Part 3 of a series of posts based on nine principles for supporting permanent residents of caravan parks which are relevant to a range of other contexts. The first post introduced the context and listed the nine principles.
Early on in our project when I had only engaged with a few families, I would often find myself with a spare hour or two. At these times I would buy a cup of tea and a newspaper at the caravan park shop and sit outside at the table. I rarely read past the front page before someone would approach me. Often I would have a chat with the shop owner – who has referred several clients to me, and often primary school age kids would come over and ask what I was doing. [1, p. 36]
Services and staff without the capacity to be flexible and creative are likely to struggle within the context of caravan parks. New staff sometimes find it hard to adapt to the unpredictability of working in caravan parks and can become frustrated when carefully made plans are forced to change. Staff need to have the skills, and management support, to respond quickly to changes within a park and to adapt their programs as needed.
Implications for practice include the following:
Staff will respond to issues as they arise
Opportunities for intervention or support can arise suddenly and, at times, staff need the flexibility to respond quickly. For transient residents in particular there may only be a brief window of opportunity and, unless there is an immediate response, the possibility of intervening may be lost. A chance comment in a group could lead to a meaningful discussion about a sensitive issue. A crisis in a park may mean that residents are willing to risk opening up with staff and address issues they have previously been unwilling to explore. By being in regular contact with residents, staff can respond quickly and easily when issues arise.
A child and family health nurse sometimes meets residents who are willing to have their children immunised then and there. By carrying child immunisations in her car she is able to respond straight away without requiring the family to make it to a clinic.
Staff will adapt their programs according to the needs of residents
At times there can be a high turnover of residents in parks, leading to significant changes in the composition and dynamics of particular parks. Staff need to adapt their programs to meet the changing needs of residents. A service funded to provide playgroups on a park may face dilemmas if there are few, or no, children under five on a park. Remaining on the park may mean program statistics are not maintained, but moving off the park could create difficulties in re-engaging management and residents if more children eventually do move onto the park. Funding bodies need to recognise that numbers can fluctuate. A service funded to provide a range of services can more easily adapt their programs according to who is living in the park.
A consistent presence on a park is important in building relationships with residents. Numbers can fluctuate and at times the number of people attending programs can be quite low. It is important that the connections are maintained with the park or the slow process of building relations may have to begin again. In some cases, after the suspension of programs on a park for a period of time, permission to return to the park has not been given by park management.
Services will have negotiable rules, and flexible guidelines and eligibility criteria
Negotiable rules, and flexible guidelines and eligibility criteria, allow for programs to be tailored to the particular needs of park residents. In particular, services that are not flexible and not able to adapt to the changing needs of park residents are likely to find engagement a struggle. For example, activities are frequently held in the children’s backyards and so services need to be flexible enough to cope with: children coming and going; unaccompanied children or children outside the target age range wandering over to join in; and children being unused to structured environments. The ability to keep participants safe and programs focused while still being relatively flexible can be challenging, but are important in the success of many programs.
Staff will engage residents through non-threatening, low-key and informal means
While more formal relations or approaches may develop, the initial contact with residents, particularly those who are suspicious of service providers, will be non-threatening, low-key and informal. Such activities allow residents to commence building a relationship with staff at their own pace while deciding whether or not they can be trusted or of assistance. While remaining non-threatening, low-key and informal, staff need to be flexible enough to build on opportunities as they arise. Meaningful conversations can occur in the car when transporting residents, a comment in a group can be the opportunity to explore an issue in some depth, an event in the park can mean that residents are open to talking to staff.
Many families and individuals are unlikely to engage in “therapy” and “counselling” or to participate in formal parenting training. Engaging with families through non-threatening activities and purposeful conversations is more likely to be effective.
If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:
- 9 principles for supporting families and communities
- Principle 1: Services will make building strong relationships with residents a high priority
- Playgroups as a foundation for working with hard to reach families
- “I try and make it feel more like a home” – families living in caravan parks
- Building relationship between caravan park (trailer park) residents and school
- Families with children living in caravan parks
- Verrall, C., Working with primary school-age children in caravan parks, in Supporting residents of caravan parks: Principles of promising practice, G. Stuart, Editor. 2007, Family Action Centre, University of Newcastle: Newcastle.