#CITYOT: Communication is everything

Can I Tell You One Thing?  Communication is everything.

Communication:  the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium.

It sounds so easy when you see it written down, doesn’t it?  However, communication is a process of steps, not just one and many people forget this.

CommunicationThe Communication Process:

Step 1:  A message is sent (sender to receiver)

This can be verbally (face to face), verbally (over the phone) or written (in an email or letter) or written (in a home/school book).

This can sometimes be an issue.  People forget to send the message or people presume that people have received the message.

Step 2:  A message is received

This can sometimes be an issue.  Sometimes messages don’t get through or perhaps, if in face to face scenarios, the message is missed as the person receiving it is processing another piece of information.

Step 3:  The message is interpreted.  

This is where the issues often begin.  The interpretation can be problematic.  Anyone receiving your message may interpret it in many ways.

Why is Communication so important?

Good communication between practitioners and families makes all the difference.  Families being left in the dark is a common issue and often practitioners, when they eventually do speak with the family, may forget that the family has been in the dark.  We often have no idea what is going on when you are not returning calls or emails.  We don’t imagine you are sat in Costa having a break but we do imagine that perhaps you haven’t seen our email or received our message to ring.  Sometimes we may even imagine you are avoiding us.  Just a quick email to say you will be responding the next day/week can go a long way to helping a relationship.

If you are a teacher or a care worker, perhaps you spend time with our child/young person without us.  Letting us know how the day went, either with a quick email or note in the communication book, can help us to share the day’s experiences with our child.

When communication breaks down,  the relationship can often follow.  The impact on our child and our family when this happens is huge.  None of us want to have constant changes, we want the relationships to work.

When people start to worry about communicating because they are worried it will be misinterpreted, then perhaps they need to ask why the information they share has been misinterpreted before?  The fault is not always that of the person receiving the message.

So think about the message you are sending and what you actually mean to say.  Think about the person receiving the message.  Put yourself in their shoes, how would you feel if you received this message?

We know that sometimes the messages you have to send are not ones we may want to hear.  However, don’t constantly delay sharing that message and don’t send it without trying to empathise with how it will make us feel when we receive it.

Poor communication can also result in more work for you, making you a less effective employee.  Having to constantly go back to explain what you meant, or to address issues arising from poor communication is time consuming and, let’s be honest, it can be soul destroying.  No one wants this so how can you improve your communication?

Things to consider:

A good communicator should know their audience.  Parents can be tired, scared, depressed or plain angry with the whole process.  This needs to be considered.

Does your message contain information with the potential to be misunderstood?  For example, “it was not his worst day” may infer that it was still a bad day and parents may be worrying if no further information is in the message.

Have you re-read your message before sending it?

Have you reflected on how you would feel if you received the message?

Have you clarified any possible misunderstandings?

Have you used jargon?

Have you checked that the person understood?

Have you given the person receiving the message details on how to come back to you if they do not understand or need a point clarifying?

Over to you

Poor communication or a total lack of communication can lead to conflict.  Share your top tip for better communication with us so we can share them with others

Parent Groups – Disagreements and problems

The holidays are over and for some of us that means back to our routines and groups.  Before summer, we looked at various aspects of running a successful parent group:

Today, we want to look at those times we all hate but we know happen to everyone at some point.

Disagreement and problems.

Do you have strategies in place for when there is a disagreement or problem? For example:

  • What about if the hall you use suddenly becomes unavailable or the rental price increases?
  • What if the person who does most of the work suddenly moves out of the area?
  • What if money goes missing?
  • What if a member places a complaint to your funder?
  • What if no one shows up to events?
  • What if you take a personal dislike to a member?
  • What if you are having a bad day and snap at someone?

Do you have anything in place to deal with this? Do you know what to do?

Be prepared.  Working out how to deal with a problem when it happens can be a really difficult and stress-ridden task.  Having a plan ready beforehand makes a huge difference.

How do you do this?

As a group, either by email, Facebook group or whatever method of communication you decided works best for you, think about some of the problems you have faced.  How did you deal with it?  Could it have gone better?

Then you need to consider possible issues which may arise.  Some of them you may already be thinking about, for example you may have heard rumours that your office space is about to be sold or you may know that a valuable member of your team is leaving.

Then think about issues you have heard about from other groups – could these be a possible issue for you in the future?  Please don’t think “no, that would never ever happen to us” because that is almost a guarantee that it will.  It’s called the Law of Sod.

Write up a document – Worst Case Scenario – and list all potential problems and how you have agreed, as a group, to deal with them.  This way if or when something does happen, you all know what to do – it doesn’t fall on one person to come up with a solution.  Ensure that this document is provided to new members helping to run the group.  This way, everyone knows what the potential risks and issues are.

Review these every 12 months or as and when you hear of new issues.  Often the method being used to resolve one particular issue will apply to others which you haven’t considered.

Parent Groups – Disagreements and Problems Checklist

  • Decide how you will communicate about this.
  • Write a list of the issues you have already faced
  • Write how you resolved them and if this was the best way
  • Write a list of risks you know may be on the horizon
  • Write a list of how you will cope with that issue
  • Write a list of issues you know other groups have faced
  • Write a list of how you would resolve them if they should happen to you.
  • Produce a “Worst Case Scenario” document for every member helping to run the group.

Our final post next week will look at how to review your work, your documents and policies and why this is important.  Don’t miss it, subscribe to ensure it arrives in your inbox.

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Parent Groups – Communication

As we continue our series of tips on running a successful Parent Group, we come to “Communication”.  It’s good to talk, as the old BT adverts used to tell us.  However, it is also important to know that what you are saying is being received and understood.

One of the biggest issues many groups, and indeed large corporate organisations, face is the consequences of poor communication.

Communication:  the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium.

There is often an expectation that everyone understands what the heck we are on about, we use our own jargon, we forget that some people were not at the table when things were discussed and most importantly, we forget to check.

A more accurate definition of communication is:

“A two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange information, news, ideas and feelings but also create and share meaning.”

Communication with the other people helping to run the group?

Do you know when is a good time for your team to respond to emails?  Do they check their emails?  Do you have chats on Facebook messenger?  Do you have a Facebook group to chat?   Do you have all of the above and use them randomly because you’re not sure which is best?  Do you meet regularly?  Do you chat face to face or is all your communication via email or messenger?

How’s that working for you?

If it is working for you and for everyone else involved, then stick with it.  Don’t fix what isn’t broken.  However, poor communication in groups, whether written or oral, can mean you spend more time trying to rectify the chaos it often brings, rather than doing anything productive.  It leads to negative feelings, anger, anguish, anxiety and often a breakdown of the group.

So have a coffee and chat about what works for each of you.

Think about how people access information?  Is email the best for everyone?  If not, what are the other options and what works for everyone?  What happens if someone doesn’t understand a comment – who do they speak to?  What is a bad time to call someone?  When do they like to meet/chat on the phone?

Is it clear if you are just passing on information or if you are asking for a response?

To give you a more practical example, here’s how this works at Bringing Us Together:

Katie lives in Yorkshire and Debs is in Kent – so we can’t grab a coffee together frequently.  Believe us, good communication didn’t happen overnight.  After messages were missed, misconstrued or overlooked, we sat down (over a few glasses of wine) and talked through what was and wasn’t working with communication.   We came up with something that worked for us.

Katie knows that between 3.30-6.30pm is total chaos in Debs’ home.  Chances are no emails will be checked, no messages will be looked at or responded to.  There is also a strong chance that Debs is convincing herself it isn’t too early to drink wine.

Katie knows that during that time if she needs to speak to Debs urgently, it is best to ring her.   Debs knows that if Katie does ring during that time, it really is urgent.

Debs knows that Katie tends to respond to emails after 9pm.

Debs knows that Katie takes the dogs out for a run most mornings after the kids have left for college.

We have a Facebook group where we share information which is just on a “need to know” basis, no immediate action needed (for example, notes after a meeting, or a link to a post we have published).

We have a Facebook messenger chat for anything requiring a more immediate response.

We rarely email each other for a response, we tend to use email to cc each other so we know what the other person is doing.

We also have other people working with us on a variety of different projects.  So we set up new Facebook groups for those projects.  So the relevant information goes to the right people and is easy to find.

If we ask each other to do something, we also discuss a time line.  So, for example, Katie will say to Debs “I really help with “x/y/z” by next Friday, is that possible and if yes, when can you do it?”

We tried Facebook messenger but once you get more than two people involved, it can get confusing.  Even three people can cause chaos if two people start chatting and the other is sat trying to convince her son that sleep is not an urban myth and the notifications are going crazy.  Or you open the messenger chat and see “56 unread messages” and lose the will to even begin reading them.


Communication with the people who are using your group?  

Most of your communication with the people who use your group will come under “marketing”.  However, ask the same questions when thinking about what works best for them.

What works best for them?  An email, a hard copy of a newsletter, a Facebook group?  When is a good time to email or message them?

A few other things to consider:

Is your communication clear?  Read it to a neighbour/friend/partner – someone not involved with the group – beforehand.  Do they understand what you are saying or are there a few points that need clarification?

Obviously that doesn’t apply to a quick message but for any updates, reports or news, it is important to check, if possible.

Do you appreciate how the written word can be misconstrued?  So many arguments and fall outs come about because people misunderstood the tone of an email or thought it said something which was never intended.   How often have you heard someone say “what do you think she meant by that”?  It’s something we all do from time to time.

A great example, used in many workshops, is the sentence “It wasn’t me who stole that money“.  Changing the emphasis on each word gives the sentence a whole new meaning.  If you say “it wasn’t ME who stole that money” it implies someone else did.  If you say “It wasn’t me who stole THAT money” it implies you perhaps stole some money, just not the money in question.  And so on.

So think about what you are writing.  Read it out loud, change the emphasis on words, think about the people reading it, think about when they receive it.

Communication – check list

  • How do we communicate?
  • Do we prefer email?
  • Facebook Group?
  • Facebook Messenger?
  • Other?
  • If we have all of the above, what do we use each one for?  Do we all know this?
  • When is a bad time for us to contact each other?
  • How do we all access email/Facebook? Phone/computer?
  • When do we all access email/Facebook?
  • Have I used jargon?
  • Have I presumed people know more than they do?
  • Do I want a response?  Have I made that clear?
  • Have I said when I need something by?  Is that clear?

Next week we will be looking at how to measure success and why you should.  Success isn’t just measured by the number of members or the number of activities.  It can be measured in many way.

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Running successful Parent Groups

There are so many parent groups out there.  Some provide support to families, some provide activities, some are trying to change the way their LA works, some are campaigning to make changes, some are there so families can just meet and chat.  Parent groups are invaluable to families.

However, many parent groups suddenly disappear.  Why?

Katie and I have both set up and run groups; we’ve also walked away or moved on from some of them.  So we have a good idea of what goes wrong, what works well and we wanted to share with you some things to consider when running successful Parent Groups.

Today, we are sharing an overview of ten things to consider, a way of starting to think about how your group works.  Something to think about and some questions to ask – both yourself and your group.

Over the next few months, we will be going more in-depth into each of these topics, so don’t forget to sign up to make sure you don’t miss an instalment.

Ten things to consider when running  Parent Groups

1.  Values:  

Each organisation is different.  That’s a good thing or life would be very dull.  When people come together to set up a group, they usually have certain Values such as “making a difference” or “”friendship”.

Sometimes these values change so perhaps they become about “being the best” or “making a profit”.  This isn’t wrong but everyone involved needs to know and needs to agree.

When a groups’s values changes but not everyone is on board with that change, people start to walk away and disengage.

So think about what the values are of your organisation/group; why do you put in the often unpaid hours to make it work?   Does everyone know what the group’s values are?   Think about your own values, are they the same as the group?

2.  Communication

Yes, it’s good to talk.  However, it is also important to know that what you are saying is being received and understood.  How do you communicate with the people who are part of your group?  How do you communicate with the other people helping to run the group?

Do you presume that if you send an email, everyone sees it?  Do you presume that if you put it on a Facebook page, everyone who likes your page will see it?  Do you have a mailing list?  Do you use it properly?  Is your communication clear – or perhaps you forget that you have been involved in lots of conversations and some people may not know what you’re talking about?  Do you appreciate how the written word can be misconstrued?

So think about how you communicate with your members and with other people running the group?

3.  Measuring Success

How will you know when you have been successful?  How do you measure how successful your group is?

Is it a coffee morning which is well attended?  Is it an email from someone saying “thanks so much, that really helped me today”?  Is it a large membership?  Is it a large Facebook group?   Is it a change in local policy or a school offering to change something for one child?

Do you even measure your success?  Do you worry about it or not?  Do you know why you should measure your success?  Do you know how to start?

4.  Egos

A difficult one.  Normally groups are made up of similar types of people and this is great but it can cause conflict.  Do you have anything in place for when egos start to intervene in the running of the group?

Do you have a few strong personalities in the group who often take over?  Do you have one or two strong voices who are members but not part of running the group?  Do you have any strategies to cope with strong personalities?  As a group and as an individual?

5.  Leadership

Who leads the group?  Is it a joint effort, do you each have defined roles of responsibility or is it one person making all the decisions?

Is the leader also the person looking after finances and bookings and memberships and marketing and communication?  Or do you have different leads for each area?

How are decisions made?  Is everyone involved or is it a small group?

This also goes back to Values.  Do the people making the decisions know what the group’s values are?  Do they have the same values?

So think about who leads your group, is this the right person?  (If not, see disagreements and problems).  Does this work for your group?

6.  Members

How do you recruit new members to your group?  How do you deal with issues about a member – perhaps they have bad mouthed you on Facebook without speaking to you?  How do you find a balance between wanting more members and actually meeting the needs of the current members?

What role do your members play?  Are they just people who meet for a coffee but have no say in how you run?  Do they get to have a say in how you are run?  Do you know your members or are they just a name on a list?  Do you offer something for each of them or is it just the majority?

So start thinking about your members, what they bring to the group and if their role is clear – both to them and to you.

7a.  Marketing:

How do you tell people about your group?  How do new people hear about you?  Do you have a website?  Do you have a social media presence?  Do you know how to use that to it’s full potential?  Do you have a website?  Who updates it?

What marketing do you use?  How do you use it?  Who is responsible for it?  How do you evaluate if it is successful?

7b Marketing Tools

A quick overview of the tools available and how they can be used effectively.

8.  Feedback 

Do you get feedback from your members and other people running the group?  How do you get it?  What do you do with it?

Do you invite people to feedback – not just the forms that any funders require you to complete but feedback about what you do as a group and how people feel about that?  How do your members think you could improve?  Do you know?  Have you asked?

How could you get feedback?  Is it better for it to be anonymous or named?  What if the feedback is negative?  How do you get back up and do it all again?

9.  Disagreements and problems

Do you have strategies in place for when there is a disagreement or a problem?  What about if the hall you use suddenly becomes unavailable or the rental price increases?  What if the person who does most of the work suddenly moves out of the area?  What if money goes missing?  What if a member places a complaint to your funder?  What if no one shows up to events?  What if you take a personal dislike to a member?  What if you are having a bad day and snap at someone?

Do you have anything in place to deal with this?  Do you know what to do?  Is one person designated this role or do you have a small team of people?  Do you just hope that everything goes well and worry about it when it happens?

10.  Review

Do you regularly review what your group is doing?  Do you sit back and look at what it is doing, what it was set up to do and is there anything you could do differently?  Is there something you don’t do but you could?  Is there anything you do which no one enjoys doing but you’ve always done it so you keep at it?

How often do you review your group and how often do you make changes?

What about you?

Obviously the ten things above are just a starting point.  A way of starting the conversation.  Things such as finance, funding and policies also have a part to play but we wanted to cover some basics.

However, the biggest question to ask first of all is why are you involved in the group?

Are you doing it to help others or is it for you?

Neither is wrong.  Sometimes you can do this for yourself, to give you a role and something else to focus on, whilst also helping others.

However, it is good to know for yourself why you are doing it.  Be honest.  If you are doing it because you’ve always done it and you’re scared of walking away or letting someone down then this can have a negative impact on you and your own happiness.   Remember, you are important.

If you are doing it and loving it, then keep going.  If you are doing but not loving it, is it because the group isn’t what it was or is it because their values don’t work for you?

What questions do you need to ask yourself and your group?

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C: A to Z of Family Rights and Lives

C is for

But CCampaigning: Despite us having more than enough additional tasks on our plates, we often find ourselves been driven to campaign on things we know and feel are not good enough for our kids and families. There are some great organisations out there campaigning but too often, parents are unsure how to get involved. Bringing Us Together are trying to collate all the campaigns we hear about (be they surveys, polls, written responses, or social media groups) in one place. If you know of any campaign, please either add direct to our forum or drop us a line.

Care: The definition of Care is “the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.” How effective is our Care system? Social Care, Health Care, Welfare and Safeguarding – does any of it really put the needs of the child, young peron or family first? Care can often be a postcode lottery. Care can often depend on who completes the assessment. Care, when it comes to safeguarding our children and young people, can all too often be indefensibly poor and inadequate.

Care Workers – We want people in our lives to care for our kids and love and respect them like we do. The role of people who “care” for disabled people is often undervalued, low status, underpaid (recently there have been heavy cuts on staff wages from some providers) and poorly trained. Many of these genuinely do care but often, the bureaucracy involved with the role takes away the time for them to do anything other than the basic care requirements, there is not time to care by connecting with the young person. Your child or young person may be known as “the service user”, not by their first name.

Carer: Yes, your new title. Not Mum or Dad but Carer. Carer of…. I bet that wasn’t in your vision of the future. Many families have to change feeding tubes, give medication and provide daily physio for their children. Many of us will have dependent young people; young people who require around the clock care despite having no medical needs.

Charity: There are an amazing number of charities out there. Some of them very old, established charities; some new and dynamic. Some try to work on a national scale while others keep it local. Some charities offer grants, some offer services, and then some appear to exist for political benefit. Some have very well paid chief executives and smart offices in London. Are all charities of benefit? Are all charities charitable? Did any charities help you and how?

Choices: Something we often lack. Choices are often either not available or extremely limited. Choices often depend on your label or diagnosis. Choice is something sadly missing from the world of Family Rights. It is an easy word to say but actually very hard to achieve.

Circles: Circles of Support are a great person-centred practice. Circles can offer genuine, independent support whilst also allowing families to feel a level of control. However, many people know nothing of them or confuse them with Team Around the Child/Family meetings. Community Circles are exploring how Circles of Support can be delivered at scale.

Communication: This is often the biggest issue around Family Rights, Lack of communication, poor communication or the assumption that because you can’t speak, you have nothing to say. Families are often left in the dark about their rights due to poor communication. Jargon filled communication is also used to empower practitioners and leave families feeling inferior and inadequate. Communication is key if we can get that right, everything else will be so much easier.

Our children’s communication is a human right. Seeing the child’s potential to communicate and recognizing even their most simple of responses allows that child’s voice to be heard through all sorts of alternative methods.

Commissioning: Commissioning is the process of ensuring that care services are provided effectively and that they meet the needs of the population. The Department of Health describes commissioning as the means to secure the best value for local citizens and taxpayers. Now, if Commissioning, like Ronseal, did like it said on the tin, then services would meet the needs of our young people but sometimes commissioning relies heavily on what services are already available rather than what services are in fact needed. It can often be a case of “we know you want a, b or c, but we only have a preferred supplier who can provide d at a much cheaper price so that will have to do”. How many services do you know of that are under used because they weren’t actually needed while the services your family need don’t appear to exist?

Consultation: Consultation after consultation. So many consultations out there but how often do they lead to change? Consultation for consultation sake (aka Hit and Run Consultation) is far too common. “We need to show that we asked for their opinion” or “ask that group of parents for their view, they always agree with us” – both of these are not unheard of practices, especially within Local Authorities. Have we got any examples of what good consultation looks like?

Control: Something often lacking in the world of Family Rights. Families are often dictated to and steered and should you dare to challenge the status quo, be prepared for labels such as “neurotic”, “demanding” or “rotweiller” to be provided. Giving our young people the control of their lives ultimately is what we strive for.

Councils:  like private business Council departments are given a budget each year. This means that all services including of course Social Services only have a limited amount of money available to use and so many of the services our kids used such as youth services, inclusive clubs, play services have been cut or lost completely.

Cr*p: that is sometimes how we feel when it all gets too much and we are facing too many barriers and complications.

Criteria – this is based on levels of need, and set out by the Government to ensure there is consistent, clear and fair access to social care services across the country. Officially, this set of rules is known as the ‘Fair Access to Care Services‘ (FACS) criteria. This means lots of assessments and form filling done by social workers who sometimes do not know our children and maybe don’t have the time to listen to us as parents. Although all local authorities must apply this system to assessments for adult social care services, they can decide for themselves which FACS bands of risk they will meet. In most areas social services are only provided to disabled people with the most needs. ‘Critical’ or ‘Substantial’ care needs is when you are likely to get social care services. If your needs are assessed as falling within the ‘Moderate’ or ‘Low’ risk band, you will not be eligible for directly provided social care services from social services and will be signposted and given information and advice. If you are lucky!