This case study describes the very first of the SMILE Trust’s family support residentials and its impact on one family. The Kelly* family was the first to take part in the programme and their series of four residentials demonstrated the enormous potential of this approach – helping families to make individual and shared changes. Working with the Kellys over an extended period also revealed many of the complexities of this approach to family support and, as a result, helped shape the SMILE Trust’s subsequent family residentials.
* Names have been changed throughout
The Kellys were a family with complex needs, including adult mental health issues and concerns around the children’s behaviour and eating habits. The family was identified as having potential to really benefit from participating in a series of weekend residentials, and were keen to do so. Supported by Sue Fisher, Newall Green’s Family Residential Coordinator, the family embarked on a daunting but exciting journey of change.
The SMILE Trust is a federation of one secondary (Newall Green High School) and three primary schools. Together, the schools hire a holiday cottage in the nearby Peak District; rented for mid-week use during term times, throughout the year. This provides the schools with a regular venue to run its family residential programme, which involves families from all of the partner schools. Sue Fisher plans the residential experiences and attends each one, along with other support worker colleagues.
“It’s nice to get all my family together because normally they’re always fighting in the house and everything so it’s nice to just get a happy family back. They have smiles on their faces. They’re really enjoying it by the expression on their faces.”
(Daniel Kelly, aged 7)
At the beginning of the programme, both parents, Dave and Sandy lived at home with three of their children: Louise (12); Daniel (7) and Liam (3), the youngest family member. Their eldest son, Dean, lived most of the time with his grandparents and didn’t want to be involved in the programme.
The family were referred to the Family Residential Programme by Daniel’s primary school as staff had concerns about his behaviour in school, and his poor eating habits. It appeared initially that this was a family with a low level of need. However, the family had more complex issues than first anticipated. Sandy and Dave were very open about their relationship. Dave has OCD, has suffered from depression, was very anxious and rarely went anywhere without Sandy. The Police had made a referral to Social Services and the children were put on the child protection register for a period of time. Social workers had visited a few times.
The standard family residential programme involves two 3-day residentials with a sibling group and then a third 3-day residential including parent(s)/carers, and a range of interventions between each residential, aimed at providing specialist support for family members. These take place at a cottage in Derbyshire,
The Kelly family took part in four residentials in total – Louise and Daniel went on the first two, Sandy, Dave and Liam joined them for the third. A fourth residential was added to the programme as Sandy and Dave’s relationship broke down and they separated.
Each residential began with a car journey from Manchester to the cottage in Derbyshire, stopping along the way to choose and buy their food for the three days. Louise and Daniel were asked to think about what they’d like to eat, and helped to choose healthy ingredients and appropriate quantities; once in the cottage, they were expected to help prepare, serve, eat and clear up meals. As well as cooking and eating together, the residential included playing games and establishing routine as well as walks, other outdoor activities and visits to nearby tourist attractions. Each residential was in the same place and followed the same routine.
Both Louise and Daniel commented on and wrote about the countryside. Daniel was much calmer when looking at the view and drawing.
“The house was kind of beautiful. I like the bedroom. I didn’t like that we did not watch TV. I liked walking best because I saw a river and a castle.”
(Excerpt from Daniel’s evaluation of the first residential)
“Today it took about an hour to get to the cottage we were staying at but it was worth it! I couldn’t believe how many stairs there were! On the way there the view was fantastic, with hills and sheep and fields with walls everywhere.”
(Excerpt from Louise’s diary – day 1 of first residential)
On the second residential the Family Residential Coordinator noted:
“Going up Mam Tor, Daniel seemed to have forgotten about his aching legs. He ran around, loved finding clues. Daniel found his walking legs. Louise wanted to stay there; she enjoyed the shadows of the clouds on the ground. For Daniel, mud-sliding was a turning point.”
Family support strategies
On the first residential Daniel cried, kicked and swore. He didn’t want to go out and he ate very little. Louise was very quiet – she appeared to enjoy many of the activities, but was difficult to engage in conversation. The support workers’ strategy with Daniel was to tell him what was not acceptable, that he needed to calm down and to have ‘time outs’. They showed him respect, but told him they expected respect from him in return. They worked out when to hold and hug, but also when to leave him to calm down, then move on. Together they developed a reward chart. Targets were negotiated with Daniel and Louise. When they had enough points they were allowed to choose an activity. For example, between residentials Daniel chose to go to a football match with his dad and Louise enjoyed horse riding with her mum. Daniel and Louise helped to buy and prepare food. At meals time Daniel’s meal was put in front of him with no discussion. Daniel began to pick up his food and smell it. Overtime, his eating massively improved.
Between residentials they continued to meet with Daniel in school to work on his behaviour and eating habits. Daniel was very chatty and loved conversation. They also had weekly meetings with Dave and Sandy. They talked about Daniel’s behaviour and its consequences. Louise was referred to speech and language therapist for her stammer. She engaged in the art club and was referred to a music teacher, in school.
Residential 3 – working with the whole family
All five members of the family took part in the third residential. The aims were to:
- see how the family worked
- get Sandy and Dave to see that Daniel could eat
- follow up on consequences and boundaries
- develop a bedtime routine (an issue at home).
Dave was anxious on the residential; he appeared to struggle with not being in control. He reinforced poor eating habits with Daniel and Liam, insisting on treating Liam like a baby. Bedtime routine was difficult because Dave wanted Liam to go to sleep on his knee after a bottle of milk. This was later discussed and Liam’s bottle was replaced with a cup. Liam loved it. Dave would not allow Daniel to take part in some activities because “Liam was too young“. The workers took control of the boys whilst out and encouraged them to play. Liam was a little boy exploring boundaries and playing and after a while Dave joined in. Louise and Sandy spent a lot of time together, baking, walking and shared a pamper evening whilst Dave played with the boys.
In these three quotes, the support workers describe how they worked with the Kelly family and why thoughtful communication is so important:
“We knew that we had to be very, very careful that we weren’t telling them how to be parents. We wanted them to relax, not be guarded, but learn new skills, new way of doing things. Often we wanted to say things but couldn’t always – being careful not to overrule Sandy and Dave. We would chat in the evening, ask how they felt it went, reflect on stress and coping, offer different ways of dealing with things. Sandy and Dave were very open to the process.”
“On all of the residentials, because the kids have been before, they do tend to come to us before coming to mum. We say to parents: ‘Watch how we deal with situations and how calm we are them’. They try to mirror that … you don’t have to tell them … see, mirror, learnt behaviour.”
“ It’s really hard not to be judgmental, you have to be able to sit back and watch without interfering unless it is a safe guarding issue. It’s hard, but you know if you did then you could lose the relationship that you have with them in a matter of seconds. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. It’s not about us being right and the parents being wrong, its about offering ideas and showing different ways of dealing with things.”
The support workers discussed issues with Sandy and Dave: bedtimes and meals; allowing Liam to do more things; things not necessarily being Daniel’s fault; not holding Daniel back because of Liam. Sandy and Dave wanted to continue make changes at home.
Two excerpts from Sandy’s diary:
“On arriving at the cottage I fell in love with it straight away. The children loved the space and having their own space in such a big place, it made them feel content. When we made chicken curry every one of us sat down and ate the meal together. I was surprised at how Daniel joined in and actually ate all his meal.”
“I Ioved the adventure playgrounds that adults could also play in. Actually playing in the playground with the kids. My time has been perfect in every sense. I really enjoyed it and so did the children. It has been a breadth of fresh air in so many ways. A complete change but refreshing. The children loved every minute of it and I know they will miss it, but I think I will miss it more and feel a little bit envious of the next family to visit.”
It was decided to do a fourth residential with the family after Sandy and Dave separated. It was a new beginning for Sandy, learning to be a single parent with her own boundaries and house rules. All the children got really involved in every aspect of the residential. There was a massive improvement in Daniel’s behaviour. When Daniel decided he didn’t want to go to bed Sandy stayed calm; the support workers coached her through the process.
Daniel’s attendance and behaviour has improved. Daniel now goes to the Head’s office for praise – not for a telling off. His relationships with his siblings and peer group are much better. At home he maintains healthy eating habits. He is now an ambassador for the Family residential programme.
Liam has gained his independence. He has established routines and has greatly developed his communication skills. He has settled well into primary school.
Louise is more confident. Her attendance is now around 98-100% (at the beginning it was about 87%). Louise was at first always in her bedroom; now she sits in the living room with everyone and joins in conversations. She has been on other residentials, mentoring other young people referred to the Family Residential Programme. She travelled with her mum to London to make a confident presentation about the family residential programme and its impact on her and her family to the Learning Away steering group. She now aspires to go to university.
Sandy is happier and content, establishing positive and healthier relationships with Dave and the children. She has developed a range of life skills. She is one of the leaders of the parents’ focus group and has a good bond with other mums. She has explored training and employment opportunities.
Dave has developed positive relationships with his children and continues to play a big part in their lives. He has accessed relevant mental health services and taken up training opportunities.
Other benefits and impacts
- Increased confidence and positive mental health
- Support in ending an abusive relationship and regaining positive relationships with each other and their children
- Developing effective communication and parenting skills
- Accessing training and skills development
Children and young people
- Developing age-appropriate routines and behaviours
- Reduction in conflict and fighting with siblings
- Significant development of educational attainment and general wellbeing in school
- Increased confidence and social skills
- Mentoring roles with other young people on other residential programmes
- Participation in wider networks including presentations for PHF and local neighbourhood forum
Key success factors
- Working with children and young people in a safe environment to try new things and other ways of behaving. They in turn then show their parents what they have learnt and what they could do.
- Having time to spend with parents to listen to and understand their issues; to support them in making major changes to their family life.
- Working in an outdoor environment freed up the children’s’ behaviour and self-expression.
- Opportunities for the children and their mum to develop and exercise leadership skills in wider contexts.
- Experiential learning – ‘living the lesson’ with parents in contrast to other parenting courses.