All families have ups and downs. When times are tough asking for help from family and friends is an important way of looking after your children and yourself.
Sometimes this support comes from specialist services and the professionals and volunteers who work for them. This can be important but in the long run we know that most of us get the best support from the people who care about us most; our friends, families and the community we live in.
This is our Family Network.
Why Do We Need Family Networking?
Family Networking is about the strengths and resources in your network of family and friends. This means involving the people who know and care about you and your children best, when you need help in family life.
Relationships are all about give and take, it might be you who needs a bit of extra help right now. Further down the line it might be you who is offering support to another person in your network.
Getting together the people who care about you and working out how to get the support you need can be a big relief.
You can plan with your network, how you will deal with problems and manage the challenges you face with their help. This will help you all feel better and more positive about the future.
Can Children be Involved?
Children really benefit when those that care about them work together;
Research tells us that when children are strongly connected to their family and / or wider network they are most likely to feel safe, happy and reach their potential.
Am I In A Family Network?
It takes a village to raise a child, you are included in that village! Be part of a stronger community, look out for your neighbour and network and help-out where you can. It’s great for parents to know someone has got their back when times are tricky.
What does it mean to be part of someone’s network?
This will depend on what can you offer and what your skills and strengths are as well as what the family needs.
Your help and support can seem small but could make a huge difference to the family that needs it. You can play a part in children feeling safe and loved. You don’t know how helpful your support can be until you offer a helping hand and talk about it.
If you are important to the family, the parents or carers, or the children, and have their best interests at heart you are well placed to be part of the network. What you can offer will depend on your skills, the time you have available, how close you live and your other commitments. You don’t have to live near-by to offer support, this can be physical, emotional, practical, virtual or on the end of a phone. Even the smallest of tasks are incredibly valuable to a parent struggling to remember or get to an appointment, or a young person who needs a break from the house or a chat with a friendly face and someone they trust.
Could you be available for your grandchild, niece, or younger sibling when they are having a hard time and need someone to talk to, maybe take them out for a walk, snack or play a game? Could you join a virtual call and help with homework?
It is important to be realistic about what you can offer and any restrictions such as work hours or other commitments. Perhaps you can have the neighbours’ children round for tea once a week, take them to school when mum isn’t able to, collect a prescription or pop to the shop. Being in someone’s network doesn’t have to be a huge commitment and helps keep children safe and well.
Networks make all the difference
Having trusted and connected people around the family, offering positive relationships and expanding their network is beneficial for children and parents. Think beyond blood relatives and extend the idea of family to include significant people in the community who can play a positive role in children's lives.
We can keep ourselves to ourselves and not like to bother other people, even though we could do with some practical or emotional support. It can be hard to ask, and we can assume people won’t want to or be able to help.
If you notice a neighbour, friend or family member could do with a helping hand, can you open-up the conversation, check in, ask if everything is ok and offer to help.
Through family networking, the whole ‘family’ can be involved and included in planning to help-out where needed and meet the needs of children.
Family Network Meetings
Family meetings set aside time with your network of family and friends, to focus and talk openly about any difficulties happening in your life and the life of your children. This focused discussion is different to the more general conversations we have in our normal day to day lives because it is about making a plan together to make things better.
The reasons for holding the meeting will be different for everyone but might be because of;
Everyone finds things hard at times. You shouldn’t feel bad about asking for help. Getting support in place is an important first step to things getting better. A family network meeting can help you plan how you will get back on track. The meeting gives everyone time to properly understand what is going on for you and your child, and talk through and agree what support they will offer.
Feedback From Families
‘I think meeting with my network has involved more family members especially my brother and how he can now support the children. My network now knows what they can do to help me and the children.’
‘This got things moving and there was something for everyone to do that they had said they would. We worked together and my neighbours and friends check in on me to see that I have done what I said I would do which was helpful.’
‘We talked about how we could all work together to make sure the young one attends their medical appointments, and we agreed things the parents or carers wouldn’t talk about in front of the children.’
‘By talking with my network, we were able to come up with ideas that led to a successful plan, which has ways we can all work together for the children. It was good to have open and honest conversations about the difficulties we were having.’
‘It was nice to be included in the plan. Even though I’m only around at the weekends, it’s good to know I can help the family next door.’
‘Our plan is still working, all our children have better relationships with people in our network, me and my wife feel we know who to turn to for support. It has all been really helpful.’
‘Learning to cook Asian food via video link with my uncle in Singapore while my mum looks after the baby has been great. I’ve got to know him and enjoyed eating the food’
Saheed's mum Ayshah is feeling unhappy and misses her mum who doesn't live in England. Saheed has been getting upset when his mum cries.
It is really important that Ayshah's family and friends make a plan to support her and help her feel herself again.
A family meeting can be held any time you need to bring the members of your family network together. The meeting is a special time to talk about the worries and difficulties that are happening for your children and you right now. Your family network are then able to offer their strengths and skills to help you deal with those difficulties.
Aimee usually loves going to school. Her dad has been poorly and been off work which is causing her parents to argue. Aimee is refusing to go to school just in case her dad gets poorly again.
Having family and friends work with you to make a plan can be an important part in helping everyone get back on track.
Sometimes it isn’t possible for people to meet up face to face. This might be because they live further away or it is hard to find a time that suits everyone.
Family Meetings still work well if getting together in person isn't possible. The family meeting can be held virtually to make sure as many family and friends can attend as possible. You could use group WhatsApp, Messenger, Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
It may be that your meeting has a mixture of some people being able to get together and others dialling in virtually. This works really well if you have people who live further away.
Anna & Joe's Story
Anna & Joe's mum Rachel is a single mum and she is struggling to combine the care of her children with part time work. Rachel is also 13 weeks pregnant. Her daughter Anna also has Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair.
It is really important that Rachel's family and friends make a plan to support her and her children and get Rachel and her family back on track.
All documents are also available to download below.
Talking honestly with everyone turned out to be so good, my friend hadn't know how tough life was or how the children were feeling. Nor did my mum - wish we had got together before this.
(Mum, Kings Lynn)
Mum & Grandad told us about the plan to help when mum is poorly. I feel lots better now. I know who is going to take us to school - I was worried mum was going to get into trouble if we missed school.
I'm so pleased that we all got together to make sure everything's ready for when the baby arrives; we've got the right support to make sure she will be happy and safe.
(Parents to be, Norwich)
You can contact the Family Networking Advisory Service by emailing CSFamilyGroupConf@norfolk.gov.uk. The team are able to offer advice, support and guidance for do it yourself family networking.
If you have any questions or worries about your child you can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.
If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of the Healthy Child Programme team.