Sometimes you see something that just makes you fume! An employment agency has advertised a post working with SEND children and families that requires an ability to work with ‘difficult families.’
We are both parents of disabled children and both work with providers who support people with learning disabilities and autism. We don’t know any difficult families – personally or professionally. In our organisations the concept of “difficult families” has no currency. The stereotype that families with disabled children (of all ages) are “difficult” damages the reputation of the families we know. Advertising a role to work with “difficult families” damages the reputation of practitioners working within education, health and social care who are committed to partnership and person centred working.
Ask any parent of a school aged child ‘Who knows your child best?’ and in almost every circumstance they will say I/we do. We know our children inside out. We know what makes them happy, sad, giddy, scared….. We know their strengths and struggles.
Parents work tirelessly for their children’s wellbeing. The effort doesn’t stop at 16, 18 or 21 – it keeps going through life although for most parents they aren’t called upon for active parenting after their children leave home. Families of disabled children have to work harder than most to make sure our children have the best chance in life. Our determination can be misunderstood.
“Difficult families” is a lazy and disrespectful way of describing families who are:
- Desperate for their child and family to have a decent life
- scared of what the future may hold
- frustrated by a lack of support for their child’s education, health or care
- angered by abuse
- intimidated by ‘professionals’
- bewildered by the system
- infuriated by not being believed and taken seriously
- exhausted by lack of sleep
- living with uncertainty about their child’s health
- struggling to understand how to meet their child’s need
- worried about how they will pay the bills
- physically broken by the 24/7 care and lifting they give
- lonely and isolated because there is nothing left for friends and relationships
- low on patience because things have gone wrong so many times
- experiencing daily hate crime from neighbours
- racked with guilt about whether they are doing enough for their children, whether they have failed them
We don’t know “difficult families” but difficult situations are something we see plenty of – mainly caused by shrinking resources that neither family nor services have any control over. We know for sure that it is possible for families and practitioners to work in partnership to get the best possible lives for the people at the heart of our mutual interests, and where necessary, work creatively to find more resources or maximise those that are available. We see this every day.
So, here’s our alternative person specification for roles involving work with families:
We don’t know difficult families, we know families who simply want what other families want – for their children to be healthy, happy, fulfilling their potential and surrounded by love and laughter. Let’s stop the stereotyping and be brave enough to meet the real people and real lives behind the scare stories.
Marianne Selby-Boothroyd is Director of Development at Certitude and mum to 3 boys, two of whom have additional support needs.
Liz Wilson is Family Consultant at Dimensions and mum of 2 with a daughter, brother and cousins with learning disabilities.