Building relationships

groupRelationships are at the heart of family and community work; and building relationships take time.

When I helped run groups for people living in caravan parks, we door knocked around the parks inviting residents to join us. Each week we visited Amber, Joel and their daughter Jade (not their real names) and, although they said they might join us, they never showed up. We didn’t enter their van and only exchanged a few words, but whenever we checked if it was OK for us to continue knocking on their door, they said it was fine.

Eventually, after two or three months seeing us around the park and having brief conversations with us, they started coming to some of the groups. After six months they were one of our most regular families.

Many people in the caravan parks had negative experiences with government and community services, so it isn’t surprising some of them took quite a while to decide whether or not they could trust us. We needed to give them the time, but it also helped to keep extending invitations.

When Jasmine as first born, we had a few home visits from an early-childhood nurse. I remember feeling a little apprehensive before she visited even though I knew, intellectually, there was nothing to fear and she wasn’t there to judge us. If this is how Cathy (who was an occupational therapist) and I (a youth worker) felt, I can imagine it must be much worse for some families.

The reality is that the nurse (and us when we visited families in caravan parks) DO have a legal obligation to report children at risk of harm. Families do have legitimate grounds for concern when services become involved in their lives so it isn’t surprising that they need to check us out.

When we work with marginalised families and communities, we need to be open and honest, and take the time to build trusting relationships. We can’t breeze into a community or a family’s life and expect them to immediately open up and trust us.

If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. 9 principles for supporting families and communities
  2. Principle 1: Services will make building strong relationships with residents a high priority
  3. Playgroups as a foundation for working with hard to reach families
  4. “I try and make it feel more like a home” – families living in caravan parks
  5. Families with children living in caravan parks
  6. A resilience practice framework by the Benevolent Society

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Families & parenting, Working with communities and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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