I write funding bids, I write monitoring reports…round and round we go chasing the money to continue, what I believe, is essential work with families who need support to just get by. I use the lingo, talking about ‘interventions’, ‘service users’, ‘outcomes’, ‘engagement’, ‘ impact’, ‘key performance indicators’, but amongst all of this, the intangible and most human core of what we do is somehow lost in translation. Swept up in a swirl of justification for the existence of charities such as ours; why are we needed? Are we REALLY needed? How much money do we save councils, CCGs and the like, in the long run? These are difficult questions to give quantifiable answers to, ‘it’s witchcraft’ is an often used phrase! This treadmill is tiring and can move our focus away from the reason why we want to help people, if we are not careful, trying to fit with the funding landscape rather than fit the needs of the people we are there to help.
In all of our bids and reports we refer to our approach to support as ‘walking alongside’ the people we work with but I’m not sure that this term is fully understood or appreciated for the way in which it works and the dedication that it demands of our teams. To work with families experiencing unimaginable, complex and often unending challenges takes tenacity and skill. Many of our families have a fear of ‘agencies’, with faceless workers floating in and out of their lives either telling them what to do and where they’ve gone wrong or over-promising and ultimately under delivering, or even worse, they visit once, never to be seen again. In walking alongside families, we put them in the centre of the support, after all, they are the experts in their lives, they live it every day. They tell us what works in their lives (we can always find something!) but also where the problems lie and what they would like help to change. It is within this approach that the human stories emerge, the trust develops knowing that they are in charge and can direct their support. For many, they have not felt in control of their lives for a long time, if ever, so for us to be there to serve them and want what is best for them gives power to the bonds that we forge. This rapport strengthens our relationships and provides reassurance that we ‘have their back’ but also that, when we need to, we will challenge them, always with their best interests at the core and from a position of care. We see our roles as a privilege; to be let into families lives, to have more than a glimpse at what home and family means to them, to share in their joys, alongside their deepest sadness, is part of the experience. And yes, we know all about professional boundaries and we maintain these but sometimes picking the phone up to check in just because you know that it’s one of the children’s birthdays, because you read a book that you thought they might like or you’ve heard about a new support group that’s right up their street (sometimes literally!) goes a long way in making people feel valued and connected to something positive. When we are there, in a family home, we are present, with all other distractions of paperwork, meetings, reports etc. put away in a box whilst that family become the centre of our world for the time that we are with them. They are important, we listen. The simplest of acts, taking someone to their first appointment with a new GP, providing a food parcel or taking them to the park with their children for the first time; this is more than just a job to us and the people that we work with can feel this.
How can you write this down? How can you explain, in the confines of structured reports and complicated funding bid hoops that we jump through, just how valuable these things are and the difference that this makes? Sometimes the work that we do may not reap rewards until long after a family needs us, we’ve planted the seeds but we’re often not around to see them bloom….that is no good for our monitoring reports that want to see timely and significant change. Funders reading reports also don’t want to hear that a success for some families is that their situation stayed the same and did not get any worse – and yet, that is as good as things can get for some of the people who need our support.
As a charity we are often viewed as a lesser entity, you know, those wonderful people who mean well but don’t have the professional standing to really make a difference. Having worked in other sectors it is clear to me that those ‘happy clappy’ charity people are the ones keeping everything going, the ones with the freedom to go out on a limb, think differently and work in a truly responsive and autonomous way. Many make a conscious choice, as I did, to use their professional backgrounds, skills and expertise in an environment that welcomes creative thinking and innovation, making a real difference to people’s lives. We’re often referred to as the ‘third sector’, who ever wants to come third?! The poor relation, we may be, fashioning something out of nothing becomes an art form here, but it is also the breeding ground for having a go, making it work, looking at things differently and making human connections.
The challenges are huge but the rewards are immeasurable….and this 'immeasurability' becomes our achilles heel!