are not used to working full time. Although when you start an apprenticeship, you know that you will not be entitled to 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, I’m sure neither is college. I do think that if you are not sure on 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 on the wellbeing 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 initial assessment team, I found myself working within 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 found myself becoming a qualified Social Worker within this same team and felt that I was 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 so many great people who clearly 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 on their ability to do this. More often than not, I meet Social Workers that have no line manager or they have a manager who is uncontactable. 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 that are allocated families that they have inherited from other team members who have unexpectedly left their role, 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 that 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 as a result of home working. I know 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 see and hear their frustration when appointments are changed or cancelled and 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 Worker 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 need to remember the importance of peer support, and friendships in the workplace. I hope that the wellbeing of front-line workers is at the forefront of planning in Social Care. Social Workers have been key workers and will have many war wounds as a result of 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 that this will result in an improvement in staff retention, and health and wellbeing, which will, of course, 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 over 5 years at Amber Family, I have received a lot of feedback from them about their experiences and feelings about being in one of our settings. Some feedback relates to communal living, some relate to the assessment process. Most parents are grateful for the opportunity to be with their children and have 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 being monitored 24/7 and every part of their parenting is being scrutinised and assessed. In addition to this, their whole lives are being looked with a fine toothcomb. 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 that they do not know, as well as a staff team. This adds stress to an already stressful situation for them. It is important that professionals working with these families 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 needed to manage this stress and pressure. We ensure they are listened to when they tell us how they are feeling.
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 as though she has all the support she needs 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 knows staff would make them feel welcome and reassure them that they are safe. The parent explained that she also appreciates the bond she has built with staff members. She feels comfortable to come and talk 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 the impact it has 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 go with her as she is currently fully supervised with her baby. The parent explained this is frustrating, especially when there are lots of appointments booked in so staff may not always be available straight away.
Generally, when gaining feedback from parents at the end of placement, no matter the outcome, they say they have been grateful for the opportunity to show their parenting skills, to learn new skills and be given the chance to spend time with and build memories with their children.
When I left school, I was encouraged to steer towards the more male dominated industries like plumbing and building work. As my dad is a builder and his dad was too, so he naturally assumed that I would follow his footsteps. I went to college and followed my dad around for few years and became a qualified electrician.
The rewards of seeing a job done well was 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 seemed to give me some sort of excellence status. However, I was so miserable and sad inside. I worked for a large PLC company that treated me like a number, before I could communicate to any one in management, I had to supply my 8-digit employer ID number, it was a faceless enterprise and I lone worked pretty much all of the time. I was under huge amounts of pressure and the responsibility of ensuring I got a 10 star review at the end of a job was enormous. 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, especially 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 for my hundreds of ten-star reviews, if I didn’t cut the power to these vulnerable families then they would sack me. It was awful. I didn’t realise it at the time, 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 that there should be a shift in opinion or change on the way 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 difficult confessions. I feel like I am in a privileged position to able 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” just 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 of upbringing or have no point of reference of 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 to 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 that I steer them in the right direction.
I love my job, I really thrive off seeing people improve their own situation and become the people they want to be. I just wish that 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 now for 5 years, and it was the best decision of my life to apply to be part of the team.
Back 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 had decided I did not want to work in a Local Authority setting. The reason for this is because I felt that Social Workers in the Local Authority are so busy and over stretched, 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. 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 keyworkers, who had a wealth of knowledge. Following my training in this role I was then promoted to key worker, where I would be responsible for closely working with 2 families. My responsibilities as a key worker were to complete weekly keyworker meetings with my 2 families, attend professional meetings for the family and inform the allocated assessor about the progress of the families. Whilst completing my role as keyworker 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, off 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 keyworker, working very close with a range of different families. During this time my confidence and work ability increased, I gained lots of knowledge and new skills whilst being a keyworker. One day I was informed that an opportunity had arisen for covering a manager who was 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 that were made in the management team. I was so grateful of this opportunity. It was my understanding that when my colleague returned from maternity leave, I would then 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 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 for 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 the one of the only times in my life where people have believed in me and supported me to be the best person/employee that 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 is 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).
It is unfortunately common for parents to arrive at placement, and state they ‘dislike the Local Authority’ or they ‘don’t trust any of us’. These two things can be linked from 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 that 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 and this can be for a variety of 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 was negative, this will have an adverse effect on the new 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 informed at the same time about the progression of placement. We do not work secretively, and we are open, honest and evidence based when it comes to our conversations with others, writing reports and giving feedback in meetings. We feel it is vital our parents have a voice and are able to give their opinion and feedback as this involvement with services is mapping out their future.
Building good relationships helps to achieve better outcomes for all involved, and in my opinion, this is what 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 become more familiar with the assessment tools over the years, I adapted and changed a lot 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, but 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 any detail; I could not quicky present improvement or regression in the care of a child. Furthermore, the contentious questions about frequency of the care were very subjective. I was hearing some negative reviews about different assessment tools in court and came to my own conclusion 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 scrutinize this further, and to get a better understanding of other professional’s experiences of using these tools, we commissioned a piece of research to be completed. The results of this research highlighted pit falls 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. Rather, 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 a range of 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 are able to observe the development, or the regression, of parenting over a period of time. An Impact assessment also considers environmental factors and the parents wellbeing 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 itself is embedded with good practice and contains features that creates 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 itself 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 putting together reports ready for the assessor to analyse and use their professional judgements to make recommendations.
Many of us would class ourselves as a ‘social drinker’, 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 set a 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 the making 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 certain 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 normal for a family meal. What’s normal for a student during freshers 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 out 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 a lot 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 to 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 own 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 explain 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. 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 9am to 8pm, weekends 11am to 4pm).
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 the mental health condition, mixed anxiety 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 per cent of the British public believe that admitting to 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 that I could have done differently. I would have reoccurring daydreams of accidents that have never happened, finding danger in the most innocent of things, 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 for many years I have hidden the symptoms. They are masked, veiled, denied by me – because being depressed is incompatible with the identity of someone who considers themselves as 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 successful and I felt a fleeting sense of being invincible. However, this feeling would quickly disolve, and leave me feeling utterly alone, dark and lost. A colleague once said to 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 in 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 in the best case scenario of me disclosing my illness, would be that colleagues will see me as emotionally weak, and in the worst case scenario is that I am unstable or a burden. As a female with depression, I am sure that my experience is quite different from that of a man’s. 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 don’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 broken leg, and it meant that walking on it is physically painful and exhausting then nobody would struggle to comprehend this. So why do I, and many other people, feel that they cannot say that some days they just 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 and 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 being their authentic selves, which makes them so much more brave 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 that 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.
To put it in more technical terms, the ‘Attachment Bond’, is the emotional connection formed via non-verbal communication between a child and their primary care giver. Whilst attachment will occur naturally, the quality of the bond and the attachment style that is 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 are able to 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. This cycle is something that we at Amber Family are very keen to break.
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 and respond to your child’s cues and successfully sooth 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 care giver, if responding appropriately to the child, will act as a protective factor against external stressors such as the environment.
If the child is given the chance to securely bond to their parent or caregiver, 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 the 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 onto 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, 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 care giver 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. Which is an awful thing to even 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 seeing 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 hairdressers 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 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 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 out of date.
An apprentice is a real job, where you learn and gain experience and (the best bit) you get paid. It can take between one and six years to complete depending on which one you chose 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 from the Government and your employer and 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 amazing successes that apprentices bring to the economy and how they will be shaping the future. Have a go of 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 home schooling. 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’ being faced with reports that are confusing, inaccurate, long, 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 great deal of empathy for parents that are 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 that 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 clear expectations, 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 that 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, 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 paperwork.
As a parent myself and a parenting assessor I have lots of experience of 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 nor 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 except 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 7am of a weekend, however this will be replaced by 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.
For most individuals and families, the Christmas period is a time of celebration, joy, and happiness. It’s a time when people can enjoy their well earned break from work, prioritise spending some much needed quality time with their loved ones, and over-indulge in great food, thoughtful presents, and amazing company. Whether you spend all day in your pyjamas watching your favourite Christmas films with the kids, get dressed up in your new Christmas clothes and visit the family, or even take the time to sit and listen to the Queen’s speech- It really is the most wonderful time of the year isn’t it?
Sadly, this is not the case for everyone, and unfortunately for some; Christmas is instead a time of anxiety and fear. Statistically, the Christmas period is the one that sees the highest increase for domestic abuse. Domestic violence can be an isolated incident or a pattern of incidents that encompass controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour. In previous years, it has been reported that on average, 30% more non-molestation orders, are served in January than at any other time of year. Evidently, there is something about this time of year that brings out both the best and worst in people. Many families, relationships and friendships can be torn apart during this supposedly festive time of year, with individuals of all ages finding themselves in extremely distressing and often dangerous situations.
So, what is it about this time of year that that facilitates the increased rates of domestic violence? Note: It’s important to acknowledge that an individual’s decision to act in a way that is domestically abusive is solely their own, the responsibility lies with them. However, the following are some factors that are known to increase this behaviour during the Christmas period;
So how does the above translate into an increased level of domestic abuse? Parents are put under pressure to please their children and each other; which can easily lead to an increase in stress and disagreements. The undeniable financial burden that is placed on individuals at this time of year, which often leads to increased overtime at work and no time to relax. The relentless social media posts from friends and family that throw people unwillingly into a competition of who’s having the best Christmas. This “keeping up with the Jones’s” mentality often ends up overshadowing the whole day. The worry that the kids presents won’t be enough, because as much as we pretend otherwise; Christmas is all about the presents to a 6 year old. There is also the likelihood that individuals will over-indulge in alcohol, which can lead to lowering of inhibitions and an increase in irritability, anxiety, and aggression.
Then there’s the family visits; whilst spending time with loved ones is always welcome in theory, the reality can be somewhat different. Any existing family disagreements have the potential to become magnified, especially when everyone is put together in a confined space for an extended period of time. The stress and added pressure of this can often lead to disagreements and in some cases verbal or even physical abuse. Or it could even be something as nondescript as the dampening of moods due to cold temperatures, awful weather and the weariness that comes with the end of a long year- especially this particular year.
When considering all of the above factors together, it becomes clearer why Christmas can be as much a time of suffering and pain as it is a time of joy and hope. Across the country, refuges and police forces are preparing for a surge in domestic abuse case referrals. According to UK government figures, assault and domestic murders increase by 25% during the holiday period, with incidents increasing by a third on Christmas day itself. Yet despite this rise in cases, calls to the National Domestic Abuse website actually decrease at this time of year. This is likely due to parents wanting to keep everything together for the children, plus being in close contact with the abuser decreases their opportunity to get help. As shocking as these statistics are, for many, this Christmas will be harder than we could imagine.
So, what can we do? Breaking the silence and stigma around domestic abuse is one of the key things we can all do to help reduce rates. Currently, domestic violence is often considered a ‘taboo’ subject, with those who have been abused more often than not being stigmatised by society themselves: “Why didn’t she just leave?” or “Why did you let him get away with it?”, are just two of countless questions thrown around by individuals, who are ignorant to the fact that they are in essence projecting the guilt onto the victim. This often results in those who have been abused believing that they are the ones at fault, thus reducing the likelihood of them speaking out. Breaking the silence is also a key aim of the “Mask 19” program, which is a hotline project that was created by the global women’s network Zonta International. Advertisements for the Mask 19 program can be found in places such as pharmacies, doctor’s offices and hospitals. Many people who have suffered from abuse may not be able to call for help from within their homes, particularly during the Christmas period, so when they use the phrase “Mask 19” in establishments that advertise the program, the police are immediately notified. This program is currently being rolled out all around Europe in the hopes of helping countless individuals leave abusive relationships.
All of us at Amber Family hope you have a restful, peaceful and calm Christmas but if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can contact the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or go to www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk. Anyone in immediate danger should call 999.
You are never alone
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, EDT’s, Local Authority’s and what we’d consider suitable attire for our staff who 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 and 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, our emphasis is on ensuring that parents get a focussed, honest and robust assessment in a supportive environment and Gill and I still have full control over the day to day operation of the company and our assessments; we wouldn’t have it any other way.
So, what have we learned?
· Your staff are everything; Without them, we wouldn’t have a business, but you need to pick the right people. They’ve got to be “people people!”, have excellent listening skills and empathy, be the right mix of humorous, supportive, encouraging and honest – definitely honest.
· Working with the Local Authorities is good; We love it when we get a new Local Authority to work with and we work hard for all our placing Authorities. On the whole, we like to think we’re good at supporting them as we appreciate the pressure that the Local Authority Social Workers are under and when we work in partnership, we produce better outcomes for our families. We’ve had a lot of repeat referrals from Social Workers we’ve worked with over the last few years and this makes us happy.
· Trust your gut and go for it – Gill and I STILL spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone, seeking confirmation from each other that we are making the right decisions and sending out the correct information. It was a gut instinct almost 7 years ago that we should open Amber Family, and the rest as they say, is history.