In 2010 the South Australian Government asked the newly established Association of Social Innovation the big task of how we could work together to reduce the demand and the number of families spiraling into crisis. It was not an easy concept to understand, let alone design a solution for families.
They applied the social innovation lens. They walked along side families. Wherever families went, they went too. They went to schools, community events, shopping centres and more. And they discovered themes in what provided angst for families.
A Lack of time, money, health, housework (that never ended), relationships, kids behavours, health of immediate and extended family and school are all factors causing stress for families. However, we know that stress is a constant factor for all of us. What they discovered differentiated families was their internal and external assets to be able to handle that stress.
Internal assets are motivation, optimism, ability to problem solve and communicate. External assets are understanding where to get information from, what informal supports are out there and what sort of services can help you when you need it most.
Families that were most vulnerable and accessing crisis services did not have these assets.
Time was spent with these families as the people working alongside the families did not know what life was like for these families in crisis. So, they basically spent days with the families to find what was their life like and why was it so hard.
They went through the process of how families got themselves into crisis services, if in fact they did and where were the points of change. They tried to determine where they could engage sooner so families didn’t need service intervention.
And from that Family by Family was born. It took a number of iterations and a good six months to evolve. They kept going back to families every week and asking how do we best understand what your family is experiencing? Is it through a snakes and ladders game? Or is it through a conversation in the park. The aim was to design a process so the sharing families wanted to participate.
So today, Family by Family is a network of sharing families helping other families make the changes that family wants to make. No one tells the family what to change – which has been quite a significant point of difference.
Some basic building blocks about how it works
So how does Family by Family work? There are some basic building blocks but essentially today it’s a peer to peer, strengths-based approach to family services. It focuses on creating environments of choice and control for seeking families as well as confidence building that effects lasting change for everybody engaged.
They link the family that has been through the tough times and come out the other side thriving (sharing family) with a family currently going through a tough time and wants to learn how to change by working with another family. And this is called a linkup. There is a professional involved but they work in the background. The professionals do have sessions with both families to help with challenges but they do not lead the process.
Families are recruited wherever they can be found – at the shops, community events, having lunch and other places where you find families interacting.
The program develops sharing families through training and coaching sessions with other families, which is where they continually support sharing families to better understand their own journeys and demonstrate to themselves their own thriving behavours. And the underpinning thriving behaviours might include a focus on self-development rather than self-preservation, trying something different rather than actually protecting yourself from anything new, being strategic around decision making, providing positive feedback loops to your family rather than the negative and brokering yourself and your family to new engagements out there.
When sharing families and seeking families are connected it creates what they call a linkup. The two families work to together for about 30 weeks. The seeking family has choice about who they connect with and what they want to achieve and if they do or do not want to involve.
Behind the linkup is a change map that the sharing family works through and it needs to be noted that a key aspect is building the relationships which does take time. However, Family by Family they are making a difference.