Parents whose children are in care often feel neglected (and also underutilized) by the staff of the agency serving their children. They have useful information about the agency’s effectiveness with their children as well its communication with the parents but are rarely given the opportunity to provide this information to the agency. And I might add that sometimes (often?) this information is not received with the interest or respect it deserves. This lack of opportunity can turn a parent from a partner in the treatment of their children to a critic of the agency and a reluctant participant in the work of the agency.
A method I’ve developed in working with agencies who recognized the need for better communication with parents made use of a modified “fishbowl” model. It not only improved their relationship with parents, but also gave the agency valuable information about the agency’s own performance vis-a-vis its work with parents and the children.
The method has three main steps:
A. Invitation to selected parents
A letter from the agency executive invited parents to participate in a half-day event with agency personnel and other parents to provide feedback to the agency about its strengths and weaknesses.
B. The half-day event had a number of steps:
A brief meeting of the invited parents with the executive to clarify the purpose of the day and its procedures – usually about 30-45 minutes
A fishbowl process where parents are seated inside a circle and agency personnel are seated outside the circle
First tasks of the two groups
parents, in the inner circle, talk to each other informally – as in a coffee klatch – about how they see the agency, its strengths and its weaknesses. ( A facilitator may help the conversation move along and encourages silent or shy parents to contribute. )
agency personnel, in the outer circle, listen to parents comments, take notes ( may ask questions for clarification only) [This stage usually about 45- 60 minutes ]
the facilitator then asks participants to reverse positions, i.e. parents sit in the outer circle and agency personnel (selected) sit in the inner circle.
Second task of the two groups
agency personnel, in the inner circle, restate to each other in their own words what they just heard parents say
parents, in the outer circle, listen to ensure that agency personnel are correctly paraphrasing their earlier comments. They may feel free to correct an incorrect paraphrase.
the facilitator then calls for a lunch break for parents and a working lunch for agency personnel whose task is to come to agreement about which problems identified by parents earlier can be dealt with immediately and solutions announced that day, and which problems identified by parents as important may need more time, for example, for Board discussion and approval. [This stage usually 60 to 90 minutes.]
Final session for all
A general meeting of all the day’s participants is then held at which time the agency executive announces the results of their lunch meeting. She/he identifies which problems can be solved today and which will need more time. Appreciation is expressed by staff and management to the parents for their participation and openness. An evaluation sheet is passed around for parents and agency personnel to fill out and handed in. [This stage usually 45 to 60 minutes.]
C. Reporting back
The event ends with the agency executive announcing that the day’s discussion and its outcome will be reported in a letter to all parents.