Engaging vulnerable families - a Masterclass in Northern Ireland

How to empower vulnerable families in Northern Ireland to respond to a range of challenges was a key theme emerging from a Masterclass  with groups on the Big Lottery Fund Reaching Out, Supporting Families Programme in early September. The programme provides funding for thirty-six projects. Each project is delivered by a partnership, and works with families with complex needs, ranging from sight loss, mental illness, or disability. They may be coping with bereavement, or dealing with adoption.   Since 2015 CES has been working with groups funded under the Programme. We organise a range of learning and networking opportunities for groups, and are helping them to implement and evaluate their projects over a seven year period.

Barriers faced by vulnerable families

Some of the barriers that vulnerable families face in accessing services include poor access to transport or childcare. Stigma was identified as a complex cultural barrier which can discourage vulnerable families to seek out the support they need. Engaging men or fathers was also seen as a challenge for some services. Over thepast two years, projects on the Programme have developed different approaches to respond to these challenges, and shared their experience during the event.

Shirley from TESSA reminds us recognised the importance of cherishing parents to make a difference to infants #EngagingFamiliesNI

Working in partnership with parents

Six groups funded under the Programme gave short presentations about their work and identified some of the challenges and what they were learning. Some common themes emerged from the presentations. Respecting, valuing and supporting parents is critical to improving their children’s outcomes and wellbeing. This involves recognising parents as partners, building good relationships with them based on trust, being flexible and managing their expectations.

Engaging with existing structures and networks within the community, such as Family Support Hubs and schools, and using social media were just some of the ways that groups were reaching vulnerable families. Informal events, outreach and partnering with other community organisations helped to overcome stigma.

For more information about our work with groups on the Programme, contact Melanie Stone, mstone@effectiveservices.org