A week in the life of a family support worker

When I meet new people the question naturally comes up: "What do you do for work?"

My reply of ‘family support worker’ doesn’t fully answer their question – defining what a family support worker does isn’t easy as every day is different.

This is my attempt to answer the question - one ‘week in the life’ as a family support worker at Children 1st.

Monday comes round and I don't have 'Monday blues' because my first job is to meet a new family who have asked for support from our Edinburgh Family Support team.

The first visit is so important for setting a positive tone and establishing a good relationship with a family. Recognising my own emotions is important because – though I feel nervous (and excited) – that’s probably just a fraction of how a family feels having a stranger come into their home for the first time. That's why bringing the right tools is so important. (And when I say 'tools', I mean toys!)

Wrestling with many boxes and bags full of toys is typical for a family support worker. The most important things I carry in my 'toolkit' are bubbles and puppets. Being able to play with children and families right from the start is a fantastic way to build trust and get over the nerves – for the parent/carer, child and the practitioner too.

I end Monday at the beach! Something simple, like getting out into the fresh air, can really help lift the mood of a child or young person who is experiencing something difficult (and who can resist building a sandcastle or 10 while you're there?)

On Tuesday I’m excited to put some new training into good use. 'Playboxes' encourage children of all different ages, stages and abilities to learn basic play-skills and develop joint attention.

Family support work can be quite lonely, which is why I always look forward to our regular team meetings on a Tuesday. It’s a rare opportunity where we’re all in one place and can seek advice and share strategies.

We have been incorporating Kitbag into our meetings recently to encourage each other to be more open and in touch with our mood and feelings If we expect this of families, we should expect it from our teammates too!

Wednesday means an early start as I deliver Incredible Years, a parenting programme.

Getting to know parents and seeing them share advice and ideas is great. Some of the best techniques I now use have come from parents in these groups. We can underestimate the power of social interactions - a chat over a cup of tea can make a huge difference to people’s lives.

This afternoon, I am delivering a Christmas tree to a dad and his son. At this time of year, we are overwhelmed with generous donations from the local community. It’s easy to take simple things like a Christmas tree, or baubles for the tree for granted, but for this family, it was one less thing to worry about and an opportunity for a dad and his son to make memories together.

Thursday morning started with these little guys – 'worry dolls'.

Just like adults, children have anxieties and worries and they like to come out right before bedtime. The idea is to share your worries with the dolls before bedtime, and throughout the night, the dolls will take the worries away. I'm so glad I know about these now as the wee man today thought they were "cool" and "cute!"

From worry dolls this morning, to a children's hearing this afternoon. Today will be full of difficult but necessary conversations. That's why we value the importance of relationships: to support families but to challenge them too.

It reminds me that protecting children is ultimately the most important part of our work. Establishing strong relationships helps us to prevent harm and trauma, protect children and help families recover from what they’ve experienced.

Friday is here and I start it in my favourite place, South Queensferry.

I have built up a lot of links in this side of the city. You know you’re working well with partners when you phone up the local medical practice and the health visiting team know who you are even before I say my name! 

It’s a good day to catch up on case recording and do a little bit of swatting up. Our team are always thinking about how to include children's voices in our assessments and I like getting absorbed in research as a contrast to the practical side of our work.

There is no way of properly defining the hugely varied role of a Family Support Worker. The best that I can do is:

  • City navigating
  • relationship building
  • always developing
  • reflecting
  • resilience building
  • play experts
  • always thinking of new ways to support and challenge
  • who genuinely make life better for children by giving a wee bit of support to parents when they need it.

But that's a bit of a mouthful right?!